This article was originally published on February 09, 2017.
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.
Many large cities only have a handful of local comics stores, venues dedicated to the weekly Wednesday rush of picking up new stories and catering to an obsessive collection of what has come before. It’s still a niche hobby in America and requires a dedicated audience to support a single storefront. That’s why so many people are shocked to learn that Omaha, Nebraska has never had less than 6 stores over the past 20 years. Even after the 90s crash, Omaha was a small city that loved comics and capably maintained one of the best selections of stores not only in the Midwest, but throughout the country. So how does a single comics store distinguish itself from all of the others? That’s the question Legend Comics & Coffee had to answer.
The store was founded by Jason Dasenbrock and Wendy Pivonka when they found themselves dissatisfied with their careers. Considering what they could do, if they could do anything, the answer was clear: open a comic book store. That decision is much easier made than supported though. They recognized the obvious hurdles ahead, including a wide swath of competition. However, moving to a larger market would mean larger costs and less familiarity, so they decided to go for it in Omaha. Jason says, “we saw an opportunity to bring a new kind of comic shop to Omaha.”
“Coffee” wasn’t always part of the name, but it was always part of the plan. The couple were inspired by the Des Moines store Cup O’ Kryptonite, but needed to start small in order to finance the expansion. Throughout their first few years in business they established a loyal fanbase and reputation for being exceedingly knowledgeable. Neither of them shied away from sharing which comics they loved (or hated) and would passionately engage with anyone who wanted to talk shop. From this base they found an opportunity to grow when Dave DeMarco became a partner in the store. He brought his friend and experience comics store manager Joe Patrick along for the ride, and together they all set out to open a new location. The dynamic duo became a fantastic foursome and set out to make Legend the new kind of shop Jason and Wendy had envisioned from the start.
Click ahead to find out how this team made Legend the award-winning store it is today in the heart of Omaha, NE.
Together they moved into an historic brick building not too far from midtown Omaha. They now had the space and resources to expand “Legend Comics” into “Legend Comics & Coffee”. The store is split by a single step and long wall into two halves. In the lower portion are four walls completely covered in comics accompanied by rows of neatly stored back issues in the middle. Above is the coffee shop filled with iron chairs and tables that can be easily reorganized for a variety of events. While they are physically distinct, the two sections form a single cohesive store that encourages customers to stick around and read once they’ve purchased their comics.
It’s not just the coffee that sets Legend apart, far from it actually. The concept of having a place for people to gather when they’re not picking up or perusing comics is at the heart of what they’ve accomplished though. Jason said one goal he did not anticipate was “fostering the giant community that has sprung up around the store.” People quickly began to use Legend as a hangout and wanted to use it for even more. It was a surprise, but a good one. That attraction stems from the key tenets Jason lays out as being what he wanted to differentiate Legend from the competition: “Clean, organized, well stocked with a great variety of material and, most importantly, a friendly atmosphere.”
From that foundation Legend has become a hub for young people and creative groups throughout the Omaha area. They host both a monthly creator’s workshop for comics creators and a weekly writer’s workshop for those focused on prose. There are regular stand-up nights as well where aspiring comedians can try out new material in front of friends and strangers alike. Each of these events speaks to the energy that surrounds the shop and how it inspires its patrons to try new things and show off what they can do as well.
Legend has also been active in giving back to its city. The owners consider themselves to be a part of Omaha, both as citizens and members of the small business community. Perhaps the best-known instance of the store giving back is its annual Make-A-Wish Fundraiser. Over a few months they collect entries for a drawing in which some of the best known comics in the world will be given away. This has included Amazing Fantasy #15 and The Walking Dead #1 in the past. The effort was originally inspired by DeMarco’s niece who benefited from Make-A-Wish and he describes as a “bright, endlessly positive young woman.” Her enthusiasm and work in non-profits after surviving cancer have inspired him and his partners to do good work wherever possible.
Through all of these events, fundraisers, and unique aspects of their store, Legend has managed to not become just one of many comics stores in Omaha. They stand out amidst the crowd for being an active partner in their own community. Whether that means supporting creative endeavors, good causes, or interested youth, the owners and staff at Legend are devoted to bettering the city around them. It’s a lot of work, good work, and it all started with the dream of owning a comic book store.
Name: Legend Comics & Coffee
Address: 5207 Leavenworth Street
Omaha, NE 68106
Phone: (402) 391-2377
Website: Legend Comics & Coffee
Facebook: Legend Comics & Coffee