As the year comes to a close, it’s worth nothing that 2011 was a tough one for many fan-favorite businesses in Arizona, and the East Valley in particular.
Over the summer we lost Atomic Comics, a Valley institution for many years that earned national acclaim for its fan events, connections and media savvy. All four stores — in Mesa, at Metrocenter in Phoenix, Chandler Fashion Center and Paradise Valley Mall — closed abruptly in August amid the owner’s bankruptcy, sparking a chain of events that led to the expansion of another comic book store chain, Samurai Comics, into the East Valley.
Many say Atomic never recovered after a car drove into the Mesa store in 2006 and cause the loss of expensive inventory, and that the high-rent Chandler location accelerated the company’s demise.
The question now is whether the remaining comic shops in the Valley, and indeed the nation, are able to learn from this experience and adapt to a swiftly changing marketplace under pressure from consumer technology that makes content more readily available than ever before.
When it opened in October 2010, this outfitter for goth and steampunk enthusiasts immediately turned heads in the long-staid downtown Mesa area, which was better known for antique shops, halfway houses and Scouting supplies. And its owners knew they faced an uphill battle. Originally conceived as a comic book shop, the owners saw nearby Atomic Comics as a major threat and focused on more niche offerings and indie local productions.
Still, the shop persevered, with the family behind the counter sticking their necks out on more than one occasion to bring a new, funky pop culture scene to Main Street. It cost them more than words can say in terms of money as well as personal relationships, but even though the shop closed in mid-December, the legacy of Evermore Nevermore cannot be brushed aside.
It was due in large part to the risks they took that other businesses gravitated to the downtown Mesa area, and continue the struggle today: Gotham City Comics & Coffee, nonprofit hackerspace HeatSync Labs, the Monsterland haunted house and movie museum and Lulubell Toy Bodega, which has just relocated from Tucson.
Then, there was The Royale cinema …
Andrea Beesley-Brown has entertained Valley moviegoers for years as the Midnite Movie Mamacita, showing cult classics at venues throughout the East Valley. So, many rejoiced when she opened her own moviehouse in downtown Mesa.
But the dream was not to last: The Royale closed on Christmas Eve after just six months of operation, and just two days after Beesley-Brown announced the decision.
“Although an incredibly difficult decision, we are not in a position to take the business to the next-level of growth that it needs to be sustainable,” Beesley-Brown said in an East Valley Tribune article.
All these businesses no doubt racked up enormous debt chasing their dreams, and found receptive audiences — but when the time came to take the next step, as The Royale’s owner said, that was the end.
You cannot attribute these failures to a lack of consumer demand, or a dearth of dedication or sweat equity. Look instead to the public acceptance of politicians willing to throw our money at their friends on Wall Street — while those friends refuse to pay it forward and invest the funds Main Street businesses need to keep entrepreneurship, and the American middle class, alive.