Breaking into the Comic Vault

By Hunter Clauss | Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Matt Sardo, owner of the Comic Vault, says a second location at Block 37 should be open near the end of summer. Photo by Hunter Clauss.

This month, The Center Square Journal will spotlight various comic book shops within the Lincoln Square, Northcenter, and Ravenswood area ahead of the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (also known as C2E2), which takes place at McCormick Place on April 16 to April 18.

This week we stop by the Comic Vault and chat with owner Matt Sardo, a former journalism student at Northwestern University who decided to open up his own comic book store in 2006 near the border of Ravenswood and Uptown. Sardo said there are a lot of big events in store for the Comic Vault in the next few months. Aside from setting up a booth at C2E2, the store plans on hosting a ton of comic book release parties, an Iron Man 2 movie night, and opening up a second location at the embattled Block 37.

Sardo talked to the Center Square Journal about the upcoming Block 37 location, why he decided to open up his own comic book store, and what comic books he?d recommend to Mayor Daley.

So why did you decide to open your own comic book store?

I was going to school for journalism at Northwestern and I was bartending. I don?t really like the state of journalism right now, and I don?t have enough money to open up a bar, so I was like, ?What else do I know? I know comic books.? So I treat the store kind of like a bar and the store?s Web site as a newspaper.

The other thing is that they have all the really big movies coming out, so that?s kind of like free advertising. There are at least five different comic-book movies coming out in the next 10 years. The free advertising you get from that is a big thing. There?s really no other industry where they?re doing stuff like that. We do movie nights, and we have one planned for when Iron Man 2 comes out.

Not a lot of other comic-book shops have movie nights. What other things do you do to distinguish yourself from other comic book shops?

The first thing I did before I opened up my store was I did my own little tour of over 100 comic-book stores around the United States. I looked for what I liked and what I didn?t like.

What were some of those things?

Well, there?s the old-school comic book store, where it?s in some old dude?s basement and you can smell the rug and there?s this big pile of stuff. That?s one end of the scale. The other end of the scale is making the store more mom, girlfriend, and kid friendly. Some people can feel uncomfortable in a comic book store and think, ?I?ve got to get my boyfriend or husband out of here as quickly as possible because I don?t want to be here.?

We definitely try to be customer service friendly: we bag and board everything, and we do our own subscription service. We also get involved with the community a lot. We do stand-up comedy here. Everything in the middle of the store is movable, and we can seat about 30 people.

Another thing that you?re doing is opening another location at Block 37. What?s going on with that?

We?re just waiting on the owners of the mall to finish the third floor, because construction on the third floor has been halted due to past issues, like the foreclosure and the bank getting the property back and then reassigning mall management. So there?s a delay, but hopefully we?ll have something there in the next four to six months. I?ve been working with these guys for about a year and a half now. We have a lease on it, so we will open sometime. I?m definitely very excited about that.

How did you get involved with Block 37?

They actually called me one afternoon in mid-January and were like, ?Hey, we?re trying to create this Chicago-neighborhood marketplace on the third floor.? They heard about my store. I don?t know how they heard about my store, but they thought it would be a good fit because they wanted a couple of local shops from here, Wicker Park, and Lincoln Park, and that was their original plan. I don?t know if that?s still their plan.

I didn?t think that rent would be affordable downtown, so I was just like, ?Yeah, tell me what your rent is.? They shot me an offer, and I was like, ?Well, the market is tanking,? so I gave them an offer back. We met somewhere in the middle, and it was decent and affordable for me to put something downtown. I always wanted to put up another store. I just never thought I?d be able to do it downtown. I thought maybe somewhere on the South Side where rent would be more affordable. But the numbers worked, and now I?m just waiting for a phone call

Photo by Hunter Clauss.

Block 37 is down the street from City Hall. Do you think Mayor Daley will stop by and buy some comics?

I don?t think Mayor Daley will stop by, but I?m excited for the fact that CBS is in the building and other news stations are around the corner. Anytime we do have an event, it?ll take them two seconds to come around and get some footage. But I?m definitely excited about being downtown with the influx of people: college students, business people from out of town, and tourists.?If we do get celebrity status, that would be pretty awesome.

What would you recommend to Mayor Daley?

What would Mayor Daley read? Who tears up airfields in the middle of the night? [Laughs.]

I would probably go with Iron Man when he was the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. That would probably be Daley-esque because Iron Man had his hands in everything. That was when Iron Man was in power and had control over all the superheroes in the United States. It was very George Bush-esque. Dark Avengers would also be good. [Editor?s note: Dark Avengers is about a bunch of supervillains masquerading as superheroes.]

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