Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse

Black Entrepreneur Spotlight Series

We would greatly appreciate it if you could tell us a little about your company.

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse is a comic book store, coffee shop, and community geek space.  Our mission is to act as a social hub for geeks, especially geeks that are usually underrepresented and/or mistreated in the larger “geek” realm (i.e. people of color, LGBTQIA+, women, Muslims).  We believe that everyone deserves to see themselves represented in the media they enjoy, so we work really hard to carry a wide variety of books that feature diverse characters from diverse creators.

The idea for Amalgam came to me in 2003 when I was still in college.  After my favorite coffee shop to chill and read comics (the black woman owned, Crimson Moon in Philadelphia) closed I wanted to create a comic book store that was also a place to hang out and get comfortable, and I felt the best way to do that was to combine it with a coffee shop.  In addition to comics and coffee we host events including movie screenings, book signings, creative workshops, private events and more, establishing ourselves as a social hub in our community.   

 
It was a long hard road to get to Amalgam, but after I decided to really move forward and try to make Amalgam a reality it took me three years of planning until we finally opened our doors on December 14, 2015.  It’s been a lot of work, successes and failures, ups and downs, but we have received so much support from the communities that we serve that it has motivated me to push through and fight to keep this business going because it has become a safe-space to so many people.

 

What was your child hood aspirations?

 
I have always been simultaneously business-minded and creative.  I had dreams of being a dancer when I was younger, I wanted to dance for Alvin Ailey.  Though life did not take me in that direction I still love dance, and I dance as often as I can. And now that I’m an entrepreneur dance is my escape when the pressures of owning a business start to weigh heavily on me.  Dance helps to keep me centered and focused.

 

Can you give our readers a quick answer on business advice?

 

Do your research!  You will never know everything, but be as prepared as possible.  Also be ready and willing to adapt.  A business is like a child, you may go into business ownership believing your business will look one way, but you quickly learn that it is truly it’s own entity and will take on a life of it’s own.  Pay attention to it.  If you see trends that are different than what you thought, adapt.  Respond to and address your customers’ needs.  This will ensure that your business remains relevant and has longevity.  

 

What was your toughest challenge? 

 

Honestly, money.  The cost for setting up a new business, especially a brick and mortar that is inventory heavy is substantial.  There is less investment in black businesses, which means black businesses usually open with less in their bank account.  So every slow day hurts, every unexpected expense hurts.  I have really been working to understand our expenses, to cut-back where we can, and thinking of ways to get customers in our door on a regular basis.  I also keep my ear to the ground for any and every financial opportunity that we qualify for.  That includes grants, loans, and government assistance programs for small businesses.

 

Owner:   Ariell R. Johnson

 

A true child of the 80’s, Ariell R. Johnson grew up on a diet of He-Man, She-Ra, Thundercats, & Transformers. This would be the gateway to a lifelong love of super-powers, super-heroes, and comics. With the love and support of her family and friends, she turned this passion into a career at the age of 32 when she opened, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Philadelphia, a comic book store and coffee shop hybrid. Amalgam is the only black-woman owned shop of its kind, and the only black-woman owned comic book store on the East Coast.

 

Ariell has a strong passion and commitment to diversity, representation, and inclusivity. She uses her shop to showcase and promote works that are created by and feature people of color, different faiths, women, and the LGBTQ community. Amalgam has garnered national media attention, leading to Ariell’s 2016 “Geek of the Year” nomination. Amalgam, which opened on December 14, 2015, just celebrated it’s 2​year anniversary!

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