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Ssalefish Plans to Stand Out in Greensboro’s Crowded Comics Market

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Bret Parks opened Ssalefish Comics in Winston-Salem and is now expanding to Greensboro.

I bought The Uncanny X-Men #133, the issue in which the previously annoying supporting character Wolverine took on the Hellfire Club all by himself and suddenly became awesome, new at Sutton’s Drugs on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill in 1980, where I enjoyed it with a Chocolate Egg Cream. Back then, fans like me still regularly purchased new issues off drugstore and 7-11 spinner racks. My local actual comics shop was a dim musty cave down an alley on Rosemary Street, where I squatted to search dusty boxes for the beautifully drawn Neal Adams X-Men stories I’d been too young to understand twelve years earlier, but which heavily influenced the 1980 issues.

Early comic shops were aimed mostly at collectors. Even when the Direct Sales market became the asteroid that made 7-11 spinner racks extinct as dinosaurs, that remained the dominant model, with most retail space devoted to boxes of back issues. This prehistoric model persists in many places, but it’s not what Bret Parks, Jay Ewing and Stephen Mayer plan for the new Greensboro branch of Ssalefish Comics at 1622 Stanley Road.

Both the Winston-Salem Ssalefish, which was founded by Parks and where Mayer worked, and Acme Comics at Greensboro’s Lawndale shopping center, where Ewing worked for three years, had long broken away from the stereotype. The three partners want to continue that. Their shiny new shop has a bright, open and streamlined layout that they hope will appeal to new and casual readers as well as hardcore fans. Current monthly titles, graphic novels and collections predominate. I picked up the new issues of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s Moonshine, about Depression-era Chicago bootleggers battling Appalachian werewolves, and Black Widow, where Mark Waid writes and Chris Samnee draws Marvel’s ginger superspy as thoughtful, tough and athletic rather than a boob-delivery system.

But there are also some old treasures on display. I buy the 1973 Giant DC Treasury Edition of The House of Mystery, with an early story by Bernie Wrightson, the late great horror artist recently eulogized by the New York Times and Stephen King. His semi-clad Egyptian cat-woman heroine sure made my young eyes pop in 1973. And then the equally huge 1975 Marvel Treasury adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz, which includes the gender-bending twist left out of Return to Oz, the 1985 Disney film based on the 1908 source novel. Those giant books, much taller and wider and with over twice the pages of a regular comic, respectively cost $1 and $1.50 when new, and now are a bargain at thirty bucks for both.

Jay Ewing, whom I already knew from Acme Comics and Geeksboro, says that it’s fantastic to open Greensboro’s fourth comic shop, and doesn’t fear clobbering time from his distinguished competition.

Jay Ewing is a partner in the Greensboro Ssalefish Comics.

Jay Ewing is a partner in the Greensboro Ssalefish Comics.

“I worked full-time at Acme for three years after teaching high school theater for ten. After a decade in education I was ready for a change. I loved being at Acme, but when I got the offer from Bret to become a partner in his new Greensboro venture, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to be an owner instead of an employee. Ssalefish Greensboro’s easy-to-access location, just off of West Wendover near the exit from Interstate 40, makes us perfectly suited to serve not only all of Guilford County, but the entire Piedmont Triad. Combined with our clean and friendly atmosphere and our loyalty program that rewards all customers without requiring a subscription commitment, Ssalefish Greensboro will redefine people’s expectations for a comic book store.”

Bret Parks seconds this, saying he’s overjoyed to stretch out his arm and light the Ssalefish torch in Greensboro, where he hopes it will be a very big thing rather than invisible (sorry, The Fantastic Four was my first favorite comic, and once I make a riff on it, it’s hard to stop). “Opening the first Ssalefish was my childhood dream. I dabbled in teaching and writing, but I always wanted to own a comic book store. After a five-year teaching stint in South Korea, I decided to go for it.”

The Winston-Salem store is Bret’s baby, but for his Greensboro expansion, he brought in friends. “I’ve never had business partners before, so this is new to me, but I picked the right guys. There could be ten other comic book stores and I’d still do it this way. I believe in what I do and within my industry Ssalefish Comics is one of the best comic shops. Business in Winston Salem, where I’ve been for eleven years, is strong. I’ve seen families grow up and the world of comics change in so many ways. I think that I’ve been part of the positive growth of the comic book business. I co-founded Local Comic Shop Day, which is now a worldwide event. Greensboro was my home during college and graduate school, so it is a homecoming in a way.”

Stephen Mayer rings up customers in the new Ssalefish Comics store in Greensboro.

Stephen Mayer rings up customers in the new Ssalefish Comics store in Greensboro.

Ssalefish Comics Greensboro is open for business at 1622 Stanley Road just off Wendover, near Best Buy and the Carmike 18 Cinemas. Their regular store hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and 12 to 5 p.m. Sundays. They have an official Grand Opening Celebration scheduled for Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 6. For more info, check out www.ssalefish.net.

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