I don’t know about you, but I’ve been watching the trend of closing local comic shops or collectible stores with growing unease. I worry about these local havens of nerdiness and their impact on my town. I fear that decreasing lines from big players like DC and Marvel, along with online sellers holding increasingly tempting sales, is going to drive all of the local shops out of business. And with Toys-R-Us closing down, 2018 felt like a bit of a collectible apocalypse. But 2019 came and is now on its way out. Despite some sad, empty storefronts — things weren’t over.
I sat back and felt that pang of sadness as I looked at prices online versus what I could get at my local shop, and I felt some regret. There are times I have been lured in by the allure of online shopping too. Especially where figures are concerned. Online retailers offered me pre-orders and early order discounts. It’s sometimes hard to resist the urge to go with the cheaper option. But, as many collectors have realized, the internet is also full of fraud. Shops (good ones anyway) don’t tend to allow the fraudulent merch onto their shelves.
Good collectibles, comics, and, well, everything collector oriented seems to be getting more expensive. A single issue of a comic is now about $3 — and as much as $5 if it’s a particularly big one. When Amazon and Comixology offer the same issue for $0.99, it becomes hard to justify the expense to complete a long-running series.
But as the allure of online wears off, and I get brutalized box after brutalized box, paint errors, or any number of other issues, I realize the convenience isn’t really worth it. I find myself returning to brick and mortar stores to hunt down my new finds. Be them local comic shops, collectible stores, or exclusive hunting at Target or FYE, I find myself back under the glow of fluorescent lights, looking for the best paint app among their stock.
The Shift In Collector Spaces
While reading online, you might think that we are in a comic book and collectible apocalypse. But I think things are just evolving. Stores who resist the changing world around them are the ones who are disappearing. I’m not saying that your shop is safe, but I’ve noticed that shops are beginning to expand what they sell and what they offer.
Shops are no longer just housing comics and their related figures or statues. They sell trading cards, board games, tabletop miniatures, and they have ample space in the back for playing or hosting workshops. To some, this muddies the shop, it makes it a place that is no longer just for comic book lovers — but I see this as a huge bonus.
People who have never read a comic are now walking through the shelves and peering at the issues. They become interested while they wait for their tournament to start, or their friends to arrive. DnD players who meet in the back room once a week now buy new miniatures and core rule books, which helps the shop.
These spaces are becoming geek utopias. Sure, there are sometimes different debates — maybe over a rule in Magic: The Gathering. But how is that different than the heated debates over which hero is best, or if Batman should just kill the Joker already? These spaces now have a room where comic clubs can get together like a book club and talk about recent issues. Or collectors can come to the shop to trade figures. Warhammer 40K players can measure distances and roll their dice on large tables. DnD groups can spin stories and save worlds. It’s incredible to watch.
These places are welcoming to all of nerdom, and that’s fantastic. Just like Comic-Con, there don’t need to be lines between the different kinds of nerdy stuff you’re into. And hey, maybe you’ll get into something new too!
The thing is, these nerdy places aren’t the only ones taking notice of us. Collectors, be it of comics, figures, cards, or (for those of us with deep pockets) statues, aren’t seen as the outcasts we once were.
The Rest of the World Took Notice
Sure, collector shaming is still alive and well (I recommend you check out Andrea’s article about it), but there are places for us now. While family and friends might think we’re a little odd, at least we have a passion in our lives that brings us happiness. And that happiness is getting more and more attention.
Target and Walmart have both created collectible sections. They haven’t gone so far as to start stocking comics, but you can regularly find NECA, McFarlane, Funko, and other more collector focused brands adorning their shelves. Even Hot Topic — which used to be a goth and scene focused store, has transformed into a Pop Culture one-stop-shop. GameStop, once a place to get rid of old games and pick them up, now boasts a collectibles section larger than Walmart, and with a much better selection.
If you haven’t been to a GameStop in awhile, it’s an entirely different store. I spend more money on figures there (they have so many exclusives, it’s crazy) than I do on systems and games. I just recently picked up the E3 Exclusive Ciri from Witcher 3 — who is one of my favorite characters (I’ve even got a cosplay photo up on my Gemr account). I went on the hunt for it. And that was part of what made it so special: I had my toy hunt — and came home victorious.
And then you have places like Gemr. “Now, Chelsea,” you might be thinking, “you work there, isn’t that a bias?” And you’d be right. I am biased, but I joined Gemr because I believe collectors like me and you deserve a nerdy utopia that doesn’t ever close. I started working here because I believe in what Gemr is trying to do. We, collectors, deserve to have an online place like our shops where we can share our passion. Gemr lets me share the highs and lows of collecting with people who actually care. When I pick up something amazing and new, people can celebrate with me. If, for instance, my cat knocks my NECA Ultimate Alien Queen off a shelf and breaks her crest off, people understand the anguish (I’m not bitter, I swear).
So What Does it All Mean?
Look, I’m not going to tell you it’s all going to be okay. I’m not going to say your favorite store is going to survive this wave of closings. What I am saying is that while things are changing, you don’t have to worry that every comic shop and collectible shop is closing down. Collectors are thriving — to the point that major retailers are taking notice and changing to accommodate us.
The internet has drastically changed the landscape, but most collectors know the truth. If you want to ensure the quality and authenticity of what you’re picking up, you go to a brick and mortar store and hold it in your hands before you buy. That way you know the packaging is in perfect condition and that the paint app is good. You can see that the corners aren’t damaged and that the pages aren’t torn. There will be some times when you buy online — all of us do — but we will never give up the stores we love.
So I don’t think we have to worry about the end of shops forever. It’s a time of change, but at the end of it, there will be better shops, cooler places to hang out, and maybe we’ll even gain a new obsession. Though I hope I can avoid the temptation of a new collection — my wallet can barely support the ones I have.
Gemr is the #1 free app and website for collectors. It’s the best place on the internet to meet fellow fans, show off your collection, talk all things geeky, and buy and sell cool stuff with people who love the same things you do. If you’re looking for the only place on your phone (or the internet) built just for collectors — this is it!