A new Pekin comic book shop is competing with its area competitors with a wide selection of old comic titles and prices that the owner says bests other central Illinois shops.
The Citadel was named after things of the same name in 50-year-old owner and sole employee Jamie Lee’s favorite film series: “The Lord of the Rings,” “Logan’s Run” and the original “Planet of the Apes.” The shop used to be stationed in Canton for about a year before it moved to 2418 N. Eighth St. in Pekin a few months ago, opening on Nov. 5, with its current hours being noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Pekin, and Canton for that matter, were perhaps logical choices for Lee. He was born in Pekin and moved to Canton when he was 7.
“I was familiar enough with Pekin. I’ve got a lot of family here,” Lee said. “I didn’t want to do it in Peoria. That just didn’t appeal to me, and so, the next step (was) I thought where I would go and (the place) I (thought the shop) would be more successful was here in Pekin.”
While being the best comic book store in the area is Lee’s long-term goal, he said comic book store owners can’t make it anymore if they just sell comics.
Besides single issue comics and trade paperback collections of different titles, Lee carries some gaming supplies; toys and collectibles like action figures, which are mostly comic book related but also include characters like He-Man as well as various professional wrestlers.
But Lee particularly pushes his stock of Silver Age comics, i.e. comics published between 1956 and 1970, because, he said, he has the biggest selection of Silver Age titles of any shop in the central Illinois area.
The nearest competing shop is The Zone, which is located at 521 Court St. in Pekin. But the close proximity doesn’t bother Lee. He said his Silver Age titles, his differing stock of items in general and his better prices will draw people to his store.
What does worry Lee is the store’s location slightly out of town. It’s probably his biggest obstacle, he said. Still, he picked the building because it had a history. It’s been proven to him that people who knew that Fishin’ Times used to be located there had a good idea of where he was at. He also likes being near the crossroads of Illinois routes 29 and 98, near the Chevrolet dealership.
“But the location is definitely a challenge at times, like when the weather’s a little rough like it has been,” Lee said. “It can be a bit of a challenge, but I think that I eventually can overcome that through word of mouth and social media. So, I’m not overly concerned about it, but it is in the back of my head, I’ll be honest about it.”
Another benefit to the building is its design and layout: Its carpeting, its square shape, and its size, it’s not huge but it’s big enough that Lee knew he could fit everything once it was all moved in.
“That’s always been my pet peeve about a lot of comic shops is that they’re just cramped and they’re set up like a yard sale, and some of them, I find hard to shop,” Lee said. “I didn’t want mine to be hard to shop in. I wanted it to be pretty cut and dry - you walk in and you can stop, take a look around and see where everything’s at and head to where you want to go.”
Lee’s neatly organized racks of comics line the walls around his shop as they lay under metal shelves displaying older, rarer comics. It emphasizes Lee’s desire to reduce clutter and to prevent items from being crowded out.
“I just want everything where when you walk in and you take a look around, you know when you’re headed in a direction you know what’s going to be there,” Lee said. “If you go left, you’ll find Marvel (comics); if you go right when you come through the door, you’re going to find DC (comics); and if you head back, you’re going to find the toys and collectibles.
“I like how I have it laid out. I’m always tweaking it a little bit, but generally, no matter where I’m at, that’s pretty much how it’s laid out.”
With the weather warming up some, Lee hopes to get his business’s lighted sign up onto the building in the next couple weeks, which could help catch people’s eyes as they’re driving down Route 29.
Lee is committed to the current building until October. After that, he’ll get a feel for how everything’s going, and if he thinks he could benefit from going elsewhere, he has no problem moving closer to “civilization,” he said.
“When it gets rough, and it does, some days it’s really rough to be here, but you’ve just got to put your head down and you’ve got to keep going and you’ve got to treat everyday like you’re making more money than you ever could,” Lee said. “Everyday you’ve got to come here and then you’ve got to look long term. You’ve got to think that this store is doing great. It might not be doing great for you at the time, but you’ve got to stay positive.”