Amalgam, known as first East Coast comic shop owned by a Black woman, is closing

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, owned by Ariell R. Johnson, became a hub for Black creatives and Black nerds in Philadelphia.

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The first Black female-owned comic book store on the East Coast will close its doors in the fall. 

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, opened its storefront in December 2015 and will close on Oct. 15 after being hit hard by the COVID pandemic, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. 

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse
Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Philadelphia, the first East Coast comic book store owned by a Black woman, is closing its doors after being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Screenshot/

“Amalgam is the kind of place I wished for when I was younger,” shop owner Ariell R. Johnson wrote in a post on Amalgam’s Instagram page. “It was built with intention and love — in the hope of providing fellow nerds with the kind of place I never had.”

Johnson shared that “cumulative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a serious blow to the business,” adding, “despite our best efforts to fight our way back, I must come to terms with our current reality.”

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse became a hub for Black creatives and Black nerds. The shop highlighted diverse comic books and titles written by and for women and the entire BIPOC community — meaning Blacks, Indigenous people and people of color.

In 2016, Johnson appeared on the variant cover of Marvel’s “Invincible Iron Man” #1, theGrio reported. The comic features Johnson posing next to the superhero character Ironheart/RiRi Williams, a 15-year-old black genius who enrolled in MIT as a teenager and is heir to the legacy of Tony Stark (Iron Man).

“When you are a person of color, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel to find someone you can identify with,” Johnson previously told ABC News. “I always felt like I was watching other people’s adventures. Being introduced to Storm was a pivotal moment for me because had I not come across her, I might have grown out of my love for [comics].”

Since its launch seven years ago, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse has hosted several high-profile guests, including famed local poet and activist Ursula Rucker, actress Yetide Badaki, author Ta-Nehisi Coates and the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis, according to the Inquirer. The hangout has also been profiled by The New York Times and CNN, featured in a “Great Big Story” documentary on YouTube, and highlighted by Allstate insurance.

“When young girls come in here and know that a woman owns the shop, a black woman owns the shop, and they can see titles where girls are the heroes and not just the love interests or the sidekick … when they see women and girls taking the lead in things, that’s really powerful,” Johnson told The Inquirer in 2017.

News of Amalgam’s pending closure was met with shock and sadness.

“It’s hard not to notice that this beautiful comic shop, the first one owned by a Black woman [on the East Coast], is shutting its doors while gentrification thrives in Philadelphia,” said comic book artist and cartoonist Ben Passmore, per The Inquirer. “Black bookstores have been a launch pad and a safe haven for curious Black people for decades, this is a loss for real.”

Johnson hopes to reopen the store “because I believe spaces like Amalgam need to exist; spaces of joy and renewal, spaces of community and rest,” she wrote in her Instagram post.

“A sincere thanks to all of you,” she added, “for your love and support in all of its many forms.”

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