NORTH TONAWANDA – Do you still think comics are for kids?
An enterprising couple found such success in their first endeavor – establishing Pulp 716 Coffee and Comics at 45 East Ave., Lockport, two years ago — that it’s just opened another shop of the same name at 31 Webster St., North Tonawanda.
“People might think a comic book store would be filled with kids all of the time, but, while we do have kids as customers, the majority of our customers are adults,” said Amy Berent, who heads the new NT store. Her husband, Jay, presides over the Lockport shop.
“I’d say most of our customers are from 18 into their 40s, and some are older,” Berent said. “We have a ‘Walking Dead’ comic, for example – which is my favorite series – and we have a 76-year-old woman who comes into our Lockport store every month to get the newest issue. People don’t realize the ‘Walking Dead’ was a comic book series long before it was a television show.”
Berent said the idea for the original comic book shop came up several years ago as the two sat on their living room couch and talked about what sort of business they’d start – if they could do anything they’d like.
“Jay immediately said he’d open a comic book store,” said Berent, who added that she readily agreed.
“And, it was always our business plan to have two locations, but this happened sooner than we expected,” she said. “It was just a great opportunity that we didn’t want to pass up.”
The Berents live in Lockport, but are both from North Tonawanda.
Along with a full line of comic books, which generally range from $2.99 to $5.99 an issue, both shops carry the same inventory of pop culture merchandise, from keychains to mugs to stuffed animals, along with a very popular line of Funko Pops figures and retro candy.
The cafe side also offers “historically accurate coffee blends” and bubble tea. The coffee, Berent explained, is just what it sounds like – coffee that was served at a particular time in history.
“The historically accurate coffee is one of my favorite things,” she said. “We did a lot of research for this. Right now, we have 1946 Bikini Brew, for example, which is the coffee that was popular when the bikini debuted in France in 1946. We chose a series of years we wanted to focus on, then we hired a coffee expert to do some of the leg work to find these blends.
“Bubble tea originated in Taiwan,” she added. “It’s hand-shaken, iced tea and we offer a fruit flavoring of your choice. It’s a fruit or milk tea. And there are these little balls of tapioca that settle at the bottom, called ‘bobas’ and the kids really enjoy this. We also serve pastries and desserts from three area bakeries.
“The cafe is our little twist on a comic book store,” Berent said. “We wanted to incorporate other things we enjoy, that would be welcoming to people. You might not come here as a comic book fan, but you may leave here a fan.”
The Lockport store also experimented with a special literacy program shortly after it opened, and Berent said she’d like to revive it. She said she’s looking to establish it in the NT store this time, within the next couple of months.
Berent said she’s looking for “qualified volunteers” to help participants of all ages improve their reading and comprehension skills through the use of comic books. She plans to offer the free, one-hour program on a short series of Saturdays just prior to her shop’s 10 a.m. opening. Interested, qualified volunteers should contact her at 389-0821 or email@example.com.
Berent recently took a break from her long hours in her new shop to talk about the unique business and her return to her NT roots.
Q: What’s your background?
A: I was working for a local uniform company before we opened the Lockport shop, but I am a professional makeup artist and special effects makeup artist. I graduated from the Cosmix School of Makeup Artistry in Fort Lauderdale in 2009, and stayed in the Miami/Orlando area for a while, then came back to this area for family. Then I met Jay and we started dating.
Q: Will you do anything special with your makeup artist background with the shop?
A: I’d like to give live makeup demonstrations at the NT shop around Halloween, to teach people how to do this at home if they’d like, if I can get settled enough here to do it this year. I still do bridal and prom makeup when my schedule allows. I love it.
I’ve also done special effects makeup in film work – the blood and guts – it’s super fun.
Q: What attracted you two to the idea of starting an independent comic book store?
A: Jay is a man of many talents. He comes from a family of professional magicians – way back – and I think that helped shape his personality. He’s engaging and outgoing and I love him to death. He doesn’t like to sit around, he’s always working – he just enjoys it.
I didn’t really know anything about comics until we started dating and he started to introduce me to them and I enjoyed them. I’m an avid reader of fiction, and now there are a number of comic series I enjoy.
The comic books are a nice combination of using the arts to tell the story. The writers have amazing storylines, some real cliffhangers. They’re almost like television shows.
Q: Did comics ever go out of fashion?
A: Comics never went out of style, it just wasn’t broadcast. But then things came along, like the ‘Big Bang Theory,’ where the characters hang around a comic book store, and the movies started coming out, about the Marvel and DC Comic characters, and new fans started looking for the backstories of these characters, in the old comics.
For example, when Wonder Woman came out, we sold out of everything Wonder Woman related for a month or two. The sales correlate with the movies coming out.
Q: How many series do you carry?
A: I don’t even know, but we get 150 to 200 brand new issues every Wednesday, and they’re coming out with new stories all of the time.
Everyone’s known about the superheroes for forever, and some are on issue 956, but there are also new series starting for these characters. Netflix has started a few series with Marvel characters and it all ties together.
Q: Does a series introduce a new issue each month?
A: Most books come out with a new issue once a month, but some, like the DC Comics, come out twice a month. Graphic novels stand alone -- they’re in book form.
Q: What’s your typical comic book reader like?
A: Comic book readers are awesome. They are the kind of people you want to be friends with.
Q: How did you choose NT for your second shop and is there much difference between the two shops?
A: NT’s great. We’re both from NT and graduated from North Tonawanda High School, although we didn’t know each other at the time.
They’ve done a lot of work revitalizing Webster Street and the waterfront. It’s a good hub for the surrounding cities. It’s easy to get to NT from anywhere. And Lockport’s a great site because there wasn’t much out there for comics and people had to drive 45 minutes to Buffalo before we opened our store.
The layout of the stores is a little different and I think the design of this shop reflects my personality a little more, but we carry the same books and merchandise.
Q: What future plans do you have?
A: We want to feature artist events, where the artist creates the event and we provide the space. We want to do this on a fairly regular basis.
We want to start our comic literacy program here, where kids -- or anyone who wants to improve their reading and comprehension – can sign up and come in one Saturday a month an hour before we open , so it’s quiet, and qualified volunteers can help them strengthen their skills.
Comics are a great way to get kids interested in reading. We did this once before in the Lockport store and the kids had a good time and the parents liked it, too. We have activities, so the kids don’t even know they’re learning.
It would be open to any age. Our stores are completely judgment free zones – that’s our philosophy. This is a safe place for everyone to come and feel comfortable.
Editor’s Note: Both stores are open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; and closed Sunday.