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John Roma of The Neutral Zone is a long time comic retailer who continues to love comics.
Store Name: The Neutral Zone
Owner’s Name: John Roma
Number of Employees: 3
Years in Business: 15 Years
Location: 5986 Lundys Lane, Niagara Falls, Ontario, L2G 1T1
How did you choose your store name?
The store had existed for 3 years before I purchased it. I could have changed the name but I liked the fact that it had a Star Trek familiarity to it (The Neutral Zone). Also, to me, the name Neutral had a sense that I deal with many kinds of collectibles, not just comics.
Favourite Comic Book, published in the past few months:
Five all-time classic comics, graphic novels or story arcs:
Batman: Killing Joke, Crisis on Infinite Earths, World War Hulk, Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
What are you excited about for this coming year? What are your plans for the next 12 months?
I am excited about Free Comic Book Day. It is the best day of the whole year at my store. We have a big celebration on Free Comic Book Day and it is the anniversary of when I bought the store. I took over the store in May of 1995 and I celebrate the same day as Free Comic Book Day, making it a huge event. In the next 12 months I plan to work on the website more and try to reach out to many more customers online. So many people out there, the potential is incredible, and I want to be a part of that.
What has been one of the most rewarding parts of running your business?
The most rewarding part of my business is introducing comic books to new, young readers. Parents come into the store with their kids to pick out their first comic book and I am the one helping them choose the comic best suited for them. I ask them what their favourite super-hero is and, for example, if they say Spider-Man, then I recommend the all ages Spider-Man titles and help them choose a story. The excitement in their eyes makes me smile and they come back again, remembering my name.
What has been one of the biggest challenges?
Price fluctuations. Having the Canadian dollar at par allowed buyers to collect more titles. Now that the Canadian dollar is low, and the way the economy is going, buyers are cutting back on comics. The challenge is trying to keep them from dropping too many titles and introducing them to new books that they may enjoy reading.
Why are you a comics retailer?
I have been collecting comics since I was ten years old and I haven’t outgrown my love for them. I was approached by the original owners to purchase the business and I did. I share my love for comics with my customers and have made many friends.
Product Lines Carried:
I carry a variety of materials: New Comics, Back Issues, Trade Paperbacks, Manga, T-Shirts, Action Figures, Statues, Collectible Card Games, Videos, Posters, Super Hero Novelties and many more things. I have some Warhammer and Trading Card Games and I plan to add more of these items soon.
Best selling books:
Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman, Final Crisis, Wolverine. My best selling manga is Vampire Hunter D, Final Fantasy.
What percentage of your business is comics compared to the peripherals of a ‘culture store’?
What books do you find yourself recommending the most?
Amazing Spider-Man. Although I was disappointed with the Brand New Day storyline, where Spider-man made a deal with the Devil to save Aunt May, the stories in Spider-Man have brought him back to his roots. It is a very entertaining book to read.
What great comic/manga should everyone under 14 be reading?
What comic/manga would you recommend for an adult interested in returning to comics?
BATMAN / TRIGUN
How important is the web to your business?
Very important. There are thousands of people (customers) to reach on the web and many more retailers and wholesalers to reach in, to order hard to find items.
Does your store have an area of expertise? What makes your store unique?
I am a big SUPERMAN, BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN collector. I am able to get those hard to find items that are not available in other stores, and I carry them in my store. People always say, when they walk in to my store, “Now this is a comic shop. This is what I expect to see when I walk into a comic shop.” My store is overwhelming with so many items everywhere, it will just boggle your mind.
Do you participate in Free Comic Book Day?
I participate in Free Comic Book Day every year, it is the best day of the year for me. I have a tent outside the store and my employees hand out free comics to everyone attending.
What aspect of your store are you most proud?
I am proud of the many Back Issues I carry in my store, a wide variety for everyone. You come into my store, I almost guarantee you will walk out with something.
What have been some or your best/most fun promotions/events?
The Free Comic Book Day / Anniversary event.
Have the last few years of Hollywood film releases changed your customer base?
There is no doubt that the comic books made into Hollywood movies have increased the amount of people coming into the store. As soon as a comic movie comes to the screen, such as Iron Man, the very next day people are coming into my store looking for Iron Man books.
Graphic Novels have been a growth product for large bookstore chains, does this affect your customer base or business?
I carry graphic novels and there is no doubt that graphic novels have increased my business. More adults are reading graphic novels for the mature stories.