On the outskirts of Downtown Fullerton sits a brick building. Were it not for a big red “Comics” sign, the two-story structure, adjacent to antique shops, could easily be mistaken for a loft apartment building, its brown-brick facade a contrast to the thriving urban scene mere blocks away.
But this building houses more than just old clocks, chairs and other trinkets. It is home to superheroes.
Located on Commonwealth Avenue in Fullerton, Comic Book Hideout has found a way to thrive selling exactly what its namesake implies: comic books. Catering to a niche but growing market, and despite doing business in a world dominated largely by digital platforms, Comic Book Hideout has managed to prosper through the sale of physical comics.
“I’m not making millions of dollars off comic books by any means,” said Glynnes Pruett, owner of Comic Book Hideout. “But my business is growing and it has a steady clientele base.”
Indeed, Comic Book Hideout is one of the comic book stores which has tapped into a market that saw $870 million in sales in 2014.
But the Fullerton shop has found its own way of staying in business. Pruett, a 28-year-old Cal State Fullerton graduate, has been a comic book vendor for more than 20 years, beginning as a child selling comics with her dad at trade shows. Her deep-rooted knowledge of the business has allowed Pruett to create a shop catering to a demographic that goes beyond the stereotypical “geek.”
“I wanted to create a place where cool, normal people can come and buy comic books,” Pruett said. “If you’re creating a retail store, you want people to want to be around and want to be there, and a lot of comic book stores don’t get that.”
For that reason, Pruett has designed a store that eschews the long, tall rows of shelves and racks found in many other comic book shops.
“I have all the things that people could be interested in looking for, but I like to display them in a way that feels easy and comfortable and natural,” Pruett said.
Comic Book Hideout employs an open layout, preventing customers from feeling overwhelmed by indiscernible streaks of color and text. Shelves are reserved strictly for the outer edges of the store. The middle of the store, in contrast, contains tables topped by comic-filled wooden bins handmade by Pruett.
But beyond the ease with which the layout allows customers to maneuver themselves around the shop, Comic Book Hideout embraces other elements that separate it from comparable stores.
In the “kid’s corner” hangs an upside-down, life-size Spider-Man plush doll, its neck draped with a lei and its face hidden by a Batman mask. In the back of the store sit two pinball machines and an Atari “Centipede” arcade game, a throwback to the 1980s. A green mural of three hands drawing one another, a nod to M.C. Escher’s “Drawing Hands,” serves as a backdrop to a lounge area containing couches and game consoles hooked up to a flat screen television.
The hall leading to the back exit serves as an art gallery.
“When you start a business, you’re creating an extension of yourself,” Pruett said. “So, I wanted people to come into Comic Book Hideout and feel like they were coming into my clubhouse.”
This store-cum-clubhouse sets itself apart from other comic book shops by having employees who make genuine connections with customers.
Nineteen-year-old Tatyana Castro began working at Comic Book Hideout as an intern. She began frequenting the store as a way to connect with her brother, who played “Magic: The Gathering.”
“I just loved the fact that everyone was very happy to help me and teach me, and we all became friends,” Castro said.
At the front counter, Zakee Singleton purchased a stack of 20 comics. This was one of his weekly treks to the shop from Compton. But this was not a standard “pay-for-an-item-and-leave” transaction.
Instead, Singleton conversed freely with Castro, talking about topics ranging from food to Singleton being so exhausted at work that he could not draw a straight line, despite using a ruler as a guide.
“I showed up to work, sat down for five hours, drew four lines and two of them weren’t even that straight,” Singleton told Castro. “Your freehand circles were better than my ruler straight lines.”
In the back, 23-year-old employee Tim Groff sat on a black leather couch. Like Castro, he first began attending Comic Book Hideout as a customer. He described other stores as “toll road-ish.”
“Usually someone’s sitting behind the counter reading a comic book and you go up and ask, ‘Hey, can I find this?’ and they’ll just point,” Groff said. “I treat everyone that comes by here, whether I just met them or have known them forever, like a new friend.”
As the time for the weekly “Friday Night Magic: The Gathering” game neared, more customers filed in and headed toward the back. The brim of his black cap turned up, Groff sang and played guitar with a friend. One customer joined the singing and guitar playing, belting out a cover of “This Charming Man.”
Groff joined the group of 10 players as the game finally began. Shouts, cheers and claps filled the room as one player drew an “Ulemog” card. Groff set the music to “Modal Soul” by Nujabes as the game continued. The back of a comic book store had transformed itself into the clubhouse that Pruett had imagined.