First Aid Comics opens up new store in Little Italy

11/07/2012 10:00 PM

Igor Studenkov
Contributing Reporter

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You might not know it, but Chicago has a fair share of comic book stores. It’s just that most of them are located on the North and Northwest sides. As recently as five years ago, comic book fans that lived south of the Eisenhower Expressway didn’t have much in the way of shopping options. The few shops that did exist were located on the city’s fringes, in far-flung neighborhoods like Garfield Ridge and Mount Greenwood.

First Aid Comics broke the mold in 2008, when it became the first comic book store to ever open in Hyde Park. Nobody believed that a comic book store could survive on the South Side, but founder James Nurss was confident that there were enough potential customers in the area to let him beat the odds. Three years later, the store was successful enough to move a larger location.

Now, one year after that, First Aid Comics is becoming a franchise, opening its second store in the heart of Little Italy.

Even though the store has been in operation for a little over a month, owner Tom Seymour is confident that First Aid is here to stay. And if everything goes according to plan, a third First Aid Comics store would open in the future, and it would open somewhere south of Eisenhower Expressway.

Seymour is no stranger to comic book stores. He said that, like a lot of comic book fans, he always dreamed of working in one. When he was living in Lincoln Park, he saw a store opening on Clark Street and jumped at the opportunity.

The store was part of Graham Crackers, the comic book store chain that serves Chicago and its suburbs. Seymour stayed at the Lincoln Park store for years, eventually working his way up to location manager.

Seymour met Nurss while working at the branch, and they became friends. When Nurss opened First Aid Comics, they stayed in touch. And when Seymour decided to strike out on his own, they decided to help could help each other out.

“James was doing very well in Hyde Park,” said Seymour. “An opportunity arose for me to leave my job and start my own store. We talked about it and figured that two stores were better than one.”

According to Nurss, Little Italy wasn’t their first choice.

“I wanted to put [the second location] in Pilsen,” he said. “But we found a spot we liked in Little Italy.”

That spot was located at 1142 W. Taylor St. As Seymour saw it, the location had a number of advantages. The store is within walking distance of University of Illinois at Chicago. Being in the heart of Little Italy meant that it would get good foot traffic. Seymour also liked that Little Italy was a neighborhood with families.

“We wanted families to come in, we want kids to come in,” he said. “We want them to be able to look around and browse comfortably.”

Unlike Graham Crackers, where all branches are part of the same company, First Aid Comics operates under the franchise model. Seymour owns the Little Italy store, while Nurss owns First Aid Comics’ name and logos.

Seymour worked with his girlfriend, Suzie Helmerci, to get the store up and running, and opened the store’s doors on Sept. 26. As Seymour explained it, customer traffic came in several distinct waves.

“Our initial wave was the avid readers, people who have been waiting for a comic book store to open in their neighborhood for a long time,” he said. “But after that, we got tons of new people. We had people who came in after they saw The Avengers and wanted to know which comics they should read. Students came in and wanted to see what we had. A lot of students were very experimental.”

Ultimately, they try to have a little of everything. The store offers the newest issues of superhero comics published by DC and Marvel Comics, as well as a smaller selection of “independents” — comics published by companies that aren’t owned by large corporations.

For people who are looking for older stories, the store offers graphic novels and trade paperback collections, as well several bins worth of back issues. For customers who are also interested in gaming, the store offers supplies for tabletop and card games. And for the younger customers, the store has several shelves worth of kid-oriented comics.

“I tried to have a good kids section,” said Seymour. “They are the future of my business.”

Seymour told Chicago Journal that he’s happy with the way business has been going so far.

“It’s been very nice,” he said. “I’m very happy with the foot traffic. Everyone has been very welcoming.”

With two locations up and running, Nurss is already thinking of opening a third First Aid Comics store. That’s something Seymour said he’d welcome.

“That’s definitely a hope,” he said. “If two stores is good, three stores is definitely better.”

Would the third store also be located south of the Eisenhower?

“Let me put it this way,” answered Seymour. “The South Side deserves good, strong comic stores. There are just as many strong, avid readers here as there are on the North Side.”

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