At Bergen Street Comics, it is not an uncommon sight to see local comic book artists rubbing elbows with locals, exchanging thoughts on the latest from the popular Walking Dead or Scott Pilgrim series.
For years, comic culture had remained exclusive to what you might call comic book nerds. But here, at this shop just off Flatbush Avenue, usual comic book store tradition has been placed squarely on the back shelf in favor of a laid-back vibe and lack of pretentiousness appealing to both comic book super-geeks and curious first timers. At Bergen Street Comics the vibe is more neighborhood bookstore than exclusive comic club.
"The aesthetic was really important to us because we wanted to make sure that it was a place that anybody would feel comfortable in especially someone whose never read a comic book before," said co-owner Amy Adams.
Gone are the customary rows of collectable figures and racks of rare comics rooted in traditional comic stores. They have been replaced at Bergen by warm lacquered bookshelves lined with hundreds of comic collections and framed artwork from local and noted artists.
A lengthy wooden table sits in the back end of the store bracketed by bookshelves and an L-shaped wall of single comic issues. On its face lies stacks of twenty or so graphic novels and comic collections. The sound of flipping crisp pages readily fills the air already saturated with a scent of ink.
The vision began with a 2005 visit to San Francisco for Tom and Amy Adams' first wedding anniversary. After a few years working at a Manhattan advertising agency, Tom dreamed of opening a business—a comic book store. Trying to convince his wife this was a good idea, he took Amy to Isotope Comic Book Lounge in downtown San Francisco.
"I never thought about opening a store because I thought in order to open a store you had to do some of these things I thought were unappealing," Tom said. "[Isotope] opened my eyes to the possibility that you can do the type of store that I wanted to do."
The two started the business plan on the flight home, and after struggling to gain funding throughout the recession, the Tom and Amy opened Bergen's doors to Park Slope in March 2009.
The pared-down nature of the store transfers even to the stock that the Adams keeps on hand.
"I think the focus is kind of limited so we're not spread out," said manager Tucker Stone.
Tom and Stone decided that the stock should be focused on groundbreaking titles and new releases instead of back issues. At Bergen you won't find old classics like Superman or Watchmen. Titles they regularly keep on hand include the popular The Walking Dead series, Scott Pilgrim, American Vampire and Fables. In the back of the shop, Bergen also features a wall of self published, local and underground works.
In planting their roots in Brooklyn, and Park Slope in particular, Tom and Amy have found a paradisiacal match up in clientele.
"There's so many people who live in Brooklyn who work in creative fields," Tom said of their customers, who include graphic artists, writers, bloggers and editors who live in Park Slope. Tom explained that this diversity of careers in Park Slope residents lends to an interest in Bergen's wares.
To appeal to these Brooklynites, Tom and Amy have also taken to regularly holding
events at Bergen.
Comic creators come to the store, a makeshift cooler is filled with beer in the back
and customers mingle. The relaxed atmosphere is no coincidence. Tom asserts that
at Bergen Street they have removed the usual autograph table from the equation to
break down the barrier between reader and author. One recent Halloween-themed
in-store party featured Brooklyn artist Jen Ferguson and Chicago writer Tim Hall
presenting their takes on classic monster movie characters as fans scanned the
The shift away from tradition in ambiance has drawn novices and pros alike to the
Christina Oppold, writer of literary blog Stacked, said that the store has provided
her a gateway to comics. "I found it really accessible to get into comics because of
Tom and Amy," she said. "I'll come in and say 'I have no clue what I'm looking for. I
want something funny' and they'll help me and find me something."
Artists and fans file in and out of the store daily. As Oppold spoke, behind her local
acclaimed comic book artist and author of Power Out Nathan Schreiber joked with
Tom glanced over from the counter lined with fliers. His eye catches two men, an
artist and a reader, flipping through the books and chatting. Behind them Amy
cautiously pulled down a comic off the shelves and hands it to a customer like a
"Our whole thing is about elevating the experience," said Amy, "creating an environment where people can connect and enjoy themselves."