Retail Therapy Part VIII: The Comic Vault

The Comic Vault is an inviting spot along a quiet stretch of Montrose near Clark.
(This post is part of an ongoing series where I attempt to visit every single comic book store within Chicago city limits. You can read more about the project here!)

Location: 1530 W Montrose in Ravenswood
Public Transit: Nearest buses are the Clark (22) and Montrose (78), nearest train is the Montrose brown line.
Mon - Fri: 11:00AM – 8:00PM
Sat: 11:00AM – 6:00PM
Sun: 11:00AM – 4:00PM


The Comic Vault is another North side store (there are a lot) and it is rather unimposing in appearance, but don't make the mistake of overlooking this shop. The Comic Vault may be slight in scale, but the substance of the store is more than meets the eye. Things must be going well, too since they will soon be opening a second store in the Block 37 shopping center downtown on April 1st. For a business entering their fifth year, ambitious might be an understatement.
You'll find plenty to browse, especially when it comes to newer issues. I even broke my "rule" for Retail Therapy and purchased a hard to find issue.
Looking at the calendar of events, seeing the selection of new products, and watching the colorful ads for The Comic Vault makes one suspect this store has bigger plans than "sell you your comics". They want to sell you, your roommate, and your next door neighbor comics, too. The extra efforts put forth by owner Matt Sardor and staff give this store a very high value per square foot. They bag and board every comic, host signings, screenings, fundraisers, and claim to fit up to 80 patrons in the store for events. Counters are moved and back issues are set aside, essentially changing the store into a venue more conducive to socializing. The recent Winter Con 2 included the appearance of 20 local artist and writers for signings. Of course they were scheduled on a rotating basis, but that's an impressive draw for a store of any size. My visit came well over a month after a charity event featuring the appearance of pro football player Lance Briggs, but the organizations had yet to collect several boxes of the donated items. Considering these large stacks were just a fraction of the donations, it was demonstrative of just how many individuals this store has reached in its short time. The Comic Vault is clearly aiming to build a community that moves beyond the neighborhood store.
Stores with new release walls are an easy way to get customers to browse books they might otherwise ignore (anyone who has worked in a store knows about the "Marvel Zombies", and I don't mean the mini series)
The recent layout changes have improved the shopping experience.
When I say that it is easy to underestimate the offerings of The Comic Vault, I speak from experience. I lived near this store several years ago, and I stopped by a few times not too long after it first opened. Those visits were usually short, and this was partly because the store was more sparse back then. Now the three walls are covered in new issues, and the selection of products has improved. The back issues are lined up against the wall underneath the new release shelves. The check out counter, which previously took up almost half of a wall, is now in the center of the store, surrounded by graphic novels. It's likely that as the store has gained more regular customers, they have been able to take more chances on new titles and invest in long term sales like statues. The store didn't carry many trades back then either, but they have a modest selection of popular titles now. Their is a "new this week" section for issues, with the rest of the recent issues arranged by Marvel, DC, and Independent. The newer trades are on the same shelves as the individual issues, which makes them less obvious than the new issues. This pet peeve aside, the new set up of the store more successfully utilizes the limited shelf space. When I spoke with owner Matt, he talked about how many of his priorities have changed since opening the store. His affinity for superhero comics is obvious (Green Lantern is a prominent) but his bias doesn't show in the wide variety of titles. He's also more of a collector and didn't see the value of carrying trades until setting up shop brought him face to face with customers requesting them more and often. His willingness to adapt and cater to the needs of the shoppers shows in the changes made throughout the years. The generous 35% off subscriptions is a good draw for loyal customers as well.
If Matt seems easy to talk to it may be his background in bar-tending. Let the Cheers comparisons commence!
On my Tuesday visit, the merchandise and extra staff took up most of the counter space and even on a less busy day, one is never far from the staff. Though shoppers are encouraged to open the bagged issues for browsing, some may be too shy or feel pressured to buy an item after opening it. As a customer and avid collector, Matt didn't care to buy new books with bent corners and worn spines, and offering books in top condition is a priority for The Comic Vault owner. Bagging the issues is the easiest way to do this, and considering the store's close proximity to a large elementary school this measure seems necessary to protect books from sticky fingers and rough handling. Perhaps the only books that should be left unbagged are the children's section, alas these are still sealed. If you have had to cut back on reading for financial reasons, the generous discount will make this store a tempting destination.  I recommend checking out this neighborhood store, whether for one of the upcoming events (Jonathan Hickman for FCBD? Yes, please) or if you're considering finding a new shop. You'll have the opportunity for a lot more individual attention and may find yourself sticking around longer than you expect.