Contrary to what the media may portray, comic book shops are probably some of the most welcoming environments you’ll ever find yourself in. Walk into any local comic book store and you’ll be surrounded by thousands of stories, both in print and in person. You’ll meet people who are happy to share their interests with the hopes of bringing another friend into the fold.
In the age of digital media though, how do these stores stay in business? How do they keep people coming through their doors and make sure sales are high enough to keep the lights on? The answer, it seems, is to branch out, diversify, and provide valuable resources for their fellow nerds and gamers.
For stores like East Lansing’s Hollow Mountain, this means offering other services, such as free complete-pull service where you can request a specific story arc or series, and they’ll pull the issues and gather them for you to pick up in bulk. They also keep a stock of current graphic novels from each of the major publishers so you can jump right into anything you find interesting.
Hollow Mountain, and many other stores like it, don’t just rely on comic sales, however. They also sell a myriad of tabletop gaming gear, including popular games like “Settlers of Catan” and plenty of RPG (role-playing game) accessories like dice and cards. They also host weekly Pokémon League tournaments on Tuesdays and public board game nights on Wednesdays.
Some shops don’t sell comics at all anymore, and instead have turned their shops into “nerd havens.” Fortress Comics on Albert Avenue no longer deals in comics and graphic novels, outside of a few rare and exclusive issues here and there. Instead, it specializes in tabletop gaming supplies: guidebooks, miniatures, paint, dice, maps, board games and art supplies. Everything you’d need to create a more immersive gaming experience or find yourself a new hobby. They also host weekly events, like LARPing (live action role playing) every other Saturday, sessions of the “Dungeons and Dragons” Adventurers League on Tuesday and Friday evenings and “Magic: The Gathering” tournaments each month.
It seems that modern comic book shops have essentially evolved into geek community centers. They may not all host basketball youth leagues, but they provide a public space for gaming, competing and storytelling. They are safe havens for nerd culture, and they’re a great place to make new friends.
“The best part is the people, meeting so many varied, different people,” said Fortress’s proprietor Jeremy Plesco. “The coolest part is interacting with people I might not have on the street, but only because I didn’t realize we had shared interests.”
If you have any interest in tabletop gaming, reading the comics that all those superhero movies are based on, testing your strategy against your fellow “Magic” players or painting miniatures and dioramas, there’s no better place to find friends than a comic book shop. They’re a veritable fount of knowledge and resources, so expect critical discussions, competitive edge and, of course, a warm welcome. Stop by for a drop-in session of “Dungeons and Dragons” or ask for a recommended reading list. Bring your kids, bring your date, bring your friends! There’s something here for everybody, but one thing you’re sure to find here is a community.