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Welcome to a new column here at Capeless that we’re calling “Sunday at the Shops”, where each week one of our writers will shine a spotlight on a friendly neighbourhood comic shop. They’re a vital part of the industry, one that often is overlooked or seems imposing to new readers. So we hope that each Sunday you’ll come back, read about the people who run these stores, and maybe find a new shop to wander into and spend a rainy Sunday afternoon digging through the bins.
For our first piece, we’re looking at Philadelphia’s Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse, profiled recently in a piece by Ryan Bergeron for CNN Money. The owner, Ariell Johnson is the East Coast’s first black woman to own and operate a comic book store. According to the article, Johnson had the idea to open the store in 2003, but it didn’t officially open its doors until just before Xmas, 2015.
In a Philly.com article from when she opened the store, Johnson explains where the ambition to combine comics and java came from:
My favorite coffee shop was directly across the street from my comic book store of choice. So, each Friday, I would buy my books at Fat Jack’s, go across the street to Crimson Moon, and read everything I bought…I just loved the vibe of the coffee shop . . . and I loved being able to indulge my comic-book obsession in a comfortable environment that wasn’t my house…When the coffee shop closed its doors, I was devastated. That’s when the idea came to me.
Johnson also wanted the store to have a more diverse offering than super-heroes and the Walking Dead. As a member of the tiny club that is black comic book store owners, and the first female member of that club, she is aware of the importance of her business being inclusive. As she says in the CNN piece:
I want to be very proactive and conscious to make sure we are carrying diverse titles. The smaller stuff, the independent stuff, the more diverse stuff that you really have to look for and I think it’s worth it. Seeing people representative of you can be important in your development and your self esteem.
By making that important, Johnson ensures that Amalgam will feel inviting to new readers and new customers, who often report feeling intimidated when entering comic stores without prior knowledge and familiarity.
So if you’re feeling peckish and under-caffeinated in the Philly area, head down to Amalgam on Franklin Avenue and grab a funny book while you’re at it!