Amalgam Comics closing in Philadelphia, per owner Ariell Johnson

The shop gained national fame, but was beloved in Philly as a welcoming home for geeks of all kinds.

Black coffee shop owners gathered at Amalgam in 2018 for a live-streamed conversation about retail racism and supporting black businesses. Shop owner Ariell Johnson is at bottom left.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, the renowned Kensington store created by Ariell Johnson, is due to close this fall due to “the cumulative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” per a letter published by Johnson on Friday.

“I have learned so much in my time steering this ship. In our short lifespan, my team and I managed to do so many incredible things,” Johnson wrote, noting that she has hopes of eventually bringing it back.

Amalgam opened in late 2015 on Frankford Avenue, and quickly drew attention from around the nation because of the rarity of comic stores run by Black women. Johnson was cited by several publications as the “first African American comic shop owner on the East Coast.”

Over the years the store was home to comic-loving Philadelphians and visited by famous guests from out of state, like Congressman John Lewis, Yetide Badaki, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and more. Johnson spoke often about promoting “inclusivity” instead of token “diversity,” and worked to create a welcoming community at her shop.

“Thank you for the sacrifices made to do it for the time you did. You made a difference,” read a comment from Instagram user @plantandpeople under Amalgam’s post announcing its closing.

Events like book signings and workshops buoyed the business, but when COVID came around, a pivot to ecommerce wasn’t enough to sustain the shop. The store reopened last June thanks in part to pandemic relief loans and grants and a GoFundMe campaign, but “despite our best efforts to fight our way back, I must come to terms with our current reality,” Johnson’s letter reads.

Amalgam will host special events as it wraps up business, celebrating its tenure and providing “a certain wanting population with chocolate chip cookies and banana chocolate chip bread, Wookie cookies, and we’ll bust out our famous Uncle Iroh Green Tea Treats,” Johnson said in a Philly Weekly interview.

Johnson, who grew up in Baltimore and moved to Philly to study accounting at Temple University, has said she first thought of the idea for Amalgam back in 2003, and it took her over a decade to realize the dream.

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The shop sells comics, collectibles, coffee, music, and more, and hosted various regular events from Nerdy by Nature Open Mic to a monthly book club. Signings were often in support of other Black creators, like Konkret Comics and Tuskegee Heirs.

Beyond events, the team focused on making Amalgam the weekly or daily destination that comic-lovers of an older vintage wished they had as a kid. Johnson still wants to provide today’s youth with a place to call their own.

“If the opportunity arises, I hope to bring it back because I believe spaces like Amalgam need to exist; spaces of joy and renewal, spaces of community and rest,” read her letter.

Customers and supporters mourned the store online. Its anticipated last day is October 15.

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