VOL. 132 | NO. 115 | Friday, June 09, 2017
901 Comics Celebrating Its First Anniversary
JODY CALLAHAN, Special to The Daily News
Shannon Merritt and Jaime Wright were a little concerned. They’d just sunk $10,000 into a dream, opening their own comic book store, and they had no real idea if customers would follow. They couldn’t be sure they would survive with a printed product in an ever-increasing digital world.
901 Comics owners Shannon Merritt (left) and Jaime Wright offer four times as many titles as they did when they opened their shop in Cooper-Young one year ago. (Daily News/Andrew Breig)
So when they opened the doors of 901 Comics in Midtown’s Cooper Young neighborhood last June, they were a little stressed.
“After buying and stocking the store,” Merritt said, “it was touch and go for a little bit.”
But when the doors opened on June 9, that stress melted away. People flooded the new shop, hundreds of them. They snatched up comics and toys, memorabilia and apparel. They signed up for comic subscriptions, committing to buy books every week at the new store. When it was all over, the pair had already earned back most of what they’d invested in the shop.
“We knew after the grand opening that we could stock the store. There were so many people in here. It was huge,” Merritt said.
Now, one year later, 901 Comics is celebrating its first anniversary this weekend with appearances by two comics legends: Joe Staton (Green Lantern, Power Girl, Huntress) and Pat Broderick (co-creator of Firestorm). The pair will be signing and sketching at the store both Friday and Saturday.
Of course, reaching that first anniversary was not guaranteed. Around the country, some comic shops – including ones that have been open for decades – have been struggling. Comic stores in Seattle and San Francisco have resorted to crowdfunding to try and survive. Others have simply closed.
The reasons? The rise of digital comics, longtime readers giving up on comics and the seemingly perpetual shakiness of the economy, to name a few.
“If I’d hadn’t had a comic book store for 31 years, I don’t think I’d open one now just because I’m not certain Marvel and DC will still be making comics in the next five years,” said Ron Crum, owner of the largest comic shop in Memphis, Comics and Collectibles. “Those guys are movie companies first and foremost now, and I don’t think they care about comics as much as they used to.”
Jason Prince owns the Comic Cellar in Raleigh. He was lucky when he began, in that he bought an established business. But he’s been selling comics for 14 years, and he’s experienced the rough times firsthand.
“I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve seen a dozen comic shops come and go through the years,” he said. “My perspective is that almost every comic shop that opens closes. I didn’t have an expectation that they (901 Comics) would, but I’m pleasantly surprised that they haven’t.”
Merritt was confident, though, that he and Wright had the necessary savvy.
“This is what I thought. I’ve been in the Marine Corps. I was a platoon sergeant. I was in the police department. I coached men’s rugby. I was like, ‘It’s a comic book shop.’ We can do this. Hundreds if not thousands of people have done this. It can be done.”
Over the course of the last year, they have seemingly been proven right. They now offer four times as many titles as they did when they started, the pair said, and sales continue to rise.
“Each month, I look at the sales. We have not gone down once,” said Merritt, who was able to quit his job as a Memphis police officer to work full-time at the store. “We’ve grown by almost three times from our first month, maybe even more than that.”
They’re growing the business, too, both partners said. They’ve added gaming to their offerings, including hosting events for board and card games. They’re committed to bringing in more comic-book creators for special signings. They’re sponsoring part of the Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention, scheduled for November. They have grand visions of what their store could become.
“Of course, it’s way down the road,” Merritt said, “but I want to be a comic book Mecca and a gaming emporium where people drive (in) from all over.”
Now, both partners said, they feel that 901 Comics has become part of the community, an institution that will be around for years to come.
But if something goes wrong, well, Wright has a Plan B.
“We’ll turn it into a barbecue shop,” he joked.