Celebrating the niche

Jam of the week: “Without You” by Eddie Vedder

There are few places one can go during an average spring weekend to see people dressed up as their favorite heroes and villains. Few places exist where one can go to hear both the informed discussions of adults and the squeaks of a child’s happiness in the same place. Overall, there are few comic book stores that I’ve come across in Iowa, but Saturday was a celebration of those stores during Free Comic Book Day.

The day is celebrated on the first Saturday in May every year. Since I didn’t find myself reading graphic novels until just a few years ago, the day doesn’t have that history with me like the important holidays, such as Christmas and Casimir Pulaski Day. However, I found myself out of town this weekend with my girlfriend, and we decided to stop by one of the local comic book stores.

I had visited this comic book store in the past a few times. On an average visit, there might be a couple people browsing through the newer comics and some light banter about the ongoing fictional lives of superheroes that I recognize, but don’t closely follow. While obviously each store differs, I found this one to be helpful with my questions that I’m sure they considered to be simple, but they were very helpful.

Saturday was a very different atmosphere. A line of people weaved through the store, beginning near the tables of free comics set up near the entrance. There were comics from many different series, produced specifically for the Free Comic Book Day event which is held nationwide. I picked up a copy of one of the few series that I’ve read, “The Walking Dead.”

I queued after grabbing the comic and looked silently around at the walls full of books while waiting in line at first. You have to love comic book geeks though, because the small talk I made in that waiting line was better than the last throes of winter that anyone else would have mentioned. Among the people I talked to while waiting in line, I talked to this couple who lamented the unpopularity of one of their favored superheroes, Aquaman.

The time in line also gave me time to look through how this business, which fills a very small niche in a town, is able to bring in customers like this. While I would gawk for hours if I tried to stumble my way through the stores income and expenses, I can appreciate the way they promote their goods to others.

Something interesting that comic book producers are doing now is running special covers for comics that feature the name and a photo of the comic book store they are sold in. The cover features a blank space where they can insert the photo of the store and their name right alongside famous crimestoppers and defenders of the planet. I suppose it’s another way to build brand loyalty in a market that needs regular customers.

The Free Comic Book Day itself, however, was a really good excuse for me to come back. While I have to admit that I buy a lot of books and other media online, my girlfriend bought a couple hardcover copies of things she’s wanted to read for a while. Not cheap, and I’m sure the store brought in a lot of business that day. It also had snacks and comics catered towards children, who are another possible customer base for the store. For the record, I was too bashful to grab one of the fruit flavored drinks with the bottle shaped like a barrel, even though I recognized it from my childhood.

I found myself continuing to reflect on these ways that a niche business is staying afloat. The current state of the U.S. economy aside, I’m unsure how long those businesses, which provide a service that can be found online, can stay open and profitable. Whatever your niche is, you can understand how nice it is to go into a physical location and see rows and rows of something you enjoy. It might be worth supporting them now, because the future is laced with uncertainty.