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Originally published February 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 6, 2009 at 8:30 AM

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Retail Report

Comic Stop expands comic book store chain in Seattle area

Last month, the Comic Stop's three Seattle-area stores quickly sold out of a Spider-Man comic book depicting President Obama on the cover. Now, the local chain of comic-book stores is looking to Hollywood's movie machinery to generate interest in everything from alien robots to costumed crime fighters amid a weak economic environment.

Seattle Times business reporters

Last month, the Comic Stop's three Seattle-area stores quickly sold out of a Spider-Man comic book depicting President Obama on the cover. Now, the local chain of comic-book stores is looking to Hollywood's movie machinery to generate interest in everything from alien robots to costumed crime fighters amid a weak economic environment.

Founder Jim Demonakos notes that when a "Watchmen" movie trailer began running last summer, Comic Stop stores sold more related merchandise in one month than in all their years of doing business. "Nonstop sales" is how Demonakos recalls those hectic weeks in July.

Demonakos and his brother George opened Comic Stop in Lynnwood in 2000 with longtime friend Brian Meredith. Two years later, they expanded to Everett with another friend, Chris Rangel. But the 30-something Demonakos brothers held off on a third location until last year, when they opened at Redmond Town Center. Jim Demonakos attributes the long pause to a shortage of business-minded comic-book fans willing and able to help them expand.

"We don't just want employees. We want partners who are involved in the store," Demonakos said over coffee recently with Michael Byers, a former Armed Forces Radio disc jockey who went in with them on the Redmond store.

Each store annually sells more than $100,000 worth of comic books, action figures, posters, lunchboxes, board games and T-shirts, Demonakos says. Clean and well-lit, they contradict old notions of comic-book stores as cluttered, musty places. Unlike the 1990s, when the comic-book business rose and fell after a surge in speculative buying activity, today's stores appeal mainly to men between 18 and 34 years old who read comics regularly, Demonakos says.

"A customer will come in and ask, 'Who do you think would win a fight between Superman and Thor?' And I'm like, 'Hey, yeah, I'll have that conversation with you!' " Demonakos said.

"You don't go into a clothing store and say, 'Now talk to me about Giorgio Armani,' " Byers said, building on Demonakos' point. "We have some people who want to talk about comics all day. Our sense of family is much greater."

Sales remain strong despite the weak economy, partly because customers can buy a comic book for as much as their favorite coffee drink, Demonakos says. Still, sales would have been down last month if not for the Obama-Spidey issue, he says.

Internet research firm Comics Chronicles estimates that about 3,000 specialty stores in the United States and Canada sold $436.6 million in comic books and graphic novels in 2008, up slightly from 2007. Comics Chronicles founder John Jackson Miller says the comic-book business hasn't always tracked the overall economy.

"There was a recession in 1992 and we didn't notice it at all," he said. "On the other hand, the late '90s were a horrible time for the comics industry."

Demonakos says he is optimistic about Comic Stop's seventh-annual convention, the Emerald City Comicon, which takes place this April in downtown Seattle. About 10,000 people attended last year, and Demonakos expects at least as many this year.

Comic books "get your mind off what's going on in the world," he said. "Seeing good triumph over evil is kind of nice. That's why you read comic books, and it's why they remain popular even in recessionary times."

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Hollywood is betting on it: Upcoming movie releases include Watchmen, the X-Men's Wolverine, Astro Boy and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."

— Amy Martinez

Tidbits

Consumer Reports rated Eight O'Clock Coffee 100 percent Colombian the best buy among 19 ground coffees, beating out best-selling Folgers, Maxwell House and Starbucks beans. At $6.28 a pound, Montvale, N.J.-based Eight O'Clock was more affordable than Starbucks' Colombia Medium blend, which costs $11.53 a pound and "didn't even place among the top regular coffees and trailed among decafs," according to a Consumer Reports news release. "While the regular rated 'Good,' testers noted it had flaws such as burnt and bitter flavors; though milk and sugar may help."

Among decafs, front-runners were Dunkin' Donuts Dunkin' Decaf, Millstone Decaf 100 percent Colombian Medium Roast, and Folgers Gourmet Selections Lively Colombian Decaf Medium Roast. — MA

California surfwear brand Billabong will open its first Northwest store at Bellevue Square in late spring or early summer on the first floor near Nordstrom. Also, trendy shoe brand Vans will open in the same part of the mall in early spring. — AM

Seattle Coffee Crawl offers coffee tours with a hint of chocolate to celebrate Valentine's Day. On Feb. 13 and 14, the coffee-shop tours beginning at 10 a.m. will include an extra stop at Rose's Chocolate Treasures in Pike Place Market and a chocolate-coffee pairing at Seattle Coffee Works. Crawl owner Vicki Schuman will kick in a chocolate truffle from Sweet Decadence for good measure. Tickets are $20 in advance, $24 for walk-ups, and are available at www.seattlebyfoot.com and 800-838-3006. — MA

J.C. Penney will open a second location at South Hill Mall in Puyallup on Sunday, providing an additional 77,000 square feet of selling space where Mervyn's used to be. The new location will sell women's and children's clothing, shoes, jewelry, eyewear and Sephora beauty products. Penney's other location in the mall will carry men's clothing, a styling salon, bedding and bath products, window coverings and housewares. It's undergoing a major renovation but will remain open through the months-long process. — AM

Coconut Bliss — an ice cream made with coconut milk — was available in two states just four years ago. This spring, Whole Foods will begin offering at least four of its flavors at many markets nationwide, according to the ice cream's Eugene, Ore., parent company, Bliss Unlimited. — MA

The Adidas shoe store in downtown Seattle has closed after 10 years. Deborah Matlick, a leasing agent at the 1505 Fifth Ave. building, said a replacement for the prominent downtown location has not yet been found. AM

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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