alum Ariell Johnson first started to imagine opening her dream business when the independent coffee shop across from her favorite comic book store closed down. That was over a decade ago, before she graduated in 2005 with a degree in accounting.
As a self-described "geeky" woman of color who loves comics, Johnson says she’s a rare breed. She got serious about opening Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse
, her coffee shop/comic book store/community arts hub, in the last few years. She looked in a few different neighborhoods for the perfect spot, including Lancaster Avenue in West Philly and South Philly’s Point Breeze, before finding her 3,000-foot space at the corner of Frankford Avenue and Huntingdon Street.
Frankford's burgeoning arts corridor and mixed neighborhood demographic -- families, single young professionals, recent college grads, artists -- convinced Johnson it was the right place for Amalgam. And among a lot of "fun quirky little shops," tattoo parlors and galleries on the avenue, there still aren't any comic book stores
"For what I’m doing, I thought it would be a great fit here," she explains.
Amalgam’s future home is a mixed-use building with apartments attached to a commercial space. Johnson says the latter has been standing empty for over ten years. Its history is unclear, but some of the leftover equipment they’ve found, along with an old painting abandoned there, hint that it had another life as an Italian restaurant.
"We’re in the process of getting renovations done," notes Johnson. "The space is not nearly finished."
To that end, she’s running a crowdfunding campaign
through March 3 with a basic goal of raising $5,000 and a dream goal of $30,000, which will help cover renovation of the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems, as well as installing Amalgam’s coffee bar and kitchen. (If Amalgam can meet that crucial $5,000 goal, it’ll be guaranteed to receive those funds, plus any money raised beyond that.)
Ultimately, Johnson, a Maryland native who now lives just one street away from her shop, will draw on a range of professional experience to make Amalgam a reality: her business and accounting know-how, a history in retail, and even experience as a barista and self-taught chef. The space will be a haven for comic-book lovers and the wider community, with places for browsing, sipping and snacking as well as conversation, book signings, film screenings and other events.
Johnson will carry industry staples like X-Men
and The Flash,
but is particularly dedicated to showcasing comics featuring women and people of color after years of being an ardent fan, but rarely seeing anyone who looked like her in the pages she loved.
"Not seeing yourself reflected in different forms of media is damaging," she explains, especially for children. "I want to actively fight against that."
Because of the variables of construction, Johnson says it’s too soon to know an exact date for Amalgam’s grand opening, but she hopes to have it up and running as soon as late spring.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ariell Johnson, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse