At Home In A Bookstore
Just as it appears, Comics Metropolis is homelike. It may have something to do with the building itself, the white paint and blue shutters, large windows that give you a taste of what’s inside. It may be the porch that hangs off the side, forcing it to almost blend in with the rest of the Victorian essence of Lewisburg. Or it may have everything to do with the fact that co-owner, Laura Asherman Payne, actually lives upstairs. She and her son, Albert Payne, co-own the store, although he lives close by.
Six months prior to opening, Comics Metropolis hung their sign.
It was designed by Middle Creek Signs, who also designed The Kind Cafe sign in Selinsgrove. I wondered if maybe they wanted a discreet sign since Laura lived upstairs, but she said they didn’t, that they wanted one noticeable enough to bring in customers, but they couldn’t put up anything more than 1 foot by 2 feet. They wanted to stand out amongst the Post Office and Courthouse, but these were the rules they were given. However, they put up a fight.
The sign that inspired theirs was by Tawsty Flowers B&B, who had a similar sign only one or two feet larger. Because of this, they fought hard and pushed for a bigger sign themselves. Comics Metropolis hasn’t been the only bookstore in history to fight for their sign. Maybe not in terms of its size, but at least of hanging it at all.
Madge Jenison, co-owner of Sunwise Turn, opened in 1916, and writer of Sunwise Turn: A Human Comedy of Bookselling, was told their sign couldn’t be hung or else the man who did it would be arrested. Her line goes, “… the helper came in and told us that the traffic cop on the corner was going to arrest him if he went ahead” (25). I’m not sure if they ever got their sign after all. Comics Metropolis did, though.
The Borough of Lewisburg pushed for it after their fighting. The Tawsty Flowers argument got them their sign.
They opened Comics Metropolis on Labor Day 2016. They had just returned from living in London for many years when Albert found the property and thought it would be ingenious to buy it. That encouraged the two of them to start the business, as well as Albert’s lifelong passion of comic collecting. Laura did not need much convincing in opening the shop, she’d already been on board. They receive books from Diamond book distributor, but they also have most of their collection from living in London. Each of them had knowledge and love for comic books, from teaching English and reading them growing up.
In terms of customers, the median age is about 35 because older people and collectors come in more than anybody else. Not only that, but Comics Metropolis caters a bit towards an older audience since they don’t want to step toes on a nearby store, Purple Platypus, who caters to small children in Lewisburg.
In Gotham Book Mart, opened in 1920, owner Frances Steloff lived inside. It was a fifteen-by-twelve “3.50-a-week hall bedroom on the top floor above the store” (Rogers, 71) and it was where she spent all of her time. So much so that, “the business overflowed into the former kitchen, and Frances Steloff thus acquired a stove where she could cook when she could steal time to eat” (Rogers 77). Comics Metropolis is much bigger and doesn’t have any issues with spacing whereas Gotham Book Mart moved several times in order to accommodate the space it needed. The two of these bookstores were homes to their owners. Today, customers view bookstores as domestic places while history (and present) confirms they actually are.
In Parnassus On Wheels by Christopher Morley, Roger Mifflin operates the first ever mobile bookstore, Parnassus. It’s described as “something like an old-fashioned trolley car; and from one corner went up a stove pipe. At the back was a door with little windows on each side and flight of steps leading up to it. … he released a hook somewhere, and raised the whole side of his wagon like a flap. … displaying nothing but books–rows and rows of them. … Shelves stood above shelves, all of them full of books” (5).
To get around, the wagon is pulled by a single white horse. It is discovered later by readers that Roger sleeps in the wagon as well, making it both store and home. “On one side he had a little oil stove, a flap table, and a cozy-looking bunk above which was built a kind of chest and drawers” (7). Like Frances Steloff, the space is small, but functional and only for so many things. Though Comics Metropolis isn’t a small apartment or a wagon pulled by horseback, it is still homely to both the owners and it’s patrons.
There is so much to marvel at within the walls of Comics Metropolis. In their showroom, they have action figures, figurines, board games, and other collectibles. They even have small figurines in the window, as shown below.
Around every turn, I found something cool or interesting to look at while meandering through the store, these especially.
Moving through the store, I discovered a $1 comic section, which I perused and ended up purchasing a few. Beyond that, they have a game room with a vending machine. People stay for hours and play all the time. This relates to Sisterhood, a feminist bookstore in Los Angeles from 1972-1999, that had a stage built into the store: “The renovation raised the back of the store two feet higher than the rest of the store. The result was a stagelike setting for readings and book signings. Its elevation made speakers visible from the front of the store, as well as to those outside” (Spain 98). The presence of the stage made the atmosphere more comfortable, especially for lesbians and minority women, because women had an actual stage to share their voice with other women.
Similarly, Comics Metropolis is a comfortable, domestic areas for gamers, such as the Susquehanna Valley Squadron, who play all kinds of games every Saturday morning in the game room. This has become a sort of ritual for them. I found this interesting because they could play this game in their own homes, but they choose to do it here. And they bring their kids with them.
Comics Metropolis hosts game events, including one where people play Dungeons & Dragons. Magic The Gathering is another group that comes in to play games, which consists of both high school and college students.
Another great event that Comics Metropolis holds is a Free Comic Book Day, which they first dipped their toes in back in 2017. They had a few options of free comics, but it wasn’t until 2018 they fully dived in. It was a hit and their best sales day ever, presumingly bringing enough attention to the other merchandise I mentioned earlier.
This year, they’ll host another Free Comic Book Day the same day it is every year: the first Saturday of May, also known as Star Wars Day, May 4th (be with you).
From as far back in history as Parnassus to as contemporary as Comics Metropolis, bookstores have always been homes, homes to customers who want a safe space to read or its owners, who move right in along the books.
Tawsty Flowers B&B. www.bedandbreakfast.com/pa-lewisburg-the-tawsty-flower.html.
All other photos courtesy of Kaitlynn Yeager, 23 Feb. 2019.
Timeline embedded by Time Graphics.
Jenison, Madge. Sunwise Turn: A Human Comedy of Bookselling. London; Printed in U.S.A., 1924.
Morley, Christopher Darlington. Parnassus on Wheels. Avon, 1983.
Rogers, W.G. Wise Men Fish Here: The Story of Frances Steloff and the Gotham Book Mart. Booksellers
Spain, Daphne. Constructive Feminism: Women’s Spaces and Women’s Rights in the American City.
Cornell University Press, 2016.