Success stories: Augusta comic book stores credit variety, service, fandom for longevity – The Augusta Chronicle

Correction: A previous version of this incorrectly identified Chris Galloway, the owner of Top Dog Comics. The story has been updated.
As e-commerce continues to close brick-and-mortar stores, niche stores such as Augusta’s comic book sellers continue to survive and thrive. These stores credit their success to variety on the shelves, new fantasy films and in-person customer service.
“We do every gaming line, every toy line, comics, we’re a one-stop-shop for collectors,” said Chris Galloway, owner of Top Dog Comics, which recently moved to a larger storefront on Washington Road.
The new space is 7,200 square feet, which is 5,200 square feet bigger than the previous store. In addition to providing more room for products, the expansion also allowed Galloway to add more gaming tables and a defined area for celebrity visits. The next guest is expected to be Jason David Frank, who played Tommy Oliver in “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” and has been featured on several other incarnations of the popular franchise.
Long-lasting TV shows like that and new, exciting film adaptations have also really helped the business, according to Angel Zapata, the owner of Dead Media Collectibles on Central Avenue.
“The success of Marvel and the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe], I think, has really got an interest, it’s kind of gotten over the stigma of ‘nerd,’ ” he said. “If you collected comics and you were reading comics, if you’re a teenager, you’re like ‘What’s the matter with you?’ But now, you get all walks of life that are now inspired.”
The MCU has put a spotlight on over 30 different superheroes, each with their own stories and merchandise, which is part why the comic book stores stock such a variety.
The owners expressed the importance of listening to their customer base to figure out what they want. 
“If somebody came in and said ‘You sell books, do you sell reading lamps?’ I’ll be like ‘No,'” said Paul Rogers, who owns Augusta Book Exchange on Gordon Highway. “But if enough people in a short period of time said ‘You should carry reading lamps, I would buy a reading lamp from you’ after a while I’ll be like, ‘Well what kind of reading lamps are you looking for?'”
That customer interaction illustrates the power of in-person sales. The owners say they are available to talk with and give advice to shoppers. That was the case for John Rogers of Graniteville. 
“I just got introduced to card-collecting, and my brother showed me an online store based out of Pennsylvania, but I wanted to do something local,” he said. When Rogers found Top Dog, he was able to get answers from owner Galloway on questions like “‘Do you buy these certain things? What seasons to stay away from?’ He was talking about the ’80s and ’90s, the overproduction of baseball cards and how they’re basically worthless … so that was helpful.”
Customer Daniel Hooker said he’s never liked online shopping.
“I just like going into the store and getting the thing itself,” Hooker said.
“It’s nice to be able to walk into the store, flip through things and buy it, and usually at a much cheaper price than you’re gonna get online,” said Lanny Aaronson, another Top Dog customer.
According to Comichron, an online resource for data analysis on comics, sales of traditional comic books from comic book stores have far outpaced digital downloads over the past few years. As of 2020, sales in North America were at $440 million for comic stores and $160 million for downloads.
“Most of the people who read comic books are collectors, and they don’t wanna collect something digitally,” said Rogers from Augusta Book Exchange. “I’ve heard some stories where people have lost their digital stuff for one reason or another. They maybe did something that was against the rules of whoever the digital stuff is provided by and they got the whole account pulled.”
Zapata buys and sells tons of movies, in addition to comics and toys at Dead Media Collectibles and he has been seeing similar issues.
“We’re finding a lot of the streaming services are not keeping their line up, so a lot of people that have now traded their collections are realizing ‘Oh my god! Why did I do that?!’ ” he said.
That passion among the fandom is one of the biggest reasons for these stores’ success. All three owners said they have been life-long pop culture enthusiasts, and what they do is not just a job.
“I’m 61 now and I’ve been reading comic books since five or six years old,” Rogers said.
“I started as a young boy just loving comics and trading comics with other kids when I was in grade school,” Zapata said. “Kind of fell in love with collecting, basically, because I loved just any kind of ephemera, any kind of paper good that I knew shouldn’t have survived, but it was like 100 years old. I was like ‘Wow! This is amazing!'”
“This is what I know and it’s what I love,” Gallowaysaid. “When you put a passion and a love with something that you have a background in, and an expertise in, there was no hesitancy.”
That passion has served the stores well, and has transformed them not just into businesses but into community hubs that re-spark that feeling of being a kid again.
“They like the old-timey feel of being in a shop from when they were growing up, just a regular shop where you can come in and ‘talk shop’ and not feel embarrassed,” Zapata said. “I got guys in here, they don’t wanna talk. They wanna come in here, they wanna spend an hour, this is their time. It’s their quiet time, it’s their time to de-stress from the week, so they’re like ‘When I come in here, I feel stressed. But when I leave here, I feel a lot better.'”