The Simpsons character "Comic Book Guy" is an aloof know-it-all who can't be bothered by the uniformed queries of the uninitiated masses. Luckily, that's not the kind of person you'll find at West Portal's Two Cats Comics.
In fact, owner Christian Nicholson prides himself on creating a store with an inviting atmosphere that welcomes readers of all ages and comic book experience.
Nicholson arrived in San Francisco in 1998, moving out west after college at the behest of a friend. Although he originally planned to move to Los Angeles, he reports that he fell prey to the siren song of the Bay Area. "I pulled off the highway at University Avenue in Berkeley and decided that this was home," said Nicholson.
An avid comic book reader since childhood, Nicholson landed a job as store manager at the Metreon location of comic shop Things From Another World in the early 2000s. When that branch closed in 2008, he moved up to Portland for a short time and worked as Operations Manager for the company, overseeing all of their West Coast locations.
He soon realized that corporate life was not for him, but he does credit the experience as helping to prepare him for opening his own store. "Basically, it was seeing the beast up close," said Nicholson. "I've always had an eye for understanding how businesses worked."
Two Cats opened in West Portal in 2011, and Nicholson says he's happy with the location he chose. "There are a lot of amazing neighborhoods in San Francisco. We chose West Portal because there are a lot of good complementary businesses to a comic book store, like a movie theater, an independent record store, and lots of coffee shops," said Nicholson. "It's like a small town in the middle of a big city. It has a great vibe, and the entire neighborhood has been very welcoming."
Nicholson says he's committed to creating a space where anyone would feel comfortable swinging by, asking some questions, and buying something to read. Even the name, "Two Cats," is aimed at promoting a welcoming atmosphere. "We wanted a name that was inviting for everyone that didn't have any internal meaning. The idea is that you don't need to know anything about comics to come into the store," Nicholson told us.
Nicholson is proud of the business he's built. "We have a commanding selection of graphic novels," he told us. "We also have astonishing customer service. We have our finger on the pulse of comic and geek culture. We try to be everything you'd expect a comic book store to be in the positive, and eliminate all of the negatives."
Above all, what Nicholson likes most about running his business is getting the opportunity to turn people on to comic books in the first place. He says he's enjoyed watching many of his younger clients grow up over the past five years.
"I love introducing people's favorite books to them for the first time, hitting that sweet spot of recommendation where you know what they want before they do," said Nicholson. "Also, I love introducing a new generation to comics. I know that's a cliché, but it's also true."
Looking to the future, Nicholson reports that he has "ambitious" plans but that they are also mostly "top secret". He did tell us that he has not ruled out the possibility of opening a game store and potentially investing in other comic book stores.
"Basically, we'd like to take over the world by way of comics."
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