From the Stands is a series that profiles comic-book stores around the Twin Cities and talks about their histories, their offerings, and the communities they serve.
Cachet—that is, history or status—is a key factor for any business. You want your customers to know that you can come through for them, that you can provide what they’re looking for and that you’re going to be around for a long time to come. Tim Lohn, owner and operator of Comic Book College (located at 3145 Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis) knows that his customers appreciate his store’s longevity.
Comic Book College opened as Comic Book City in 1974, making it Minnesota’s oldest comic-book store—after newsstand-cum-comic shop Shinders, which was founded in 1916, shuttered its locations in 2007 due to bankruptcy. Comic Book College is “beyond” Shinders now.
The store became Comic Book College in 1985, and Tim has owned the store since 2003. Though originally situated at 3151 Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis’s CARAG neighborhood, the store was forced in 2012 to relocate to a distant location . . . 10 feet up the street to 3145.
“The building got sold and we had to move,” says Lohn. “We were lucky for this [space] to open up with a lot more room and parking.”
The move has been lucky indeed for the store, providing extra floor space and leading to a more inviting environment. According to Lohn, “We probably had 450 square feet before, and now it’s a couple of thousand.” As a longtime customer, I can confirm that the store is in a much better place, in terms of both location and atmosphere. The former space could hardly have passed for a studio apartment; Comic Book College’s extensive collection of over 100,000 back issues was squeezed onto shelves that covered every square inch of the old store’s backroom. Now, their back issues—shelved and painstakingly organized—fit comfortably in their new location, as do their new releases, trade paperbacks and graphic novels, toys and collectibles, and robust all-ages comics section.
All-ages comics are important to Lohn, as is making the store an inviting environment for readers of every stripe. Like many comic shops, Comic Book College’s clientele often consists of males from 18 to 45, and Lohn says comic stores can be a forbidding, “scary” place for customers who don’t fit into that demographic. But he wants his store to turn that tradition around: “I love bringing in new readers, and I love all-ages comics,” he says, citing fan favorite Bone and Uncle Scrooge comics by Don Rosa and Carl Barks as some of his top picks.
Lohn’s efforts to widen his customer base and to help shoppers who aren’t “comic book dudes” discover new seem to be bearing fruit. While I was in the store to interview Tim, a young girl of eight or nine was shopping with her grandmother for a good chunk of time in the all-ages section and the even received a few recommendations from Lohn’s employee at the front desk. Needless to say, they left pretty happy (with a stack of new comics). I can vouch for the fact that superior customer service is a factor in Lohn’s repeat business; every time I’ve been to the shop, I’ve seen or overheard both new and veteran customers being directed to suggested books or having special orders arranged by the shop’s helpful and knowledgeable staff.
Says Lohn of his growing customer base: “We are getting a lot more kids in here . . . our female readership has gone up a lot, too. I think it’s due to more diverse publishing. Part of it has to do with our move, too, being in a more inviting, open space, rather than just a cramped little store. There’s a lot of foot traffic from shopping at Uptown, and in summer at Lake Calhoun, a lot of people stop by that have never been in a comic store before.”
Comic Book College frequents conventions, as well. You’re likely to see them as close as the MCBA’s Fall ComiCon or as far as Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, where they sell a large part of their back-issue catalog for good discounts. In addition, the store’s website features a new-release calendar and staff recommendations. They have offered some online sales in the past, but it’s not currently a focus for the busy store. “Someday,” says Lohn, “I hope to get more of my inventory up there.”
I asked what new books were selling well these days. “Some of the new Marvel [books] . . . Ms. Marvel is doing really well; that’s brought in a lot of new readers and female readers,” he said. “A lot of Image titles . . . because they’re not just the regular old superheroes. There’s lots of new ideas and different genres, horror, romance, sci fi . . . that’s brought in some new people.”
As for what’s not doing well? “DC had their Convergence crossover a few months ago and that pretty much bombed. Secret Wars has done better for Marvel, although it seems like sometimes they push too much. [Secret Wars titles] were delayed, and that caused some confusion . . . [readers] were like, ‘Enough, I don’t need this.'” Lohn is a comic fan himself—unsurprisingly—and when he’s not running the shop, he cites Saga, Southern Bastards, and Hawkeye as some of his favorites (in addition to the above-mentioned Uncle Scrooge and Bone).
In conclusion, if you’re looking for a store with a great selection and a helpful staff, one that will cater to you whether you’re new to comics or if you’re just there for your weekly pull list, you can always find Comic Book College just two blocks south of Lake Street on Hennepin Ave. After all, they haven’t moved more than 10 feet in 42 years.