I moved to Sacramento almost two years ago, driving from where I lived in Austin, Texas to Denver to a friend’s wedding in Wyoming, over the Sierra Nevadas into town. My car—a Hyundai Elantra then—was packed with boxes, including three long ones of comics in the trunk and a short one in the backseat with my valuable issues.
I didn’t want to be in Sacramento. I knew nothing about the city and my family was in the Midwest, but I was willing to try because I’d always loved California and my significant other got a great job there and found a beautiful upstairs apartment in an old Victorian downtown, about nine blocks from a comic book store, which was downright walkable.
I got to Sacramento on a Tuesday. The next morning, #NCBD, I walked to that shop and found what looked like a moving crew loading arcade games, boxes, and shelves into a U-Haul. Turns out as I was finishing my drive, a fire swept through the store and closed it, temporarily.
So, I did what any serious collector would: spent the weeks while they relocated (nearby, thankfully, 7 blocks now!) trying other comic book shops in Sacramento, a process from which I learned Sacramento is a city that supports small business, a place where people either don’t know about or don’t like shopping online, a place with a thriving comic book ecosystem.
People also don’t post great user reviews there (they’re all either furious or glowing, which probably makes them typical). So, in the unlikely event any of you find yourselves in town, I’d like to share what I learned about comic book shops in Sacramento with you today! Also, if you ever visit, say hi. We’ll grab a whatever-Sacramento-is-known-for (I still don’t know) and talk comics.
Comic Book Shops in Sacramento, CA: Empire’s Comics Vault
Empire’s is like a clubhouse. There’s always a movie or TV show on in there, a few regulars hanging on the couches, and the owner’s adorable pugs running around, doing everything from guarding the door, to chasing each other, to playing with visiting dogs that belong to shoppers. When I first moved to town and didn’t have a new job yet, I drove out to Empire’s most Wednesdays. I however, haven’t been in some time because it’s far from both my house and office. It’s a shame, too, because of all the shop’s in town, Empire’s is the one most dedicated to the medium. You can just tell the owner loves comic books and loves selling them.
Pros: Of all the shops in town, this one has the most knowledgeable and engaged owner. Ben Schwartz sets up online chats for his regulars with big name creators like Rick Remender and Brian Michael Bendis; he does a video stream on Facebook of his favorite books each Wednesday; and he regularly organizes group trips to see new comic book movies at Studio City Grill, the nicest theater in the Sacramento area. This shop also does a great job stocking books. With the possible exception of A-1 Roseville, Empire’s is basically the only place in town you can find copies of Valiant books or Giant Days on the rack. Plus, it hosts book clubs, a weekly night for writers, semi-regular live model events for artists, stand-up comedy, and art shows. Schwartz also opens his store up regularly to Good Morning Sacramento segments, and he runs Empire’s Comics Vault Press, which produces books by local writers and artists.
Cons: The location is an issue, at least for me. Empire’s is in a stripmall along a piece of Fulton Ave. that isn’t near much else of note and certainly isn't walkable from downtown. If it wasn’t for this, I’d be far more likely to be a regular at Empire’s. But c’est la vie. Also, the shop is so good to its regulars, that it gives anyone with a pulllist first come, first serve access to its massive Free Comic Book Day activities. If you don’t have a pulllist with them, however, you’re liable to wait hours just to get into the shop.
Comic Book Shops in Sacramento, CA: Big Brother Comics
I buy the majority of my books at Big Brother, which is the shop near my house that burned down right before I got to town. As I mentioned, its new location is even closer to my house, and, as the guys there will attest, it’s much cooler than the old spot. Anyway, if Empire’s is like a living room, Big Brother is like Sacramento’s Gen-X comic book basement, with little nooks and crannies lined with the owner Kenny Russell’s collection of vintage Star Wars toys.
This store may not have the selection of comics Empire’s does, but it more than compensates with its games section, which is always evolving. It’s located in Midtown, a walkable neighborhood of restaurants, art galleries, bars and a weekend farmer’s market. This is one of those shops that has superseded the geekiness comics have long been known for to become a cool place to hang out, whether you’re just picking up your weekly books (they offer a great and uncomplicated discount to members) or chilling in the back to play games at the many tables.
Pros: You’ll feel cool by extension for shopping at this store, due to everything from the location, to the guys bantering behind the counter, to the laid back vibe, to the dim track-lighting mounted on the ceiling. Kenny is also the most generous owner in town when it comes to discounting books, and even if you don’t always agree with him, he’s often making a strong and enthusiastic point about something.
Cons: The selection is strong, and they’re great about ordering whatever you ask for, but they don’t stock rows of back issues or a wall of rare books like many of the other shops in town. Also, as cool as Midtown is, parking near Big Brother can be a bit rough. But that’s part of the fun of living and shopping in a city! Anyway, what do I care? I can walk or bike there. Nerds.
Comic Book Shops in Sacramento, CA: A-1 Comics
Of all the stores in town, A-1 Comics is the most traditional, probably because it’s been around the longest. A-1, which is owned by former San Francisco 49er (seriously, he played one season with them in 1981 at tight end) Brian Peets, has been in business for 27 years, and it’s where you’ll find what is easily the largest collection of rare and vintage books in town.
A-1 has also grown into a chain that now has three locations: Roseville, Folsom and a part of Sacramento that may as well be suburban Carmichael or Citrus Heights, it’s so far from the urban core. I stop into A-1 Folsom every Wednesday during my lunch, because the office for my day job is in that area and it’s a quick way to get some books to read in Subway, where I enjoy a sandwich and a quick hit of deep melancholy (I’d go somewhere else but Subway is also close, and it’s only $9 for a semi-healthy turkey on wheat, what do you want from me?).
Pros: If you’re a serious collector looking for old and rare books, this is the best shop for you. Their wall books are unmatched by Empire’s, which has a few, and Big Brother, which doesn’t bother with all that. A-1 also have a massive store-wide sale what seems like every other weekend. So, if you’re eyeing something expensive, you can usually just wait a week or two and get it at a discount. They also do a great job of spreading comics to parts of the Sacramento area where there aren’t any shops, as you can see from their locations in Roseville and Folsom. Like Empire and Big Brother, A-1 also has a discount for subscribers, although it’s not as generous as Big Brother. I should also note that A-1 is the rare shop in Sacramento that buys used comics, which is a whole lot of hassle they don’t have to put up with (even if I had an off-putting experience with their buyer at the Sacramento shop, although I should note the guy in Roseville was great).
Cons: The disadvantage of being a chain is that it’s hard to get a feeling for the staff, and so experiences vary by location. I used to like the manager at Folsom. He was a friendly guy who read his fair share of comics and was good at chatting about them, but a few weeks ago they let him go and now I don’t have any feel for who I’m buying from. That’s a bummer. And while Roseville and Sacramento have a decent to good number of titles on the shelves, the Folsom shop doesn’t stock enough new titles. I was just in there on a Wednesday and they didn’t even have the newest Walking Dead. Just saying…
Comic Book Shops in Sacramento, CA: Oblivion and the Rest
Finally, Oblivion Comics and Coffee, from which you can see the capital downtown bears a mention, if for nothing else than its cool concept. It sells coffee AND comics! There are some newer shops in town, but I’m hesitant to mention them before I see if they’re built to last, and we recently lost a couple shops as well. Pour one out for Metropolis Comix which was down by Elk Grove and was a pretty cool shop. Pour less out for Broadway Cards and Comics, which got a write up by Bleeding Cool and a couple other sites, but locally had become known for its odd and intense focus on selling Yu-gi-oh cards.