Phoenix Comics, a Calgary-based comic book store, is a landmark for comic book lovers in the city. The original store, located on 17th Avenue SW, opened in 1987. The second location, on 16th Avenue in Calgary’s northwest, opened in 1994. Mike Bower, the owner of the northwest store, wanted to try his hand at running a comic book store when he decided that the Engineering degree he had been pursuing just wasn’t for him. “I wanted to try something else, and I started talking to Ben Falconer (the owner of the original store) about opening up a store of my own,” said Bower. “He offered to let me use the name of his store for a small fee and he helped me out a lot with the initial set up.”
Mike dropped out of University in the summer of 1993 and started selling comics on the convention circuit that same summer. He opened the NW store in November 1994 and it has been his life ever since. It only takes one visit to Phoenix Comics to understand why it has thrived for all these years. The bright, clean space is inviting, the shelves of content are easy to navigate and the staff are always happy and ready to help.
Over the years, the two stores have diversified to become their own unique entities. “The SW store does music and model kits and specializes more in toys than we do at the NW location,” said Bower. “At the NW location we specialize in Magic the Gathering and soon we’ll be featuring a much larger apparel section.” While the SW store is a bit more ‘old school’ in their approach to the comic business, the NW store was the first store in Calgary to have a comic store-specific point of sale system, which they’ve been using since 2009.
Owning his own business has been a great experience for Bower. “I like being able to innovate and see the results. Of course, I like that I get to work with two of my long time passions – comics and Magic the Gathering,” he said. “I’ve been reading and collecting comics since I was a child and the game of Magic has been a big part of my life since 1995.”
Phoenix Comics experienced rapid growth over the past few years, and while that is a great thing for a business it has also caused some challenges for Bower. “We’ve had to hire and train a lot more staff and I can’t do everything myself like I did in the old days,” he said. “I’ve had to retrain myself away from my micromanaging ways and leave a lot more in the hands of the employees as there is just too much work now for one person.”
Another challenge is Phoenix Comics’ need for more space. “There are lots of product lines I would like to highlight more or even carry that we simply can’t have because we’re out of space,” he said. “It also limits the scope of Magic events that we can run, as our play area is capped at 56 people.”
These are, of course, good problems to have and Mike knows he’s got a good thing on his hands. “We’ve gained a lot of new customers who were first introduced to comics online but are now collecting physical comics as well,” he said.
Krista Wiebe is a freelance editor and writer. She’s also the Alberta Editor at the Spectator Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @KristaWiebe.
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