On a whole, comic book shops tend to be a small, close-knit community. People who work there become friends with those that shop there, and the regulars will be able to help new customers just as much as the employees. When you walk in to a new comic shop though, you can feel like you’re the new kid in school, or the new family on the block in a very small town, and that can be really overwhelming.
When the door first opens and you walk, there's this weird hush across the room as people look at you to try and feel you out, then immediately return to whatever it is they're doing. I’m giving this moment its own paragraph for two reasons. The first point is that it happens to everyone: guy or girl, Trekker or Star Wars, Whovian or...whoever doesn’t like Doctor Who? (I don’t know what the opposite of that is…). Don't let this intimidate you. The second: if you’re a girl the moment might last a little longer then if you're a guy. You can take it as a compliment, because you are so beautiful they couldn’t look away, or you can take it as a challenge. They want to see if you know your stuff or if you’re just completely lost. I like to take it as both. This way I feel beautiful, but I still get to/have to prove myself.
If the shop is worth this first awkward moment, then someone will come up and ask if you need any help. I usually say no and let them know I’m just browsing. If the shop is better than “worth it” they’ll give you a minute or two and then come over to check on you again. The approach I appreciate the best is when they ask what my interests are. Usually they’ll ask what I’m into, or what I’m reading, or even just ask what/who I’m shopping for. No matter what they use to interact with you, the fact that they’ve put out the effort to come over is something I take as a good sign. There’s nothing more awkward or infuriating than going into a shop and being completely ignored. If you do find yourself in that situation, my advice is to try a different shop.
I was once given the advice that a comic book shop should feel like home. [Editor’s Note: This was from someone who is both brilliant and incredibly attractive. -JPG] I couldn’t understand that; it’s just a store, right? There’s just no way I can walk into a store and have it feel like home on Day One. That changed the day I found my comic book shop. I was still semi-new to comics and had been to a couple of shops that, honestly, felt very uncomfortable. I would just stand around waiting for my friends to grab what they needed and then I’d leave. Finally, I walked into Comics Toons N’ Toys. They were having a huge sidewalk sale outside, and I knew a couple people working the outside section, so I thought that was the reason for the change in vibe. That was until I went inside. The people working inside were so nice and so helpful. I ended up talking to one of them for a good 15 minutes without even touching an item on the shelf.
The reason I’m sharing this story is not to sell you on a specific shop, but to show you that it’s not just talk: places like this exist all over. It sounds unrealistic until you find your own, but when you do, it’s such an amazing feeling. You end up excited to go to the comic shop because you can't wait to discuss what you just read, or talk about what's new that you might want to pick up.
I know I’m taking this into a weird circle. I tend to do this, and I feel like this is fair warning for you in the future. I was writing this about walking in to a shop for the first time and I’ve gone off into this tangent of going in every week. The reason for this is because of that awkward moment when the door opens: it’s a really hard moment to get over, but I want you to remember what the experience could be for you once you get past that point. Any shop can sell you a book. You should be looking for more than that, and to be honest, you can sometimes know in the first 15 minutes if this is the shop for you. If it is: congratulations! And if it’s not: please don’t feel pressured to buy something. Comic book shops are getting harder and harder to find, so please be sure to give your money to a store you find deserving.