Popular comic book store coming to downtown Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids will soon become home to the second location of thriving comic book retailer Vault of Midnight from Ann Arbor, Mich.

The new comic store will move to 95 Monroe Center in early September, just before ArtPrize. The store had been looking for locations to expand and considered both Chicago and Ypsilanti before settling on downtown Grand Rapids.

“We really like the museum being right there, and the other businesses around us,” said owner Curtis Sullivan in an interview with MLive.

The store will take over half of the Van Hoecks Shoes building, with a bakery reportedly filling the remaining space.

Vault of Midnight prides itself on the quantity and diversity of its inventory, making it a destination shop for comic book lovers throughout Michigan for almost two decades.

The bulk of its inventory comes from single copy comics and graphic novels. These publications range from the latest publications all the way back to issues from the 1950s. The store also sells board games and designer toys for all ages.

Sullivan has loved comic books ever since he was a kid and wanted to create a store that reflects this passion and serves lifelong comic lovers as well as curious passersby.

He attributes some of the newer interest in comic books to the recent constant stream of Hollywood blockbuster superhero movies like “The Avengers” and “Ironman 3,” as well as popular cable shows like “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead.”

“We haven’t had a down year in comics or graphic novels the entire time we’ve been around, and the last four, five years have been remarkable,” he said.

In 2010, the store won the Eisner Comic Industry Award, a national award that honors one store per year for supporting its community and the comic industry.

The store’s new location on Monroe Center reflects the atmosphere of the store’s primary location at the 200 block of Main Street in Ann Arbor where they relocated in 2006.

But while the store’s outlook seems optimistic, Monroe Center has had a somewhat rocky history for retailers.

The former downtown retail district was converted into a pedestrian mall in 1977 but with the development of retail giants on 28th Street (including Woodland Mall, which was built in the same year), the pedestrian mall tanked.

Storefront shops lost shoppers and revenue.

“Downtown seems so obsolete,” Woodland Mall shopper Pearl VanKuiken told The Press in 1990. The bustle and hurry was gone. It seemed like a “ghost town,” she said. “All the stores have shrunk. It’s nothing like it was when I was young.”

The pedestrian mall was converted into a two-lane street in 1997 in hopes of revamping the once booming retail district. This effort has succeeded in part as Monroe Center has filled with specialty stores such as a Central District Cyclery, MadCap Coffee and Gina’s Boutique.

These specialty stores have been thriving as compared to the retailers of the older shopping district such as VanHoecks Shoes. Vault of Midnight expects to fit into this specialty niche.

Although some people expect his type of store to go out of business first in a downturn like the one Michigan has been in, Sullivan said in an interview, “People still like fun. … I guess the end result is that we want to provide fun. Life is enough un-fun.”

Vault of Midnight’s expansion comes at a time when small businesses are concerned about the effects of ObamaCare. They will likely employ 3 to 5 and have to manage the addition of health and retirement benefits in the employee compensation package.

For this reason they will look for extremely well-qualified employees who share the same passion for comics that made the business flourish.

“We came to this point where we want to retain our employees and to do that we need to pay them a wage that keeps them around,” he said. “We want the ‘super nerds,’ if you will, that know what they are talking about and have great customer service.”