This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 11, 2016.
The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.
This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.
We might have become used to Batman and Spider-Man being regular features in movie theaters, but that doesn’t mean local comics shops have become a mainstream feature themselves. They are still specialty stores that cater to the unique interests and hobbies of a very diverse crowd. It is that specialization that prevents big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target from taking over their business. It’s also what makes collections like Fantasy Shop stand out for what they do so well.
Fantasy Shop is a brand that currently incorporates four storefronts all in the state of Missouri, including locations in St. Charles, Creve Coeur, Maplewood, and South County (the latter two of which occupy St. Louis). None of the four are more than 25 miles apart, but they each present a unique storefront to the customers in their neighborhood. Scott Samson, manager of the South County location, says that “each has a different mix of product and leans into certain categories (both from a sales perspective and from a stocking perspective) further than our other stores.” Within this set of Missouri-based comics stores you can find the unique fascinations and passions of each neighborhood.
The very first Fantasy Shop opened in 1981, but its mindset and mission has had to drastically change over 35 years in business. At the start it was possible to attract customers by simply carrying what they wanted to find. When Dungeons & Dragons was just finding its following and “geek culture” really was underground, those fans just needed a place to find home. The culture has come a long way since then and so have the many Fantasy Shops of the Midwest.
All of the shops still aim to provide whatever fans need, but their goal has expanded. Samson says they intend on “being the place that people want to go even if they don’t have buying something in mind.” When online retailers can minimize prices and maximize profits with a formula, a physical location has to offer more than great deal and backstock. That’s the key to what all of the Fantasy Shop locations do. They value a customer experience where someone leaves having spent nothing, but loving the story over the opposite. It’s as much about offering community as product now.
The readership at Fantasy Shops has evolved over the past few decades as well. They’ve witnessed all sorts of comics trends and fads pass through their doors. Through the black and white boom of the 80s and the disastrous speculator market of the 90s, Fantasy Shop has endured and thrived in their wake. Having lasted and succeeded through so much speaks to the integrity of their business model.
While the earliest years of the store were built on the very successful superhero market, things have evolved recently. Samson says, “I would characterize our current reader base as being more open to comics as a medium of storytelling.” The recent Image revival and focus on comics as an artform has helped to bring in new readers. Looking at the pull lists at any Fantasy Shop reveals new names being added to the stores. Even more exciting is that it’s a mix of young, new comics readers as well as lapsed ones returning to the fold.
It is this blend of new, returning, and lapsed readers that help to make each Fantasy Shop unique. These people discover what they love and keep coming back to the specific shop in their area for more. That’s how the wide array of clubs and get-togethers at each store are formed. Samson says that’s how they become the “home of book clubs, board game meet-ups, role-playing game groups, and more and more and more.”
Looking at such a notable success story makes one question what the future ought to look like. Samson says great comic store staffs must be three key things: “welcoming, knowledgeable, and around whom people feel comfortable.” The individuals who man the counter and stock the shelves are the foundation on which any store is built, and the community of that store on top of it. Having people who make both returning customers and new faces feel at home ensure a store can service their community well.
The magic of these four stores is not a secret being kept within Missouri, however. The owners of the store have worked hard at creating a guide for successfully starting, owning, and managing a local comic book shop. It covers the things that both we at ComicBook.Com and their loyal fans adore, as well as the brass tacks like finding a location and managing bills. For as much joy as a comics store can bring to its staff and community, it’s also a business. The folks at Fantasy Shop recognize the importance of both and are eager to share their ideas with other prospective owners.
You need look no further than the four Fantasy Shop stores nestled nearby one another to discover their greatest secret though. While they form a cohesive brand, each location offers something special. Their staff are as unique as their offering, and their clubs are as diverse as their customers. Driving a couple of dozen miles reveals an entirely different neighborhood with their own preferences for comics and games. Fantasy Shop has found its success in celebrating that diversity of interests, providing Missouri with a wide-range of homes for comics readers and gamers.
Name: Fantasy Shop
Address: 10560 Baptist Road
St. Louis, MO 63128
Phone: (314) 842-8228
Website: Fantasy Shop
Facebook: Fantasy Shop