Federal Way comic shops compete on their own terms
By JOSH NELSON
Federal Way Mirror reporter
June 22, 2012 · Updated 3:06 PM
Competition. It is a driving force behind a capitalist economy. Firms work against one another to provide the best product at the best price for the consumer. Under normal circumstances, this kind of thing is ideal.
But comic shops are anything but normal.
Federal Way plays host to two different comic retailers: Action City Comics and Toys, and Fantasium Comics and Games. Both store owners believe that a friendly relationship is more beneficial than a hostile and overly competitive one.
“Jim is a friendly competitor,” said Paula Currey, co-owner of Fantasium Comics and Games. “We get along, and every once in a while we’ll refer customers to each other.”
Jim Elmoore, owner of Action City Comics and Games, agrees with Currey.
“There’s no animosity between us. I knew Paula back when she worked for Rick at Spy Comics,” said Elmoore. “When they took over they came and introduced themselves.”
Elmoore said that it is easier to be friendly. “I’ve seen stores try to fight it out and it usually just ends badly.”
The friendliness between the shops was spawned from a love of their own merchandise.
“I’d been collecting comics for a long time, and sold a few during college to help pay my tuition,” said Elmoore. “I did pretty well at swap meets, and got used to the money. This seemed like the next step.”
Currey also shares Elmoore’s love of comics.
“I used to repair copiers for a living, and I didn’t like it much,” she said. “When we moved here from Virginia, I decided I wanted to do something that I enjoyed, and I really enjoyed my comics.”
Currey said she met Rick Spychalski, the owner of Spy Comics, in summer 2002. She worked for him until she and her husband, Barry, took over and opened Fantasium in April 2011.
Although the two shops maintain friendly ties, the differences between them are what drives their competition.
Action City is at 2120 S. 320th St. in the same strip mall as Laser Quest and Outback Steakhouse. Elmoore said that his location is sometimes a boon.
“320th is the main thoroughfare through Federal Way,” said Elmoore. “I’m surrounded by other businesses and being close to the mall has its advantages. But my parking lot is a little secluded and I’ve lost some customers because they don’t like the atmosphere around the Transit Center.”
Elmoore’s shelves and walls are overloaded with toys, busts and statues. True to form, his shop brims with comic books and graphic novels.
“I try to stock awesome merchandise,” said Elmoore. “I’ve got more toys and statues than Paula. She’s more into games.”
Currey pointed out that each shop has its own specialty.
“Jim’s specialty is toys and statues. We do more with table-top games,” she said. “The cards and games were Rick’s thing, but I personally like them as well and I think it’s nice to add a personal twist.”
Fantasium, located about half a mile south of Action City, is at 1500 S. 336th St. Currey’s shelves are full of games, cards, dice and a plethora of comic book titles.
“We both carry lots of comics,” said Currey. “But Jim’s been around longer and has more of what we in the industry call ‘key issues.’” This refers to big events in a comic’s history: first appearances of characters, dramatic death issues, and big cross-overs.
While Action City has achieved a certain tenure within Federal Way, that doesn’t dissuade Currey, who brings new blood and techniques into her business.
“I’ve organized a few special things for this summer,” said Currey. “The Madalorian Mercs will be coming at the end of the month to help raise money for an autism service dog for one of my customers.”
Currey said that she is planning a Magic: The Gathering pre-release tournament for her regular players in early July.
“I’ll also be having a book signing with a local author in August,” said Currey.
Action City’s summer is shaping up to be much like the last, said Elmoore. “However, I will finally be setting up a Facebook page for the shop this summer, and if I get a decent response, I may organize some events.”
Where some might see the comic shops as dying entities, Hollywood has done its share of breathing new life into the industry.
“We’ll notice a bump in sales before a new movie comes out,” said Currey. “Both ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Hellboy’ saw decent spikes in sales just before the movies released.”
At the end of the day, both shops agree that it’s about the customers.
“Because of my location, I do get a lot of walk-ins,” said Elmoore. “But most of my business is repeat customers. I order and reserve them comics, they stay in boxes waiting to be picked up.”
Again showing their similarity, Currey has a lot of faithful customers.
“I get maybe five walk-ins per day, and a little more on weekends,” she said. “But a majority of my customers are repeat.”
These two shops share so many traits, it’s hard to imagine them being competitive. Both owners are humble and respectful, and those attributes are felt by their patrons.
“I’m pleased that we have such a good relationship,” said Currey. “I’ve heard horror stories of shops with broken windows from bricks thrown by competitors. I think the competition that does exist between us is a good thing. It makes us work harder and gives people a choice.”
Contact Federal Way Mirror reporter Josh Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-925-5565.