THUNDER BAY -- For Gary Gummeson, starting Comix Plus Music Exchange came naturally. An avid comics collector and music lover since his teens, he graduated Lakehead University with an Honours Bachelor of Commerce and opened the store in 1991.
The store sells comics, graphic novels, toys, figures, T-shirts, memorabilia and music. “It’s like any kind of format never dies at this store,” the storeowner says wryly. “We have cassette tapes, CDs, records, DVDs. I don’t have VHS anymore - but people still ask sometimes, which is funny.”
Collectibles were a thing in the early 90s, and Gummeson wasn’t the only one who thought it would make a good business. “Three comic stores opened up within two blocks of each other, within two months of each other. Two out of three are still here,” Gummeson says.
Since 1996, Comix Plus Music Exchange has been in the building on Algoma across from Maier Hardware. Having spent a quarter of a century in the Bay and Algoma neighbourhood, Gummeson says many businesses have come and gone. He says the variety of merchandise that he carries has helped his business succeed over the years, as has providing good customer service and knowing what people want.
“I’m more the old-school kind of retail business; good customer service and conversations with customers have been a big thing for us,” he explains. He says he owes the business’s longevity to his repeat customers.
It hasn’t been easy being a small business owner, says Gummeson, but being his own boss has given him a lot of flexibility in his life. “It’s hard work, but I might have missed out on a lot of stuff [in my kids’ lives] the last 20 years if I had a normal job. You can’t put a price on that benefit,” he says.
When the pandemic shut down his business, Gummeson didn’t have an online store. Comix Plus Music Exchange has almost 30 years’ worth of accumulated merchandise of every kind, which makes an online store particularly challenging. “People don’t realize how much work it is to build a website - either you needs lots of money, or you need lots of time,” he says.
Now that he is open again for business, he plans to work on setting up an online store, and in the future, will be juggling the bricks and mortar store and the online store.