By the time you read this, we will have already had Free Comic Book Day. On the first Saturday in May, comic book stores across the country give out issues released by the publishers as a way to both introduce returning customers to new stories and let new customers pick up something different without any real risk. It also works as a day for people to go out and support their local comic book stores, and usually there's a decent crowd that turns out for these events. Some have writers or artists do a signing, others have drawing classes or costume contests. This has become a bigger event as time has gone on, with ads all over the internet and outside stores. Of course I can't get into the history of comic book stores, that's a story for another day. But instead, I want to talk about them as a whole, and why they keep bringing us back for more.

We've all heard of the big ones, like New York City's famous Midtown Comics or the largest comic book store in the world, Mile High Comics (located in Denver, Colorado). Those are renowned for their huge selections of current and past issues, even down to the iconic Golden and Silver Age ones that can be worth a couple of houses. Despite Midtown Comics being the go-to comic book shop in the city, there's several others, ran by people with a passion for comics. Even Jay and Bob's Secret Stash in New Jersey, owned by filmmaker and writer Kevin Smith, is still based around the love of the medium that the people working there have. You always hear stories of actors walking into a store to pick up some comics to study for a role – from Winston Duke being given a stack of Black Panther issues involving M'Baku, to Josh Brolin being told by an employee to “not mess this up,” and even Benedict Cumberbatch wandering into a store while filming Doctor Strange – in full costume. Without the stores and the employees and the customers going there, the comic industry wouldn't be in the position it's in right now where movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Wonder Woman could be made and be as popular as they are. There's such a passionate group of people working there that they're willing to help out celebrities playing these iconic characters as if they're just someone who came in looking for classic X-Men comics.

And from the passion and care the shopkeepers have, that trickles down to the customer experience. People find their store and keep going, and soon enough, they know each other's name and interests – especially when a pull list is set up. A pull list is just that: the comics that a customer wants to read when new issues come out, and the employees will “pull” the issue for them, saving it for when they come in. No two stores are exactly alike, even in the same city. Some carry more than others, some are small hole-in-the-wall shops. But that doesn't matter to the customer, if they like the store they'll keep going. A cramped store with a great owner is always better than a large one with someone in charge who's just in it for the money. One could take a road trip across America and stop at comic book stores along the way and find every single one is unique (check out Comic Trips on YouTube). Conversations about the medium are normal, obviously, but you can end up talking with the staff for hours about life and the world around you. Being able to go into a store where it's usually the same people every day and they recognize you is a rarity these days, but comic book shops usually end up this way. It becomes a more relaxing and laid back environment, compared to the bigger chain stores that maybe sell some trade paperbacks. Customers keep coming back, not just for the product, but because of the welcoming nature of the store itself and those who work there.

That's what makes these stores continue to be a profitable business. They're a shop where everybody knows each other and comes together for a shared interest. People from all walks of life stop in, especially on Free Comic Book Day – again, it's risk free and something to do. Kids getting into superheroes, adults going in to read the story the new movie is based on, longtime collectors and customers to pick up new releases and chat with the people there. That makes the comic book store stand out from others, regulars are on a first-name basis, new customers are helped out as best they can be. And usually, people leave with a few issues or a trade paperback, and are planning to come back in when they've read those. It's such a niche item, but a store can practically exclusively sell comics and still turn out a major profit. People want to have more of these characters in between movies or seasons, and there's up to eighty years of comics to cover the gap for the customer.

Comics have gone mainstream, thanks to the post-Iron Man success of superhero television and movies. And with that, comic book stores are getting more and more customers. Some are coming back to the world after a while, others are just interested in reading the stories being adapted to screen. And it's not just the typical superhero comics that are catching on with the public either – Saga, The Walking Dead, Sex Criminals, and Lumberjanes have a growing fanbase, bringing people back to the shop to check out the new issue. Fundraisers and charity drives are commonplace at these places, and many become staples of their community – for example, Mile High Comics hosts drag shows. With annual events like Free Comic Book Day, it gives the public a time to go in, find some new stories to read and follow, oftentimes support a small business, and advertise the store itself. And even though that day has passed, it's not like that's your only opportunity. You'll be welcomed in with open arms and helped with finding the comic you're interested in. The industry is picking up more and more, and it's because of a new portion of the population who wants to read the series that they have been seeing in film and television.