Gosh!, my favourite comic book shop in the world, let alone London, was based opposite the British Museum for 25 years – I thought they would always be there. However, nothing lasts for ever and Gosh! moved premises to a new location at Berwick Street in Soho. And the new premises are fantastic.
The previous shop was bijou, to use estate agent parlance; the new shop is much larger and has floor-to-ceiling windows, which lets light into the wonderful display space and makes it seem even bigger than it is. The main floor is full of shelves along the walls with a massive selection of different books, with an emphasis on the variety of genres and styles that demonstrate the range of modern comic books. Art books, European graphic albums, crime collections, manga, history, journalism – the shelves heave with quality and diversity. This seems to have paid off – when talking to Andy, the manager, on the day before the official opening (they were still unpacking and downstairs wasn’t ready yet), he told me that there had already been loads of people coming into the shop, with a 50:50 ratio of women to men, all looking for a variety of books. They had been worried that they wouldn’t get so much walk-past custom after the move, especially as the new shop is opposite ‘porn alley’, but the seedy shops add colour to people’s expectations of Soho and they’ve had more people than ever, despite not being officially open.
In addition to the books on shelves, there is also a big old table in the middle of the shop that is laden with books and has benches around it, so that people can sit and read if they so wish (there wouldn’t have been the room to do that in the old shop). If you go downstairs (there is some art on the walls as you descend), this is where the superhero comics now live – the new imports are on the shelves at the back; the trade paperbacks are on the shelves on the left and right, with the back issues in boxes in the middle (the desk by the stairs is where the subscription lists are still handled). There is nice moody lighting, so you don’t feel as if you’re in a dark pit to pick up your ‘embarrassing’ haul of regular comic books; however, when I bought my first weekly haul from the new shop, a few books had been accidentally left off my list – I jokingly mentioned it on Twitter that they didn’t care about the old regular customers any more, to which they replied (jokingly as well) that it was all about ‘new media now, darling’; the teething problems have now been smoothed out and the shops seems to be running efficiently.
The new premises are an impressive space (which is why it has appeared in Retail Focus Magazine), and I can understand the desire to host exhibitions in the shop (they had some of Dave McKean’s art for a signing on opening day); there have been book launches, such as Nelson, and Eddie Campbell will be giving a talk at the shop in February. The move to Soho has definitely raised the profile of the shop: Gosh! was used as the location for an interview with Art Spiegelman on the BBC.
All of these raise the calibre of the shop – this isn’t your comic book dungeon, this is a book shop where anyone and everyone can feel comfortable coming in and looking around the rich diversity of books and asking the staff for obscure items and recommendations. I’m amazed that Gosh! moved to such big premises at a time when the sales of comic books are decreasing; however, the expansion into the full range of all the possibilities offered by words and pictures in a location that suits this market is a smart move, and shows why they are still in business and thriving.