Comic shop battles economic downturn

By WilliamPrentiss

Brainstorm Comics, Movies, and Gaming customers had no reason to doubt that their weekly superhero fix would continue uninterrupted. That was until August arrived.

Brainstorm has become a Bucktown staple since it opened in October 2003 at 1648 W. North Ave., and it’s easy to see why. The store separates itself from the competition by catering to every avenue of geek it can find, whether it be a comic, movie or board game. One can still find popular movies like Wall-E, as well as weird ones like the late ‘80s horror film Dr. Calagari, which features a lunatic female doctor conducting heinous experiments on her patients, always ready and waiting for brave customers.

Brainstorm’s comic selection features the regular Marvel and DC staples, along with many lesser known titles like Jack of Fables from Vertigo Comics. Under the shelves, customers can find boxes of back issues if they’re looking for something less recent. Of course, when the shop doesn’t receive its weekly shipment of comics, it’s all old issues.

On Aug. 19, a long entry was posted on the store’s MySpace page telling faithful customers the shop would not receive another shipment from distributor Diamond Comics. According to the post, the store’s last day of business would be Oct. 4.

When customers heard the shop could be closing, they responded by contacting Diamond Comics. The distributor eventually agreed to continue shipping Brainstorm their books after reaching a confidential agreement with owners Robert Kimmons and Matt Sagan.

The store is having a clearance sale on their current stock to raise capital in order to get back on good terms with Diamond Comics.

Kimmons said while the news is a relief, things are still very much in the air.

“So much has been taken out of our hands,” Kimmons said. “You play by the rules, you do what you’re supposed to, you pay your bills on time and someone bigger than you still takes your credit line away.”

Kimmons said he thought his customers were loyal, but was still surprised by how much they have stepped up.

“People have mobilized and they have made it a point of saying, ‘We won’t let this store die,’” Kimmons said.

A benefit concert was held on Sept. 6 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., and all ticket sales revenue went to the store. Brainstorm employee Sean Akins set up the event through a customer who knew a booking agent at Subterranean. Akins was the master of ceremonies at the concert with performances from musicians the InnerVisionists, Ezekiel Thirtyate and Aloha Satan.

Akins started his job at Brainstorm in 2004 as a part-time employee, but began working there full-time after quitting his previous job managing Michael Anthony’s Salon and Spa.

“I know I’m making considerably less money, but I’m doing something I love,” Akins said. “Me and my family, we moved to this neighborhood just so I can be closer.”

Akins said the store has a special place in the neighborhood that would be missed.

“We are definitely the nerd lifeline of this area,” Akins said. “Only place a person can feel comfortable coming and talking about  The Green Lantern, Superman, “Doctor Who” or whatever they are reading or watching. This is just that place where no one is going to look down on you for liking these things.”

Andy Cole, assistant manager of competitor Graham Crackers Comics, 77 E. Madison St., said Brainstorm’s troubles came as a surprise to him.

“It’s a shame,” Cole said. “We didn’t throw business their way, but we never fail to mention them when someone is looking for an obscure  video. Brainstorm, hey know what they’re doing with that stuff.”

Cole said business has been better for some stores in the Graham Crackers chain, but overall the company is happy with their performance. He said comics tend to be recession proof, but smaller stores are more affected by the economic downturn.

Cole said Graham Crackers Comics has made changes to maintain their profit margins.

“We’re not taking as many chances on stuff we used to,” Cole said.