This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 12, 2016.
You walk into the squat brick building on Farnam Street. Cars rush by other small businesses outside, local staples like the German bakery Gerda’s and chic bistro J. Coco. It is consistently cool inside, especially during a humid Nebraska summer. The floors are wood and the walls are lined with custom crafted steel shelves and ornamentation. It is a minimalist design made to emphasize their products above all else.
The place you’ve come to is Omaha’s Legend Comics & Coffee. It is a proudly presented coffee shop. It is a place that gathers creators of all sorts to help one another with their skills. It is a supporter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It is an award-winning storefront. It is a beautiful, historic location in Nebraska’s largest city.
It is all of these things. But most importantly, to many Omahans, it is home.
There’s a choice to be made when you enter: right or left? The store is divided in two by a small set of stairs and a wall. An enormous opening in the partition allows patrons on both sides to enjoy everything on display.
If you go left you will find yourself surrounded by comics. The majority of all four walls are covered with them. New mainstream releases are to the left and creator-owned titles to the right. The back wall is a daunting library of collections with everything from Action Comics to Love & Rockets. The front presents a small selection of rare and unique issues, but more importantly it holds a counter behind which you can find help any time you’re there.
The staff can take you through the aisles of the shop, formed by racks of back issues that glide silently in and out of their stacked shelf space. While walking between the walls, they can recommend titles to new readers, help fill out a collection with rare issues, or make small talk about the most exciting twists and turns in popular series like Sagaor The Walking Dead.
Once you have something to read, or if you’ve brought something with you, it’s time to go right. This is the higher half of the store and its air is especially potent with the smell of freshly ground coffee. A barista can serve you indoors or at a drive-thru with a wide array of hand selected coffee blends and other treats. Mugs and recyclable cups are both available, as are a number of nerdy cups featuring characters from Star Wars and Marvel Comics.
Depending on what time of year they assist you, you might also hear about a raffle for a rare comic (like Amazing Fantasy #15, the first appearance of Spider-Man) to help support the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
This particular annual act of charity is driven by Legend co-owner David DeMarco, whose niece had her own life changed by the foundation. That’s why he and co-owners Jason Dasenbrock and Wendy Pivonka donate so much each year in an effort to raise thousands of dollars. Having seen what a little hope can do for one child, they attempt to encourage a little more.
DeMarco is the most affable human being you’ll ever meet. You are likely to see him showing off a My Little Pony orLumberjanes comic to a young reader meeting his smile with one of their own. Ask him about what he wants to accomplish here and he’ll tell you he wanted to be sure that people were having as much fun reading comics as he was selling them. He’ll say, “Happiness is my main goal for myself and my customers.”
You might notice a plaque sitting on the shelves behind counter. In its center is a gold medallion with the words “Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award”. This prestigious award is presented on an annual basis during San-Diego Comic Con at an event that has been referred to as the Oscars of comic books. Just like the Oscars, it has a variety of special awards, and this one is presented to stores that present the industry’s best face to customers.
The open space in front of the counter is filled with tables and chairs for individuals or groups, free to help themselves to Wi-Fi or a few shelves of half-price comics. At any point during the day you’ll discover a mix of customers hard at work or enjoying one another’s company over a cup of coffee. If you come to this gathering space in the evening, it’s likely you’ll find yourself in the midst of an event. Perhaps nerdcore rapper Tribe One is putting on a show, or maybe it’s the store’s regular standup night.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the Creator’s Workshop hard at play. Writers and artists from across Omaha come together to help one another with their craft and stories. Former manager and current store regular Joe Patrick is most likely here cartooning and cracking jokes, continuing to foster a sense of community. Winning the Eisner may be a point of pride, but he’s more likely to recall local writer Carl publishing his first book as a favorite memory of managing the store. Patrick will say he’s “proud of Legend’s involvement with the community and in the lives of many of its individual patrons.”
This store wasn’t always here though. It used to sit in a much smaller location without room for coffee or such a wide array of events. Back then it was owned and run entirely by husband and wife Dasenbrock and Pivonka who put all of their time, money, and passion into the storefront, striving to achieve their dreams.
They will tell you they “reinvested every dollar of profit they made into the store and did not draw a paycheck for four years.”
Dasenbrock is a comics fiend, ready to provide recommendations and insight to you, no matter where your taste may lie. Pivonka provides a bartender’s style and manners, capable of providing conversation and a shoulder to lean on. When either of them is not busy keeping the store running, you’ll notice them intently listening and swapping stories with customers on a first name basis.
Their previous storefront was just as well kept, but it lacked the refined design and space that makes this one so inviting to new customers while offerings old ones opportunities to gather for work and play. It was no cheap feat to renovate the old Wohlner’s grocery store (Omaha’s oldest grocery store, in fact). Everything in the store now looks clean and new because it is. This is anything but the stereotypical comic book shop found on The Big Bang Theory.
The new space and its thoughtful presentation has turned Legend into a place where anyone can feel welcome.Here you will find people from all walks of life in Omaha. Every race, creed, gender, orientation, and age can be found amongst those visiting the store alongside you.
Some come to discover their favorite classic superhero stories, while others seek out a cutting edge art form. Many hang around to joke and exchange anecdotes, while a few seek solace from a familiar face. Anyone who has spent time here knows this is a place where they can find a story for them, a space in which to enjoy it, and people prepared to help them do just that.
You can find all of that and a good cup of joe.