In the hip Elizabeth neighborhood in Charlotte, NC resides a quiet truth: not all bookstores are kneeling at death’s door. As one of four comic book stores in the Charlotte area and “the most famous shops in the country,” Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find may have some much needed advice for independent bookstores on the subject of fighting the good fight. In case you’ve yet to register the book industry’s grappling with the dramatic changes in our book culture as a fight of epic proportions, look up. Spider man and Doc Ock are there to remind you.
When I popped in for a quick visit yesterday, all vital signs were good. A customer was plying the pretty bookseller with questions about certain cult classic comics, while his son read peacefully on a bench at the front of the store. That same bookseller looked herself like a comic book character with two-toned hair, knee high black boots and, did I detect large-pupilled Anime style contacts? In any case, she seemed to know her stuff.
But what impressed me more than her encyclopedic knowledge of DC Comics history was what she revealed about the shop’s loyal clientele.
“We get about 500 regular customers coming back to us,” she said, “every week.”
So, have I mentioned I work in retail for my day job? In a central location that gets an healthy amount of foot traffic? 500 customers is an impressive Monday through Friday figure, and that’s customers total: New, return, browsers, the lot. If she’s right and they get 500 regular customers coming in every week, not counting their once-a-monthers or walk-ins, I’d say Heroes won’t have to fight off any of the usual villains of the book industry world any time soon.
Was she worried about comic book readers turning to e-books? My question was answered with a shrug.
“People still prefer the paper,” she said. “It’s not the same following the pictures on a screen.”
What’s more, people come out for the events, she explained, and Heroes organizes an array of them, including the annual Heroes Convention of Charlotte. As long as conventions continue to grow in popularity, fans are going to stay loyal to comic books. It would seem, the two go together like Batman and Robin.
Confession time: I’m not much a comic book reader myself, though I have nothing against the genre. Still, I’m fascinated by comic book fans’ loyalty and by the fact that they have found a niche that seems to have weathered the worst of the e-book storm. Would it could be reproduced in general bookstores! What do you think? Are you a fan of comic books? What keeps you coming back?