Wonderworld Comics is a new tenant in the Monroe Mall, taking the space formerly occupied by Game Stop.
Owned and operated by Dennis Barger, the store offers a wide variety of vintage comics, games, toys and Beanie Babies displayed in a retro 1990s style.
The Carleton resident, who started collecting comics aged 11, has been in the comics industry for over 30 years and owns businesses in the Downriver area.
Last December, he celebrated his 50th birthday at the Phoenix Theaters and was “shocked to see the number of people at the mall.”
The activity piqued his curiosity, and he contacted mall owners to open a retro comic book store where he would sell old comic books, games, toys, movies, and general merchandise.
In addition to selling, Barger also buys comics, games, and toys.
He said 99% of comic book stores nationwide relegate their vintage offerings to long white boxes in the back of the store with a $1 sign.
“I always said this stuff was too good to put in a box and I toyed with the idea of putting these books on a wall so people could see all this wonderful art, charge a little extra and get people to buy it,” he said. “We’re going to use a 90s theme. Anything that was hot in the 90s, we’ll do it.
Barger’s business strategy is to offer bundled pricing where retailers offer different products as a package and sell them to customers for less than it would cost to buy them individually. Barger estimates that a high percentage of its sales come from the bundle pricing strategy.
Branden Morrison and his family stumbled upon the new store by surprise while waiting to see a matinee movie. While Branden was going through the comic books, his wife April and sons, Bourbon, 8, and Gibson, 7, were rummaging through the sticker bins.
“This place is awesome. I didn’t know it was here,” Morrison said. “This place will give me a reason to come to the mall.”
Barger saw a correlation with recent comic book sales and movies showing at the mall. On the opening day of Wonderworld Comics, it sold large volumes of “Sonic the Hedgehog”, “Batman”, “Spiderman”, and “Spawn” comics.
“One thing the comics industry has been good at is refreshing the brand for the next generation,” he said. “Classically, from the late 80s to the early 90s, most of the characters changed their look. Spider-Man got the black suit, then the black suit became (the character) Venom and at the same time, some animated series like ‘Batman’ have been developed and produced.
Despite a pandemic and tough economic times, comic book stores continue to pop up across the country.
“I was overwhelmed by the quality of the reception we received,” added Barger. “I want to make comics affordable and fun.”
In the future, Barger plans to appeal to players of the Pogs game and offer retro Pog tournaments. Pogs was a popular game in the mid-1990s using cardboard discs. He will also continue to work on the old Denniston Cinema at 6495 N. Monroe St., a location he purchased in 2017.
For now, Barger will focus on Free Comic Book Day scheduled for May 7. The event will include free comics, specials and guest appearances like ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Futurama’, comic artist Bill Morrison, Bongo Comics co-founder and ‘Star Wars’ actor Jerome Blake .