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    The Ultimate Comic Shop

    By DJ Kirkbride

    WHAT’S IN STORE
    Odds are you have your favorite local comics shop. You might frequent it every week or so for any number of reasons: location, helpful staff, product selection, etc. Any place that sells comics is swell, but imagine what your favorite shop could do if there weren’t little worries like overhead, space, money — you know, that pesky thing we call “reality.” The goal is to make a comic shop not just another store where you buy stuff (awesome stuff, but stuff that parts you with hard-earned cash nonetheless), but an exceptionally fun and inviting place to be in its own right to visit. With that in mind, we decided to ask a couple experts Jason Richards, the owner of RIOT comics + culture in Camp Hill, Pa., and Louis Peiper, an employee at Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica, Calif., what they’d do with their ideal shop. They both answered our call to create the Greatest comic shop ever.

    MUSIC
    Great music sets the right mood for customers’ comic shopping experience when they walk in the door. Louis calls it “a must.”
    Jason agrees, saying, “You need an awesome sound system wired throughout the store. You want energy in the space that fuels the habit. Work the lights like a concert. Make announcements over the speakers about highlighted works, upcoming appearances or on-the-spot sales to keep people moving. Hell, hire a D.J. and sell mix tapes every week.”

    CUSTOMER SERVICE
    To keep things fun and personable, Louis would absolutely have ample parking space for all customers, as well as “knowledgeable, friendly, helpful staff who not only know their stock but can also provide related material to whatever interests the customer may have.” Ideally, he joked, he’d have said staff include “hot females” who are excited by “what happened in last month’s issue of The Ultimates.” To move more books and give customers a chance to try a title they might not normally due to the cost, Louis would run “cool promos, like, ‘Anything with Superman on the cover is half price for this half hour.’ Taking the customers by surprise in an easy and fun way to boost sales.”

    MONTHLIES / NEW COMICS
    Jason would want to put significant spotlight on the latest issues and is “a big proponent of well-lit, well-organized spaces, but let’s do something cool. Let’s figure out a way to make the entire store a circular shape. Recessed wall shelving would be cool. And custom racks to hold the comics should be made out of Lucite and chrome. Pendant lighting all around the perimeter would put focus on the monthly books.”

    BACK ISSUES
    Louis had a grand vision involving a “slide and a pool of chocolate milk” leading to the back issue section, but he didn’t elaborate further, sticking with a slightly more realistic in which he would like to see “and a highly intuitive back issue system with a sort of voice activated computer that can tell a customer whether or not a particular issue is in the current inventory before they go to all the trouble of looking for it of course this would require a highly refined and integrated log in and POS system.” This system would be “a vending machine type contraption with robot arms that could find any back issue you were looking for and spit it out (without damaging the comic, of course). It could also give you the price and if multiple copies are available.”

    TRADES
    Jason suggested that “the inner parts of the store could be ‘trade paperback islands’ grouped by genre or publisher and dotted around the store. Big overheard halogen lights shining down, perhaps even changing color to add energy to the space. I’d like to see certain islands set up in themes like staff recommendations, award winners, creator spotlights, etc.”

    To help customers decide what books they might want to read, Louis said it’d be cool “to have a button you could push to rear recorded reviews of books, like Joe Quesada or Peter David talking about Watchmen.”

    OTHER MERCHANDISE
    Beyond stocking comic books themselves, Louis would like to see a “wide and varied selection of graphic art, fine art and other related material as well as a good selection of (comic-book-related) merchandise.”
    Jason had ideas along those same lines, suggesting “an art gallery to showcase original work by visiting creators.”

    HANGING OUT
    A comic shop can and should also be a cool place to meet people and chill with friends. Jason went further into his ideal layout of a perfect comic store that would help facilitate this fun vibe, imagining “vaulted ceilings around the perimeter would allow for comic-themed murals to be painted higher on the walls. It would be kinda funny to see traditional art done in cartoon-style (ex: Washington crossing the Delaware … but instead of Washington, it’s Bone and Hellboy and friends in the boat. Or maybe the Last Supper done with superheroes),” and “an arcade with comic-themed video games in it. If money is no object then add a second floor with a skate ramp, a stage area and a few blank walls for graffiti exhibits.” For extra comfort, Jason mentioned what he called a “crash pad,” with beanbags and overstuffed chairs for “reading and lounging as well as a retractable screen for special movie screenings.” The space could also be used as “a space for visiting pros to hold seminars on comic-making or presentations of their work, etc. Could be a good place to host a reading group every week as well.”

    On the same wavelength, Louis said he’d have “a good area for signings including chairs so signings can be done in more of a panel type scenario” for fans to meet their favorite creators. As well as a space to be used at fun “events, parties … and gaming days.” On a more casual note Louis mentioned the shop having “full-on queen sized beds around the comics and graphic novels with reading lamps” for lounging while you read, just like at home. After 9 p.m., he’d “push aside the book gondolas, change the lighting, have a D.J. throw on some cool electronica and make the shop into a fun kind of rave or club.” And before the regular day starts, Louis mentioned “having a time where little kids, first grade, could take field trips, coordinated with schools, where they could see a real comic store, be shown that comics are a fun way to build reading skills.” After-hours for the grownups, early mornings for the little ones.

    REFRESHMENTS
    While Louis imagines seeing a café next door to the shop with “good food, soda, and hot waitresses,” Jason takes it further, suggesting the store actually have an eatery inside of it with “a comic-themed diner/coffee bar.” His look would be retro, and he even has a name in mind: “Call it the ‘Golden Age Diner’ and name menu items after pulp heroes (Flash Gordon Fries, the Dick Tracy burger, etc.). Have a counter with built-in barstools and a few booths in the center.”

    Jason and Louis both mostly focused on the basic comic book shipping experience but included peripherals such as the café or food bar as well as great music and common areas that’d give their ideal shop a sense of community. Nothing too outlandish, but definitely ideas that would require more space than many shops are able to have as well as some definite staff increases and the like. Shops have no doubt implemented many of these ideas, though perhaps not in so grand a scale. Basically, like the customers, most comic shop owners and employees have some great ideas on how to create the ultimate comic book store experience if only that darn reality didn’t sometimes get in the way.

    PULL LISTS & CHECKOUT
    Louis offered his customer service minded take on perfecting the pull list process. He suggests “a highly streamlined means for regular customers to get a hold of there regularly pulled books, including, but not limited to a point of sales system that understands how to associate the customers frequent buyer card with his/her books that had become available that day and if that is not what he is buying would be eliminated from the sale with the touch of one button. This would speed up service and make lines shorter without adding more staff or registers.”

    As for Jason’s take, he says, “The cash wrap area would feature fully-computerized scanning with touch screen registers. And some way to print out a small recommendation list based on purchases, just for the customer to take with them and think about.”

    If you’re in PA, check out Jason’s shop Riot. For more information, visit For those on the West Coast, visit Louis at Southern California’s oldest comic shop, Hi De Ho.

    Posted by Tim Leong on May 5th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |

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