Comic Swap Shows State College What Being A Superhero Takes

When walking down South Fraser Street, it could be easy to miss Comic Swap’s door tucked away down a discrete flight of stairs. However, it’s tough to ignore the comic book shop’s unique, one-of-a-kind presence in the State College community.

The store, located at 110 S. Fraser Street, debuted in 1976 under original owner Lane Carpenter. When he was in charge, it started out as a used book store called Book Swap. But as the comic book industry grew and Carpenter’s plans shifted, he realized the store’s main interest and drive was comic books. A few years later and under a new owner’s reign, it became the Comic Swap we know today.

Now owned by John Secreto, Comic Swap offers hundreds of different comics from Spider-Man to Superman to, well, everything in between. Each Wednesday, new comics arrive, and several storylines continue as fresh products roll in. The store is widely known for its new and used comic selection, periodicals, trade paperbacks, hardcovers, board games, role-playing games, trading cards, and just about any other product a kid at heart might desire.

Superhero logos in Comic Swap’s windows are a dead giveaway!

“If you are a good comic book store like us, then you are aces at customer service,” store manager John McComas said. “Aces on maintaining a space that is open, welcoming, engaging, and actually getting to know the people who shop here.”

During a typical year, Comic Swap serves as a space where individuals can gather and hold events. Before the pandemic, the store would host events for Magic: The Gathering, a popular card game, every Friday night. Comic Swap would let folks formally compete, hang out, and celebrate the game.

Comic Swap annually hosts Free Comic Book Day alongside hundreds of shops around the country, traditionally on the first Saturday of May. It’s a great way to utilize the open space as the store welcomes both new and familiar faces.

Simply put, Comic Swap is the hidden gem of State College — a store tucked away, holding years’ worth of comics and memories.

The store caters to non-locals, too. You see, Comic Swap is a part of a network called the “direct market.” This is how it receives its weekly shipments of books on Wednesdays and creates rapport with buyers, all while the market helps sustain the industry.

From the Avengers to Zatanna, each week’s comics line the shelves in alphabetical order.

“With stores like [Comic Swap], we offer something like a subscription service,” McComas said. “Anybody who wants to not come in on release days or wait a certain amount of days after a release, we will hold products for that buyer.”

Not only does their direct communication label them as a hidden gem, but there is also a deeper meaning and purpose to the business, especially to McComas and his team. He said he’s made it a goal to get to know each one of his routine customers.

“Even if I only know them by face, knowing them and picking up on their interests makes it very personalized,” McComas said. “It’s what sustains this strange, hodgepodge network of independent booksellers.”

No matter how big or small a store is, the comics industry goes further than just selling a new issue or two as long as it keeps things personable.

“A retail operation selling niche goods in a small town only works with an incredible, dedicated, and loyal customer base,” McComas said. “You’re supposed to find that person-to-person connection in the comic book chain and in a small town, so that really makes Comic Swap cool and special.”

McComas added that the relationships formed by Comic Swap are more than temporary. He gets to know customers deeper than most businesses have the opportunity to do. Given the past pandemic-plagued year, McComas said the store wouldn’t have survived without its “fierce and loyal customer base.”

“I feel like 2020 forced a lot of people to understand what was at stake for small businesses,” McComas said. “We would have shut down in a week if it weren’t for having people who care about the store and the relationships built over years or even days.”

Without the support and never-ending love State College continuously shows to Comic Swap, it is hard to tell if it would be here in 2021. The tight-knit community element is what it all boils down to.

“It’s those ties that turn a consumer and reader into a friend,” McComas said.

To learn more about Comic Swap, head on over to its website, Instagram, or Facebook page. The store is open for at least five hours Wednesday through Monday, according to its site.

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About the Author

Larkin Richards

Larkin is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. The only words that leave her mouth are "yinz" and "dippy eggs." Luckily, her writing has much more substance than that. As a Steelers and Pirates fan, sports can become a hot debate. Share your thoughts on dogs (specifically Boston Terriers) with her at: [email protected]

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