First Stop…JAF Comics!

It was some time in the 1990s. I was around seven or eight years old and my teenage cousin picked me up from elementary school. As we walked home, we stopped at a corner store called Pam’s Candy. I remember feeling so cool hanging out with my cousin. As we walked into the store, there were shelves and shelves of candy, but my cousin stopped there for an ice cream cone. A “nutty buddy” to be precise.

He asked me if I wanted one, too which I of course answered “yeah!” This ice cream cone could only add to my coolness factor. Yet, even with all of the candy in this small corner store, I was lost in a gaze elsewhere. There was a manually revolving magazine rack, loaded with comic books! I recall telling him that I would ask my mother for the money to pay him back, if he would buy me one.

So he did. Spawn #30…Al Simmons hanging from a noose. Just mere hours before my school teacher was reading my class The Hungry Caterpillar, and now I was about to read Spawn #30. I walked out of the store with my cousin, clutching my new comic book and eating my “nutty buddy” (which I thought was awful at the time, and am now fairly certain that I’m allergic to peanuts).

Not a year later, Pam’s Candy was closed. Swallowed whole like most other small business that couldn’t afford to stay profitable against bigger brands and markets.

 

 

This leads me into the greater point of this diatribe. In the 1990s, you could find comic shops anywhere. Comic book stores were in abundance, but then the over printing started, and the great crash began. All of those people who stock piled Image firsts, would soon realize that comic books were never truly meant to be bought and sold on secondary markets, but read and enjoyed.

People dreaming that they too would be buying in on the next Superman, Spider-Man, or Batman were sadly mistaken. Even in today’s market of buying and selling, most modern books can only be sold for fun money. Not the real money that the 1990’s media and tabloids would make the comic book outsider believe. Stores began closing. Video games became so much more prominent, and comic books were no longer “cool”.

Yet here we are today. Comic books, at least in the mainstream, are as cool as ever. It’s no longer looked at as a nerdy hobby, but there still are only so many places you can get them. Hell, my local Barnes and Noble doesn’t even sell individual issues anymore, and comic book shops are few and far between.

Like the toy market did to KB and Toys R Us, it seems comic books are becoming more and more a cyber retailer. Mega shops do the majority of their selling online. Which is why I've thought up this new article.

I, along with some others writers will be highlighting local comic shops around the world and giving you an inside look at what some of us consider a second home. A safe haven if you will.

 

 

My tour starts at JAF Comics. This store boasts two locations, both in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. Their original store can be found at 224 Nazareth Pike, Bethlehem, PA 18020, and their newest location can be found inside the Palmer Park Mall with the address 143 Palmer Park Mall, Easton, PA 18045. They are also on Facebook.

 

 

I myself am partial to the original location, but the fact that they have had the ability to open a second location, in the digital and cyber world of commerce is impressive. Now I’ve stepped foot into well over 100 comic book stores across America, most having some pros, and plenty having many cons. What I believe sets this particular store apart from others is the cleanliness, the customer service, and the comfort when you walk in. It’s colorful, it’s clean, and perhaps one of the nicer aspects, the staff don’t shove their opinion on subject matter, or personal comic book agenda down your throat.

What some of the charismatic and friendly staff may lack in “comic book knowledge” (the solo knock if you read their laundry list of exceptional reviews), they easily make up for in their interactions with customers and giving their customers their full attention when questions are asked or concerns are had. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a few of the staff members on a friendly basis, and am happy to call the owner a friend.

Their original location boasts beautifully organized books on walls and racks. All of the new releases are bagged and boarded for the convenience of the customer. They obtained a massive collection of books from the late 1980s-present.

They stock dozens of boxes of $1 comics, as well as 25% off comics, and everyone’s favorite “wall books”. I’ve been eyeing up their copy of Detective Comics #227, but I digress. They also have a fine selection of trade paperbacks, collected editions, action figures, pops, busts, and statues.

 

 

Their newest location (the mall location) caters a bit more to gaming. Still a comic shop first, the shop has large private rooms where customers can play Magic the Gathering and I’m sure whatever other card games are popular. This location also has new releases and over 20 boxes of $1 comics.

It is still adding more premiere books to the walls, but some that can be found are Marvel Super Heroes #12, NYX #3, and a CGC 9.2 The Walking Dead #19. I just recently purchased a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #569 (2nd printing) on a black Friday deal. I was also able to sit down and have a brief Q&A with the store owner John.

 

 

Me: “Every comic book character, every major comic book for that matter has an origin story. That being said, what is JAF Comics origin story?”

John: “My origin story would be that we started by selling just action figures (the shop was originally called Just Action Figures). We bought them from a storage unit. Tons of action figures. When we moved into our first location we went from selling just toys and figures to customers coming in and asking ‘why aren’t you selling comics?'

They were telling me about their experiences with shops forgetting books and not ordering particular books, and I figured that I could do it better. I built my own system that managed all of my customers, and then we started purchasing comic books through Diamond, when we originally were just buying toys.

Shortly after we got going, the owner of another local comic store had passed away, and his wife had reached out to me close to three years later after she had tried to run the business herself. We made an offer and bought everything in the store.

Simultaneously, we moved from our little 600 square foot space and the next day we moved into our current space which is around 2,400 square feet. From there the subscribers just started coming, and that’s what it comes down too.

Supporting our subscriber base, and from there it just started to grow. We ended up opening a second shop after just running the mall store for the holidays, so now we’re at our second shop.”

Me: “What was it that made you change from Just Action Figures, to JAF Comics?”

John: “A customer of mine would come in and say that he told his wife he was going to ‘JAF'. So I thought that seemed easy enough. From there I decided we just call it JAF Comics instead of Just Action Figures.”

Me: “With the Lehigh Valley being a hotbed for comic book shops, what differentiates JAF Comics from other stores?”

John: “I feel, and I don’t know if other stores do this or not, but I feel like we listen to our customers. When they say they like something we do, we keep doing it that way. If they don’t like something, we morph. We’re not afraid to change.

I think that the stigma of a comic shop is sometimes a dirty, musty, type place, and in some cases those are great shops too. But we stay clean and organized. If people want to dig through the dollar boxes and look for something, we have that.

If someone is looking for something specific it should be in order somewhere for them to look for it. So I believe cleanliness and organization sets us apart from other shops.”

Me: “In the late ‘90s comic book stores took a major hit, obviously you know that the market has ebbs and flows. What has made your store not only successful in one location but two locations?”

 

 

John: “You can look at this either way. I’m not a personal collector, so for me it's business. I absolutely love the comics. I just pulled four first appearances of X-23 out of a long box, and to me that is so exciting, but I enjoy selling them even more. So I like having them in my possession, I thinks it’s amazing, but then it’s that much more fun to sell them.

I think because I don’t have a personal collection, when I buy collections, they’re not coming to my house. I think a lot of stores do it because it’s there hobby, and not because it’s a business, where they’re trying to make money and give people jobs. So as fun as it is, it is a business.”

Me: “What do you believe the future is for JAF Comics?”

John: “Honestly, I would like a few more stores. I’d like to be in strategic areas, where we can build a community of comic book, cards, and gaming fans in that neighborhood and be a part of their communities.”

Me: “Very few comic shops have had success franchising out. Newbury Comics, Mile High, and Midtown come to mind when I bring this up. How can you sustain profitability and success, while also not stealing your own clientele from your current stores as you continue to branch out?”

John: “At the end of the day, it’s all about training your staff and having the right staff. As far as I’m concerned if you have the right staff in your store and the good business model behind it, you train that staff to treat the customer correctly and handle the process that you’ve put together.

I think it’s an easy process. It’s very easy moving along if it’s all the same, but it all starts with the person behind the counter. Staff is the first thing a customer sees, and they dictate whether the customer will come back or not.”

Me: “In 2018, what are the main characters that customers come in asking about?”

John: “Venom. Definitely Venom. Anything Avengers related. Black Panther. People are going absolutely bananas over the new Green Lantern story. And of course Image keep coming out with these little crazy books that people go crazy over, but they normally won’t last. Although mostly at this point, it’s Marvel.”

Me: “What is the best seller at your locations?”

John: “Our subscribers. The people who come in on a regular basis and pick up their books. The other things are just the add-ons and that’s why we focus so much on our subscribers. They are the ones that keep the business functioning.”

Me: “Last question, with you not being a comic collector, what is the coolest comic book that someone has come in with trying to sell you?”

John: “The Avengers #1. By far that was the coolest book. I hated selling it. It has to be one of the coolest books I’ve ever seen. I was floored when it came through the door. It wasn’t the best condition, but still, just to hold that book and the history behind it was super cool.”

As always, thanks for visiting the City Supreme, and don't forget to turn out the lights tonight. There are more shops to see and more ghouls to hunt down. I’ll give JAF comics a solid 4 1/2 beers out of 5. Now I’ll drink to that.

11 comments

  • This is my LCS! I love this place. Feel like family. Wouldn’t even consider going anywhere else. Glad to see them recognized here.

  • A nice focus piece.
    I appreciate the business side of the conversation. It can’t be easy to open multiple locations in a concentrated area without cannibalizing your own subscribers.

    Another takeaway I appreciated was his view on customer service. There have definitely been a few shops where you enter to a cold, rude employee/owner and you have no interest spending your time or money there.

    I’m always searching for new shops to visit. I look forward to stopping in this JAF the next time my travels find me in the Lehigh Valley.

  • Wow, where to begin on this absurd article? First let’s get to the real meat here and that is the crapshow that is JAF Comics. I love how the “only” complaint written is their lack of comic book knowledge. 1: that is a big complaint (Most comic collectors want a knowledgeable comic staff) but 2: that’s not even close to the only complaint. There are many valid complaints against the business, including the owner and employees making fun of customers (based on their size, “awkwardness”, “smell”, “looks”, and even sexuality)… Family friendly? You really should hear how the owner/employees/and even specially treated customers talks behind many folks backs. This isn’t a welcoming place…

    With that said, it’s also an unethical place. Giving customers “discounts” or “free books” for writing positive reviews is at best unethical, and at worst illegal. Also, I really would love to know how many of these “employees” are actually on a payroll, and not being paid under the table or in store credit. I know some comic book stores do this as well, JAF isn’t the only one, but it’s also VERY wrong…. Not to mention the owner of the store doesn’t read or collect comic book himself. Call me a snob, but I want an owner who cares and loves books, not someone who is just in it for the money.

    Now let’s get to the least important part about this story, but wow let’s just hope this “writer” keeps his day job. This story reeks of bias (wonder if he was given some nice discounts/store credit for the article). Comparing one small crappy store and another in a dying mall to mile high, midtown, etc is absolutely laughable. I know we aren’t here for journalistic excellence, but there needs to be some credibility and this article and the writer have none! Shame on this article!

    • A. J. Diesel

      I’ll ignore the hypocrisy in your comment as you clearly have your opinion and own bias. I also will ignore your rude words in regards to my writing, as my credentials speak for themselves, and are certainly no business of yours. I’m not sure what your personal agenda is for bashing me, as we don’t know one another. This is a great community where we discuss comics and comic related things. It is a real shame that you felt the need to whip insults around, in a type of futile attempt at bashing a comic shop and myself. You entire argument comes off extremely rudimentary.

      I hope you continue to enjoy the site, but please, if your comments are going to be downright nasty, perhaps they’re better left unsaid.

      • These aren’t opinions, they’re absolute facts that can be backed up by MANY people (including former customers and employees) but way to ignore the real unethical and disgusting issues of this store and its employees. That’s where the meat of this discussion is and you’ve completely ignored it…. You’ve also brushed off the fact they’re all truly clueless when it comes to comics and the owner only sees it as a way to make money and truly doesn’t care about comics or the culture (why would anyone want to go to a store like that?!? Also try to talk to anyone there about key issues/stories when it comes to Marvel/DC and you’ll see just how clueless they are)

        In terms of your “credentials” again don’t quit your day job, you write for a comic book site that I doubt is in the top 100 metrically (You aren’t even listed on Cision!). You’re not a reporter or a journalist – it’s a hobby keep it that way…. And how much store credit or discount did the owner give you for this review (like he gives for other positive reviews). No integrity!

        • A. J. Diesel

          I walk into a comic book store and gave my review and opinion on the topic. For you to bash me doesn’t make any sense, as well as bashing the site and it’s great writers. You and I don’t know each other, so why the hostility?

          I gave a review of my opinion on a store, as I will continue to along the way. If you want to have a discussion in regards to comic book knowledge, I gladly will have that discussion with you. Feel free to read my previous articles as my comic book knowledge has never been in question. That being said, there is always more to be learned and absorbed.

          If you dislike a comic store, that is fine. But to attack this site for giving opinions and knowledge on topics just doesn’t make any sense. Why are you so irate in regards to me?

          • Continue to dodge the question all you want, but how much did the owner give you in free comics or discounts for this post (like former customers say that he gives for other positive reviews) – at best this is unethical (especially for a “writer” like yourself) and at worst it’s illegal

  • A. J. Diesel

    @LA1481
    I don’t know the answers to your questions, so how am I dodging them? I received no incentives to do this article. I hunt shops in PA, NJ, and NY.

    And why with the bashing of me? Which you continually dodge. I’m sorry that our opinions of a place differ, but I mean no Ill will towards you. I apologize for your negative experince with the store, but does that call for you to be rude and demeaning to me?

    • You actually expect readers to believe that you “received no incentives to do this article” – when all former/current customers know that they give out discounts/freebies for positive reviews (there its literal text message promotional proof of this) – which again says something about a business that they need to pay for positive reviews.

      The “bashing” of you is because this article is disgusting biased, to an absurd level. Avoiding bias is literally journalism 101, so you deserved to be bashed for that!

      #DoBetter

      • A. J. Diesel

        You’re absolutely right. Fox, CNN, ESPN, etc, the most successful journalist have no bias. Instead of trying to have a rational conversation with you, I’ll accept that your argument just collapsed on itself and wish you well in your future endeavors. From here I will go on living my life. Hope you continue to enjoy the site.

        • You aren’t actually using Fox News as an example are you? LOL! They aren’t real journalists. Real journalists do not let personal bias affect their articles, literally Journalism 101 (my guess is you’ve never had a writing class in your life), but again don’t quit your day job. Again, strictly attacking your disgusting bias, everything else is perfectly acceptable from a writing standpoint.

          Anyone with half a brain can see that, given JAF Comics pattern of behavior (ya know, giving free/discounts to people who write good reviews) that you were given something for this “article”. It’s really not hard to see (there are literal e-mails about this practice from them!) and I’m sure with how many people over there leak info/rat that store out, it’ll come out as well. Again #DoBetter

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