Yesterday, RiceBall ventured out to unknown territory to visit the newly opened, black-owned, comic book store, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, Inc. For months, blerds across the nerd-verse have been raving about the new shop commending founder and creator, Ariell R. Johnson, for being the first black woman to own a comic book store on the East Coast. To learn about her story, click here.
Amalgam (as we learned is pronounced ‘a-mall-gum’) is currently located in Philly (Philadelphia, PA) in the New Kensington area within walking distance to Temple University and multiple local schools. We arrived around 1:30pm, right before the afternoon teenage rush and evening flood of geeky professionals. From the outside, it’s somewhat hidden. It reminded me of 12 Grimmauld Place, where to the ignorant and untrained eye, it’s virtually invisible. But once you open the door, man-oh-man, what a sight to see! Nerd heaven.
We walked in to find walls full of comic book character movie posters, various iconic comic book covers, superhero themed coffee tables, and more! In the front of the store, there is an adorable sitting area with large windows providing sunlight for your reading pleasure. Visitors can grab a spot on a comfortable couch to catch up on some usual reads, or take a seat at a hand-crafted Deadpool or Captain America table to peruse through their favorite graphic novel.
Towards the middle, Amalgam staff are ready to take your order. Coffee and baked goods of all sorts are available, and the staff make your cup just the way you like it. Kudos to the team for making a Vanilla Chai that was just superb!
All the real action lies at the back. Rows upon rows of comic books to choose from. Bookcases were full of popular series, manga series, kid series, and more! You can even purchase Pop! Funko figures (but honestly, where can’t you these days). If you’re into cards, there were tables setup for gaming…Magic, Pokemon, Yugi-oh, pick your poison. Ariell thought of everything!
During the week, the shop hosts multiple events, such as viewing parties every Sunday for The Walking Dead, blerd meet-ups, music shows, independent artist releases, and free comic book days. They even promote events going on in the community by advocating on an event wall where nerd/geeks alike can post local activities.
Amalgam has become a growing nerd/geek hub, opening its doors to anyone willing to enter. It’s a safe and inclusive environment, where the staff usually know your name. The ambiance is serene, and while there, we noticed many millennials working on projects from the free wifi — with, of course, a secret geeky password *wink*. We observed individuals coming in just for coffee, some asking about recent comic book deliveries, and other visitors came in just to chat with staff.
Now, the strong plus about the shop is its reading policy. You can’t just come in, pick up a comic book off the rack, sit on the couch and start reading at your pleasure. C’mon son, this isn’t your local library. Visitors are expected to support the creators, the thinkers, the writers, the animators and recognize them for their masterpieces by ensuring they cough up the $11.99, or so, entitling you to enjoy (or possibly not enjoy) what they’ve created. On every wall there is a sign saying, “Please Purchase Before Reading”. It’s a simple rule, and it creates a tremendous impact by helping shops, like Amalgam, to continue their existence.
I very gratefully nabbed a copy of Saga Vol. 3, a graphic novel I’ve been tied to over the last few weeks. As I sat at a table, sipped my chai, and turned through the pages, I had the overwhelming feeling of pure joy. If I wasn’t located hours away, Amalgam would be my Batcave, or my S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier…or…or…my Thousand Sunny! You get the picture. This was the first comic book spot I’ve been to where I felt absolutely comfortable. In many other stores, I always feel like I have to get what I need and just get the hell out. Many stores don’t have areas to sit and chat, and they definitely don’t have food or coffee. The stores are crafted as just that, a store. But being a nerd, I know it can be a more intoxicating experience when you’re able to read at your own pace and connect with other nerds, just like you. These days, there are more and more geeky spaces popping up, indulging in the financial abundance fandom can bring. It’s just sad that on the East Coast, especially New England, there aren’t many hangouts that are offline. I hope that with places like Amalgam opening its door, other store owners will take note, creating future opportunities for all nerds and geeks to come together.
Philly has truly gained a valuable treasure in Amalgam, a place that provides a safe haven for nerds and geeks like us here at RiceBall. We strongly support and will definitely return!