Photo: Emily Swanson. Wilburt Rosado makes his first--but definitely not last--purchase from Fonz at Exile Comics.

Under the awnings found along Third Avenue at E. 143rd Street, a sign featuring Spider-Man and The Hulk invites passersby to come “inside the pharmacy” and enter the world of Exile Comics.

From outside, the building appears to be only Fuller Pharmacy. But the tiny comic shop, tucked near the entryway of the pharmacy, serves as a gathering place for the self-described “nerds” of Mott Haven.

The owner of Exile Comics, known to loyal customers as Fonz, opened the shop in late June. He says his shop is what he always wanted, but didn’t have, because it didn’t exist when he was young.

Fonz, 37, was born and raised in Mott Haven and still lives there. He is also a lifelong comics lover who has worked in comic book retail for 20 years, giving him a good feel for who his customers are and what they want.

He carries a lot of trendy and classic titles, such as Lord of the Rings, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and X-Men, that are beloved by casual fans and die-hards alike. But he also stocks a curated collection of independent titles, literary graphic novels, and collectors’ items. Every item is chosen with care.

Fonz’s passion is evident in how he maximizes only about 100 square feet of space that he calls a “hobbit hole.” Products are neatly displayed almost from floor to ceiling. Eight-foot shelves are filled with comics, manga (print versions of anime stories), and graphic novels, and he also displays figurines, posters, and trading cards.

Hundreds of back-issued comics, carefully packaged in cellophane and cardboard, are in boxes on a table for easy browsing. Most of the collection is under $10. though some special issues sell for several hundred dollars.

Every Wednesday, Fonz brings in new titles and figurines to keep the regulars hooked. On Instagram (@exilecomicsny), he posts cover shots of the newest comics as they come in.

The shop, one-of-a-kind in the neighborhood, has become a gathering place for people who share Fonz’s passion. Some customers stop by multiple times per week–or even multiple times per day–to browse new offerings and chat about titles that interest them.

Wilburt Rosado, 40, is a first-time customer who lives in Pennsylvania but frequently visits family in Mott Haven. He had planned to make a quick run to a store but was surprised to discover Exile Comics along the way.

Once inside, Rosado found it hard to leave. “This is my escape,” he said. “You really don’t see stuff like this no more.” He picked up three back issues of Batman comics during his visit and told Fonz, “You’re gonna see me a lot.”

Rosado lamented how kids today are distracted by technology, but he pointed out that “adults forget about all this” as well. “When you start growing up, it just leaves out of you. And then when you find it again, you go back to your old self.”

Fonz noted that true comic lovers are reluctant to shop online because comics are easily damaged, and browsing a store offers an experience that can’t be duplicated online. He delights when people look in and gasp, surprised by the explosion of color and familiar characters in the heart of Mott Haven.

Exile Comics is open daily at 2688 Third Ave.

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