Beyond superheroes: Comics N’ More brings hobby to Easthampton

  • Comics N’ More in Easthampton is co-owned by Phoebe Zax and Christian Reader. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Christian Reader talks about the store, Comics N’ More, that he co-owns with Phoebe Zax in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Comics N’ More in Easthampton is co-owned by Phoebe Zax and Christian Reader. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kenneth Green, left, a customer at Comics N’ More in Easthampton, talks with co-owner Phoebe Zax. The other owner is Christian Reader in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Comics N’ More, co-owned by Phoebe Zax and Christian Reader, in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Phoebe Zax, co-owner of Comics N’ More, helps customer Tim Noonan of Chicopee at the Easthampton comics shop on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. Founded in 1989, the store recently moved from Union Street in Easthampton a few blocks away to Cottage Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Phoebe Zax, left, co-owner of Comics N’ More, and employee Dana Lee Scully load in the weekly shipment of new releases at the Easthampton comics shop. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Phoebe Zax, co-owner of Comics N’ More, sleeves recent purchases for display at the Easthampton comics shop. Founded in 1989, the store recently moved from Union Street in Easthampton a few blocks away to Cottage Street.

  • Comics N’ More recently moved from Union Street in Easthampton to Cottage Street. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/15/2019 12:24:55 AM

EASTHAMPTON — For most avid comic book collectors, opening a store devoted to their hobby is a dream only a lucky few will ever see come into fruition.

Although his life has been marked by a love of graphic novels, superheroes and pictorial storytelling, Christian W. Z. Reader was never interested in running a shop of his own — until he inherited a small sum of money after his mother died in 2014. Along with his favorite comic book store’s lease expiring around the same time, Reader decided to take advantage of an opportunity.

“I didn’t want to go into a year where I had lost both my mother and my most favorite third place, my place that was neither work nor home,” Reader said.

Almost five years later, Reader and his wife, Phoebe Zax, say their store Comics N’ More is doing well. The two took over the store in Northampton in 2014 before moving it to Union Street in Easthampton to take advantage of cheaper rent. In April of this year, Reader and Zax upgraded from their basement digs to a storefront located at 64 Cottage St.

Reader, 36, and Zax, 31, said they can’t imagine doing anything else. Reader’s encyclopedic knowledge of comic book lore was something he once thought of as a “curse,” he said, though now he sees the intrinsic value in it.

“I definitely didn’t think knowing Wolverine’s entire biography was going to come in as handy as it has,” he said, referring to the fictional character in the Marvel Comics books.

Many of the walls inside the store are lined with comic books and graphic novels. A corner near the register displays Reader and Zax’s finest action figures, which they said were for sale.

The shop sells everything from $1 first editions on a spinning rack near the entrance, to rarer finds, like a $600 copy of 1966’s “Fantastic Four #52” — the first appearance of Black Panther, the king and fierce protector of the fictional African nation of Wakanda.

But lacking from the store are items a person would usually expect to find in a hobby shop, such as video games, movies or music. This decision, Reader said, was to promote literacy and an appreciation for comics in everyone that comes through their door.

In an opposite corner of the space lies an entire section dedicated to books geared toward children and young readers. Lined with a carpet and kid’s chairs, Zax said the area allows families to come together and explore comics with one another.

A common misconception many have, Zax said, is that comic books are primarily about the trials and tribulations of superheroes and famous villains. Graphic novels and comic books, she said, have the same opportunity to tell worthwhile stories, but in a more accessible way.

“You can tell any story with words and pictures,” she said, giving examples such as biographies, romance, horror and science fiction. “It’s so beyond superheroes.”

Comics N’ More provides a subscription service to its customers, where people who follow a certain series can come in every month and buy their books at up to a 25-percent discount. Zax said there are around 400 subscribers total, which account for about 75 percent of the store’s business.

Wednesdays are the busiest day of the week, as most comic books release on that day, the owners said. On those days especially, Reader said a gesture as simple as asking a regular how their week is going and knowing their name goes a long way.

“It creates a personal relationship with our subscribers,” he said.

For those looking to fill in back issues they might have missed, the store also provides a service called “The ComixHunt!” where the owners keep an eye out for books customers are missing in their collection. The store had inherited the previous owner’s subscription base when they took over Comics N’ More.

In addition to those services that help boost sales, the store has experienced an influx of customers in the last year after another comic store, Modern Myths, closed its Northampton location last year.

While the pair said they were grateful for their new customers, the lack of comic book stores in the area meant they needed to figure out how to accommodate a customer base that doubled in a short amount of time.

But even with their success, Reader said it’s been hard to apply for working capital loans from lenders, since in the era of online retail such as Amazon, physical book shops are looked at as bad investments.

“The curation and research and familiarity we offer is something that Amazon cannot, and does not,” he said.

Reader said he was happy to have actualized his vision for the store — a “third place” where people could escape from the pressures of life and get along as friends sharing a common interest across a variety of perspectives and backgrounds.

“I’m a person who practices their praxis by their works and not by their faith,” Reader said. “So maintaining the space to be one for everyone is something we consider a great deal.”

The pair said they are constantly reminded of their dedicated clientele and deep integration in the Easthampton business community. The city, they said, was “on the rise,” and the support they’ve received from the community was unmatched anywhere else.

At one point, Reader had to undergo surgery related to a car accident he had in his youth, leaving Zax to run the store by herself. Customers began helping out the couple through Meal Train, a platform where people can crowdsource homemade meal giving for friends.

This generosity gave the couple one less thing to worry about, Reader said.

“It’s a community,” Zax said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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