Ask Destiny City Comics owner and UW Tacoma alumnus Michael Fitzgerald what the three most important elements to opening a business are, and he will tell you the same thing he was told before opening his store on October 1, 2014. “Every piece of business advice that I got was: location, location, location,” Fitzgerald says.
That is sound advice for anyone starting a new business anywhere, let alone in downtown Tacoma, and luckily, Fitzgerald was able to plant his entrepreneurial flag right next to King’s Books, a location already known for catering to readers. And that factor is certainly not lost on the proprietor of Tacoma’s newest comic book store.
“King’s Books puts on these huge events that draw a big crowd, and that’s when I get a lot of people coming over,” he says, adding, “It’s kind of like the nexus of Tacoma right here. We’re located right where people work. A lot of people have apartments here. There’re a lot of people who work at UW Tacoma and they’re walking to work, so they tend to stop in and see what’s new.”
A member of Spaceworks Tacoma, Fitzgerald is quick to note that even though the space the store occupies was not given to him by the program, Destiny City Comics owes its existence to the joint initiative of the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce that has been breathing new life into vacant storefronts through artistic and creative enterprises since 2010.
“It definitely wouldn’t have happened without Spaceworks,” Fitzgerald says, recounting the application process and his time in the program. “I was just going through my final quarters at UW Tacoma and RR Anderson [who runs Tinkertopia – a tenant of UW Tacoma, and himself an alumnus of the Spaceworks program] mentioned the deadline to apply to Spaceworks, and that it was free. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve always wanted to run a comic shop,’ so I put together a little proposal.”
After his proposal was accepted, Fitzgerald was enrolled in the Spaceworks business-training program, which coincided with his final quarter at UW Tacoma. According to Fitzgerald, the Spaceworks program covered “several different topics, like how to set up a store layout – which I found very interesting.” The classes also helped with interior design, envisioning the look of the storefront, and creating a successful marketing plan.
But the biggest takeaway for Fitzgerald was being introduced to the other Tacoma business owners and learning how they launched their businesses. “If they were ahead of me, it was useful to see how they succeed in getting their businesses up and running,” Fitzgerald says, noting he was able to leverage a connection with fellow Spaceworks member Travis Selin, owner of Crimson Wraps & Graphics, into the sign that currently decorates his store’s front window. “I whipped it up in Photoshop; he helped make it fit the window and applied it.
After his graduation from UW Tacoma, and successful completion of the Spaceworks training program, Fitzgerald had the summer to find a location and to set up the other aspects of his business, like working with Diamond Comic Distributors and making sure he had proper shelving to display his products. “Then, before I knew it, October had rolled around, and it was time to get to work,” he says. “Thankfully, I had learned a lot and been given a lot of advice from people who had been in the program before.”
Fitzgerald graduated from UW Tacoma in 2014 with a degree in arts, media and culture (with a focus on literature), which he says gave him a lot of valuable insight into literary analysis. One class that had a particular impact on him was “Visual & Written Rhetoric,” taught by associate professor Riki Thompson. “I actually did a term paper in that class on comic book covers and the Hollywood convergence,” Fitzgerald recalls. “And how you can see and understand the plot of a comic just by looking at the cover and the type of lettering they use."
No stranger to the comic book scene, Fitzgerald has worked on both sides of the industry, starting with a position at Read More Comics store in Brandon, Fla., all through high school. He was also an intern at the now defunct Wizard Magazine in 2007, and even interned for Seattle-based indie comics publisher Fantagraphics in 2011.
In a way, the launch of Destiny City Comics is Fitzgerald’s comic-book journey coming full circle, as he now finds himself back behind the retail counter – albeit the counter of his own store that realizes his vision.
“And that’s what really helped with Spaceworks,” he says. “Because I really got to envision what I wanted to do. I wanted to focus on things like the mainstream superhero comics and the literary graphic novels.” But Fitzgerald says he also started the store so that he could focus on the creators who are local to Tacoma and the surrounding area. Creators like the members of C.L.A.W. (The Cartoonist’s League of Absurd Washingtonians), which counts artists like RR Anderson and the Tacoma-born Travis Bundy among its members.
Working with and helping grow a part of the community is important to Fitzgerald, as he understands the niche Destiny City Comics fills in the downtown area. “There wasn’t a straight-up comic shop in downtown Tacoma before, so obviously I’m taking advantage of that,” he says. “I hear a lot about the comic book stores that aren’t in this area anymore, and it’s worrisome, but even then, it wasn’t all because they were necessarily doing slow business.”
Fitzgerald notes other factors, such as the difficulties inherent in working with the distribution process, and spreading the business out too much by shifting the focus to statues and gaming. He also notes the fundamental problems of store location, and having access to the right business networks – factors that Fitzgerald recognizes he got a leg up on early in the process.
In the end, Fitzgerald believes that the continued success of Destiny City Comics will lie in his ability to push events, like the upcoming author signing with The Furry Trap creator Josh Simmons on April 26th. “Signings are good,” Fitzgerald says. “And if it’s a local artist or creator, then at least his or her friends will show up. And we can always count on Free Comic Book Day to be big.”
Free Comic Book Day is Saturday, May 2, 2015.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org