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The Regenstein isn’t Hyde Park’s only fortress of solitude anymore.
First Aid Comics held a grand opening for its new venue at 1617 East 55th Street on Saturday after moving from its previous location on East 53rd Street. The event coincided with national Free Comic Book Day.
The storefront had previously been occupied by Noon Hookah Lounge. In January, lounge owner Kal Muhammad did not renew his lease with MAC Property Management after his rent increased. First Aid owner James Nurss said that he is confident he can handle the higher rent of the new space since there are no other comic book stores in Hyde Park.
“I never understood why there wasn’t a comic book shop here,” Nurss said. “It was always in the back of my mind that when I was ready to open my own shop, [Hyde Park] is where I would go.”
The store officially opened its doors last Wednesday, but Nurss held off on having the grand opening until Free Comic Book day last Saturday. Chicago-based musicians Julian Berke and Ryan Priester entertained fans with live music, while customers met local artists and writers.
“The only way to compete is if somebody wants to come in, because they get to talk to other fans or talk to the people that work there, and hang out, and be in a community,” Nurss said.
The new store features twice the square footage of its previous space, which was on the second floor of an office building, according to Nurss. He added that he had been eyeing the property near East 55th Street and South Cornell Avenue for a long time.
“It’s really very much a neighborhood kind of place. [Nurss has] really established himself in the community,” third-year Meru Bhanot said.
Free Comic Book Day is an industry-wide event on which stores buy comic books from publishers at marked-down rates and then hand them out to customers as a way to increase foot traffic. Over 250 people took advantage of the offerings at First Aid Comics.
“Readership is smaller and more niche of a market than ever,” Nurss said, adding that he believes Hyde Park offers the ideal community for a comic book store, and that the store could draw more Chicago residents down to Hyde Park.
Nurss was originally introduced to comic books by his mother, who used them as a way to encourage him to read. He began helping out at Graham Crackers Comic Book Store in Chicago, bringing the owner fast food in exchange for free comics. Nurss later became an employee of the same store, filing and working with back issues.
He waited a year before finally deciding to open his own store on East 53rd street. “I thought I’d be conservative about it and open in the smaller space to make sure that there really was a base, that I was seeing what I was seeing,” Nurss said.
Following the recent success of the store, Nurss is now booking shows and conventions, as well as looking to open a second location early next year.
Already local artists and writers have visited the store, including Millennia War creator Ashley A. Woods, Black Age of Comics creator Turtel Onli, Devil’s Island and Loosely Based creators Mike Czerniawski and Nikola Jajic, and Bride of the Wolfman creators David Gruba and Rene Castellano.
The store also boasts some famous clientele, including rapper, songwriter, and former alderman candidate, Che “Rhymefest” Smith, who declared in a commercial for the shop that, “You need First Aid!”