New business caters to wave of comic book readers

Nearly a year after Harvard Square closed up its kitchen, a second longtime Village shop has called it quits. On March 1, Claremont residents said goodbye to Raku, an eco-centric boutique whose paper goods and knickknacks have added character to Yale Avenue for the past 30 years.

But as one Claremont niche shop closes, another opens, with an abundance of a different sort of paper good. On the other end of the Claremont Village, residents are welcoming in the latest quirky Claremont business: comic book extraordinaire A Shop Called Quest.

As many mom-and-pops struggle or fold, it’s a different story for the Redlands-based specialty store, which welcomes its second location in the City of Trees. The continuing resurgence of superhero blockbusters and graphic novels popularized through television shows keeps the niche new, says manager Jason Harris.

“It just pumps more blood for us,” Mr. Harris said. “It brings in a new wave of comic readers eager to find out what’s next.”

A Shop Called Quest makes a concerted effort to indulge budding comic book fans. The small store is packed with items geared toward the latest outbreaks: Dr. Who, The Walking Dead and Adventure Time included.

“We have an extensive catalogue,” Mr. Harris said. “Where most comic book shops probably carry 3 of a series, we have 4 rows of everything from anything, and we do well with it.”

Among Quest’s vast collection of big name comic books is a wide selection of picks featuring great comic artists. For Mr. Harris, his passion for comics stems from his appreciation of the illustrations. He points out a few of his favorites: Mike Mignola, artist of Hellboy and Daredevil as well as Jean Giraud, also known by his pseudonym “Mœbius,” creator of comics like the popular series Blueberry known for their beautiful and elaborate landscapes. He recommends checking out Joe Kubert’s illustrations in The Bible, found propped up on one of the displays near the center of the store.

“I’m not necessarily into the Bible, but I love Joe Kubert and his art style,” Mr. Harris said. “He is one of the classic illustrators of this time.”

Providing for the growing fanbase and keeping the shop competitive with giants like Barnes & Noble and Amazon takes a lot of time, not to mention cash, Mr. Harris noted. While he would love to affirm the assumption that comic book store employees get to read all day, he is sad to note it’s not true. Most of his day is composed of sitting behind a computer, managing inventory and placing orders. He estimates there is about $40,000 in merchandise stocked on the handmade wooden shelves of the Village West store. But it’s part of a greater philosophy that has worked well for the business.

“You’ve got to end up spending money to make money, which is the most cliche thing to say, but it’s the truth,” Mr. Harris said. “The fact is having all this product persuades people to come back.”

Every Wednesday, Quest adds to its inventory, from a vast selection of comic books, old and new, to rows upon rows of graphic novels. It doesn’t stop there. Art books, manga and vinyl toys are also regular store features. And if it’s not available, they welcome customers’ special requests, happy to make a personal order. In turn, they reward customers for their loyalty. An incentive program is available to those who sign up with the store’s member services.

They take their mission of catering to a diverse crowd very seriously. That means keeping all fans happy, cape lovers and those who like their product a little less traditional.

“We grab a little of everything for everybody,” Mr. Harris said.

A Shop Called Quest has been catering to comic lovers since it opened its doors in downtown Redlands nearly 25 years ago, albeit with a slightly different name. The shop came into being as Comic Quest but as the comic book frenzy of the 1990s caught on, a name change became evident to keep themselves relevant.

“Comic Quest was such a corny 90s comic book store name and everyone seemed to have it. With the digital age, we found there was a Comic Quest in Fountain Valley, one in Indiana, just all over the place,” he said. “We needed a change.”

One shift Mr. Harris recalls a co-worker was listening to the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. In jest, employees began answering calls on the store’s phone with “A Shop Called Quest…” The name stuck. It’s serendipitous that the home of the store’s new Claremont location would be just a quick jog down the street from Bonita Avenue, as “Bonita Applebum” is the name of a popular Tribe song, Mr. Harris pointed out.

“It’s fate,” he laughed.

Now with twin downtown stores, the comic book connoisseurs say business continues to boom. Within the first few days of the Claremont opening, a restock on several of the items was already necessary and numbers had exceeded their opening week expectations. They expect business to continue to flourish with a series of upcoming events.

In April, Quest will host an art show titled “ I Hunger,” an art auction centered on depictions of Galactus, a Marvel character who eats planets. Proceeds from the event will be donated to a local food bank. Plans are also underway for a “Zine Show,” showcasing self-published works by locals.

While some stores struggle to keep inventory on the shelves, Quest plans to continue its business model: more is better.

“We aren’t afraid to carry the things normal shops wouldn’t and it’s worked for us,” Mr. Harris said. “The philosophy is paying off.”

A Shop Called Quest is located at 101 N. Indian Hill Boulevard, St. C1-104B, next door to the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. For more information, call 624-1829 or visit their Facebook page at claremont.

—Beth Hartnett


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