SCOTIA — Josh Madej was 5 when he read his first comic book — a G.I. Joe title he picked off the spinner rack at Vern’s Barber Shop while waiting to get a haircut.
It was 1982, but the moment would prove pivotal, setting Madej down a path of pop-culture fandom that years later would culminate into a brick-and-mortar business that sells everything from Pokemon cards, to toys and collectibles and, yes, even a few comic books.
Madej opened Weird-o Comics & Collectibles in November 2020, just months after the pandemic began, following more than 15 years of slinging collectibles online through sites like eBay as a side hustle. The business proved lucrative, and Madej eventually quit his job in the finance industry to focus solely on buying and reselling collectibles from what he fondly refers to as “geek culture.”
“Over the years, I was able to get a lot of inventory and a lot of work,” he said. ”I kept doing it part-time probably until nine years ago. I figured out the other day that was the last real job I had.”
But the now 45-year-old Madej always wanted a storefront of his own and saw an opportunity amid the pandemic to open a shop in Scotia, where he was born and raised and now resides with his own family.
Taking advantage of foreclosure protections put in place by the state and federal government during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Madej let the bills pile up and used the savings to open a store at 110 Mohawk Ave., just a stone’s throw from the barber shop where his love for pop culture began 40 years ago.
“That kind of allowed me the freedom and the monthly money for me to kind of make it happen,” Madej said. “We didn’t really need to do it, but I said why not try it? This would be the best time. Bills were obviously on hold and people still wanted to go out and do things.”
The gamble paid off.
A couple months after opening, Madej relocated the shop a few doors down to its current, larger storefront at 106 Mohawk Ave., and brought on Joe Scognamiglio, another lifelong pop culture fan, to staff the shop. The pair met years earlier at a garage sale Madej was holding to sell off items from his collection.
“I used to do landscaping and I used to do retail, but this is my first real job of this kind,” Scognamiglio said. “I have to say, it’s definitely unlike any place I’ve worked before.”
Weird-o Comics & Collectibles has wide appeal while catering to a niche market that has grown in popularity as Hollywood continues to rip storyboards from the pages of comic books, turning once obscure characters into cultural icons.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has amassed billions in box office sales over the last decade, while comic-book-inspired shows on the Disney+ streaming service have given lesser-known characters a mainstream audience. Streaming services like HBO Max and Netflix have also gotten in on the action, with hit shows of their own this year like “Peacemaker” and “Sandman”, respectively, both of which have been renewed for second seasons.
Comic book sales have skyrocketed during the same period, with print and digital sales in the U.S. and Canada growing from an $805 million industry in 2012 to a more than $2 billion industry in 2021, according to a report released earlier this year by Comichron, an industry website that monitors sales.
Madej said that Hollywood’s interest has proven to be a boom for business, but noted that comic books makeup just 10% of his total sales. The shop has a small selection of single issues and graphic novels that cater mostly to older audiences, including stories like “The Immortal Hulk” and the Eisner Award-winning series, “Something is Killing the Children,” from creator James Tynion.
Most of the shop’s business comes from gaming and collectibles, and many of the shop’s customers are adult collectors seeking to recapture their old memories or buy toys from shows they grew up with in hopes of sparking and interest in their own children.
“Most of the older generation is nostalgia,” Madej said. “They want the newer versions of figures and stuff they grew up with. And a lot of them are parents trying to introduce those characters to their kids.”
The store sells a wide-range of items, from games like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering, to Funko and statues of beloved comic book characters like Deadpool and Green Arrow. There are Power Ranger and wrestling figures, and an entire section devoted to Star Wars.
There’s also an expansive selection of used inventory, which gets rotated regularly as Madej amasses new inventory and fills the store’s maze of shelves with items from his personal collection.
G.I. Joe figurines also line the shelves, a franchise that Madej still counts as his favorite, along with the Magic card game, which he has been playing since its release nearly 30 years ago.
Madej is quick to share his encyclopedic knowledge of the game, which was on display this past week when a woman burst into the store looking to purchase cards for her husband shortly after the store opened.
“Are you the guy who plays Magic?” she asked Madej.
She walked out minutes later with three packs of cards.
Madej said he loves sharing his passion with customers, but particularly enjoys when he sees a child pick up a toy they are unfamiliar with and starts asking questions.
“I really enjoy that aspect of it,” he said. “When parents come in with their kids, the parents can enjoy something nostalgia wise and talk to their kids about why they liked it, and then give them an opportunity to something else or something very similar that they could just enjoy.”
Weird-o Comics & Collectibles is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 12 to 7 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 7 p.m. For more information, visit the stores Facebook page: facebook.com/weirdocomics.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.
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