Kurt Bollers always wanted a comic book store, though he wasn’t going to “pay $18,000 in rent” to open one in Manhattan.
But the vacancy of a dry cleaner next to the West Village’s White Horse Tavern, where Bollers works as a manager, made the dream a reality. Bollers discussed the idea with his boss, who owns the entire building, and the discussion quickly turned into a pitch meeting and a “very reasonable” lease.
In July, West Village Comics opened following a fresh paint job and the installation of shelves by Bollers and his business partner, Eric Esquilin, a fellow comic enthusiast (and the official driver on long-haul comic book trips).
“Everybody loves us in the neighborhood,” Bollers, 55, says of the small shop’s first few weeks.
Bollers first started selling comic books in the Financial District in the 1990s, outside of the old Record Explosion.
“There were a lot of guys selling comic books and making money out there,” he recalls.
When comics’ popularity slowed, Bollers went to work at a brokerage firm, where he met Esquilin. But he continued to sell, show and trade comics at conventions multiple times a year. Pretty soon he had accumulated storage units full of books and no shelves to put them on.
That’s where West Village Comics comes in — sort of. The store shows a “quarter of a quarter” of one storage unit, with most of Bollers’ collection still in storage.
Lining the walls are graded comic books — that is, books that are officially rated based on their condition and therefore, more valuable. Prices on these titles start at $100, though record store-style boxes of inexpensive books (priced at face value) line the back tables. Graphic novels are stocked in the front of the store, and a white wall across from the register is open for visiting artists and writers to sign.
Bollers, who grew up in Guyana, first got into comics at the age of 6. Marvel and DC comics were common in Bollers’ neighborhood. He still doesn’t know quite how or why they got there from the States, but there were always stacks of Archie, Captain America and Iron Man comics.
“They made me want to learn to read, because I would look at the pictures and make up words,” Bollers recalls. “By the time I was in eighth grade, I had a college reading level because comics really pushed me to read a lot.”
Bollers and his family moved to New York when he was 9 years old. At that time, he couldn’t believe how cheap it was to buy comics by the stack. Now, Bollers can’t believe how valuable the comics he trashed as a kid are decades later.
He maintains a commitment to selling “the best” books.
“You’re not getting a beat-up copy, it doesn’t work like that,” Bollers says. “I like repeat customers.”