Friday, July 22, 2011

Friendly Local Game Stores

I wrote this essay about 4 years ago and posted it on my personal journal. It’s nominally about comic stores, but it applies equally to game stores, as there are rarely comic stores without games or standalone game stores. In fact there tends to be an awful lot of overlap between the two.

The essay has been edited slightly from it’s original posting.

What makes a good comic/game store?

When Virginia and I moved to Baltimore, one of the first things we did was to scope out the local comic books stores. Now, this is something that I am picky about, which is why we must have gone to 5 or 6 different stores before I settled for Legends Comics.

My pickiness is multifaceted. There are a number of features that I desire in my ideal comic store, features that have been strongly shaped by the 4 years I worked at Sarge’s Comics, and the 2 years I spent being a customer at That's Entertainment. I have high expectations, and both of these stores, although very different from one another, lived up to my expectations in their own ways.

I am going to begin by describing stores that don't meet my expectations, and then describe the stores that have.

The first type of comic store that fails is the mall/strip mall comic store. This style store is small, and carries Marvel, DC, and some mainstream indy stuff. They have a small display of some sort of gaming product (probably Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh), a couple of action figures, and one moderately expensive collectable like a sword from Lord of the Rings or Magneto's helmet. There won’t be any of the comics I read, no back issues, no art on the walls. This type of store usually doesn't last all that long because they aren't able to build a strong base of customers and continue to pay the high rent. This store always feels plastic and impersonal.

The second type is the Hole in the Wall comic store. This is also a very small store that tends to be darker then the mall store. Comic selection is the big thing for this type of store, and the selection will rival that of the biggest comic stores. In addition there is usually an illicit back room with "import" DVDs and naughty comics, and the aisles are narrow due to the extensive collection of back issues. There may be some games, but like the mall store there won’t be much. The feeling inside will be cramped and uncomfortable. The smell is usually a little funky too.

Next is the Newbury Comics type store. For those of you who have never seen one, it is the equivalent of Spencer’s Gifts mixed with a music and DVD store with a selection of comics toward the back. And by a "selection" I mean a rack or two with some of the more popular titles and some graphic novels that have been made into movies. This store only qualifies because it has more comics than the grocery store, and gets them directly from Diamond, and isn't a month behind with its titles. This store usually feels plastic and commercial and very impersonal.

The last type of store that fails to meet my expectations is exemplified by The Comic Store in Lancaster. This store was the one I visited when I lived in Lancaster during my single digit years. It was the only option at the time, and I could bike down to it on my own. Now, The Comic Store does a lot of things right, and has been around for a long time, but it doesn’t quite make the A list. They have a wide variety of titles, and a fairly extensive selection of back issues. The walls are covered with toys, models, and comic posters. They have statues, books, magazines, and a large game section. What it lacks is atmosphere and motivation. From the last time I went to it when I was in elementary school to the most recent time a few months ago for free comic book day it hasn’t really changed. Some of the stuff has seen a little rearranging, but it still looks as I remember it from a dozen years ago. For Free Comic Book Day they had some comics sitting on the counter. That’s it. No sales, no special guests, no 501st, nada. It sucked. Also all of my recent trips to the store have been quiet affairs. The clerk sits behind the counter watching sports on a small tv, and there isn’t any music playing, so mostly you hear the buzz of the florescent lights. This store wants to make you feel welcome, but ends up making you feel creeped out.

Legends, the store we subscribed with after checking out all the others in the Baltimore area, also falls short of the A-List. While they have a fair amount of comics and games, and everything else I generally want in a comic store, I found the location dark, the service poor, and the clerks unhelpful. When we initially decided to sign up there Tigs did all the paperwork, and used her name. The next time we went in the box was under my name and they had no record of her. So we eventually got that corrected. Then stuff that should have been in our box wasn’t there, and stuff that shouldn’t have been, was. Sorry, but I don’t read any manga or Spider-man, and putting them in my box doesn’t encourage me to buy them. When we went in on a Saturday we found that they hadn’t put away the week’s new comics yet. (These arrive on Wednesday mornings.) I can’t imagine letting new stuff sit for 3 days at any other store… The general feeling that Legends has given us is one of frustration, and some sadness.

The A-List currently contains 3 members. That’s Entertainment was our store in Worcester. It is housed in what I believe to be half of an old roller skating rink, with a used CD store taking up the other half. They have the largest back issue selection I have ever seen on the floor of a store (rather then in the back room), they carry a large selection of used books, magazines, toys video games, movies, and graphic novels. They have a small sports section, a large game selection (including used RPGs) complete with a highly active gaming community and a game room. There is always interesting music playing on the stereo, (no crappy light FM), and the staff is friendly and helpful. You are always greeted upon entering the store, and if there is something you are looking for and they don’t have they will special order it for you… at 25% off. (Ahhh, the sales! Especially on used DVDs...the vast majority of our current collection comes from here.)

The next store I am slightly biased toward since I worked there for 4 years - Sarge’s. It is a large store, and carries tons of stuff. Just about every comic in print can be found on its shelves. There is a large back issue area, movie rentals, anime, manga, games, t-shirts, used DVDs, statues, you name it! They also have a gaming area that is bigger then That’s E, but less well attended.

The final store that has just been added to the list is Brainstorm Comics in Frederick MD. While it is smaller then either of the other two stores on the A-List, and does reside in a strip mall, it does everything right. The owner is friendly and welcoming, even to our puppy! He carries just about everything comic-wise, and has a well organized back issue section. He also carries a broad selection of games and collectibles.

You may be wondering why I have spent over 1200 words writing about this. It’s because a couple of months after signing up at Legends Virginia and I went up to Frederick to get some more food and treats for the puppy from 2 Paws Up, and I remembered a friend of mine named Yann had told me to check out Brainstorm Comics, so we did. Being so impressed by the store and ambiance, we decided right then and there to sign up for a subscription with him and drop Legends.

So we have now moved from a comic store that is 20 minutes away to one that is an hour away, and it’ll be worth every drop of gas for the great customer service and welcoming atmosphere.

Don't forget to vote on the Tim Curry poll! Voting closes on Saturday night!

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