It’s no secret that brick-and-mortar retail is all-but-defeated, but one hero mom-and-pop in Queens is bucking the trend by expanding to a second location.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Nick Mik, a store manager who helped found the place on 45th Street and Broadway with Michael Giordano, co-owner of Royal Collectibles’ first location in Forest Hills. “People actually just walk down the street [and] stop and say, ‘Wow, a comic book store opened.’”
Giordano told amNY business is strong, while Mik added that shoppers sometimes line up outside for as long as an hour before the store’s opening, eager to get their hands on new releases — especially those of the Funko company’s Pop! vinyl dolls. But comic books remain Royal Collectibles’ bread and butter.
Colorful covers line most of the wall space in what is now a modestly sized, but sleek show room. (Mik says a backroom, currently being used for storage and comic book quality grading, will eventually be repurposed as a gallery with custom-built cabinets.) The store carries current editions of fan favorites and, on display behind the counter, pricey, sought-after classics, such as the first issues of X-Men, The Avengers, and The Walking Dead, all from the personal collection of Mik and the store’s third founder, Joe Gallogly.
“My friend Joe (Gallogly) and I, between the two of us, own well over 50,000 comics,” said Mik, 56, an Astoria resident.
He estimated that the wholesale value of the books lies between $300,000 and $400,000, and said that he and Gallogly also possess over 5,000 Pop! dolls. The duo offered their trove to Giordano — whom they’ve known for years as regular customers at the original Royal Collectives store — as startup inventory for the new Astoria spot.
Giordano, 37, who bought into Royal Collectibles’ Forest Hills outpost at the age of 18 with the help of a “major loan” from his father — which has since been repaid with interest, he said — has been a perennial vendor at New York’s Comic Con.
Year after year, customers at the Javits Center event would ask Giordano and his partner, Charles Marone Jr., where their store was located, and year after year customers would be disappointed at its distance from Manhattan.
With just one other small comic book store in Queens found between the first Royal Collectibles on Metropolitan Avenue and Silver Age Comics near Ditmars Boulevard, Giordano realized there was an underserved comic book fan populace. When Mik said he’d help Giordano get a new place up and running, Giordano bit.
In addition to supplying his collectibles and comics alongside Gallogly’s, Mik discovered the available Broadway storefront, negotiated its lease, and worked on remodeling the space.
“I couldn’t do it without a partner,” Giordano said. “I needed somebody to be there all the time; there’s only one of me.”
Mik — who told amNY he was previously employed as a SUNY Albany professor, after finding success in the collectibles trade during the Beanie Babies’ 1990s heyday — has also heavily promoted the new digs on social media.
“I’m an Instagram nut,” he said. The store’s Instagram account, @royal_collectibles_astoria, features images of its already devoted customers, many of them youngsters, which Mik appreciates.
“I don’t have any children, (but) I love kids,” Mik said. He added that he takes great joy in seeing a cherubic customer’s face light up when the Pop! figure they’ve been waiting for comes into stock. “You’re in this business because you want to see people happy. This is comics, this is fun.”
Count Johan and Justin Jara, a father-and-son tandem, among the Astoria store’s regulars.
“I worry about the comic books, my dad worries about the Pops,” Justin, 17, and a senior at nearby Bryant High School, said.
He and his father had also been fixtures at the Forest Hills iteration of Royal Collectibles, but were ecstatic to see the orange awning for the new Astoria place just two blocks from where they live. Justin, an avid Batman fan, said he’s there every Wednesday when new comics are released.
“I usually buy about six, and that costs me about $20,” he said.
Giordano said the Forest Hills Royal Collectibles store has enjoyed continuous revenue growth since he’s become a partner, with even larger upticks the past two years. He attributes the increases to the rising popularity of Hollywood blockbusters based on comic books.
“It’s not like a little niche hobby, it’s just pop culture now, ” Giordano said of comic book fandom. (Nationwide, comic books enjoyed a banner sales year in 2016. Sales dipped for two years after that, but early reports circulating the industry indicate the numbers are up so far in 2019.)
Generally built into the comic book culture, as well, is a ravenous need for an estimable collection.
“That glorious room full of old comics, that’s the stuff [collectors] dream about,” Giordano observed. “It’s not just enough to read them online … especially when you get into the older stuff. People appreciate the old advertising — just the feel, the smell of that old paper.”
Throughout its soft opening, the proprietors of Astoria’s Royal Collectibles are feeling out their customer’s wants. They’ve scheduled a grand opening for May 4, which is “Free Comic Book Day” in the U.S. and “Star Wars Day,” a pun-tastic celebration of the movie franchise when fans greet each other with, “May the fourth be with you.” Royal Collectibles will offer discounts on Star Wars items and other specials.
As far as Justin Jara is concerned, though, ownership doesn’t have to change a thing as the grand opening approaches.
“They’re running the store perfectly,” he said. “I just want them to keep on doing what they’re doing.”