Wilson Lew, owner of Broadway Comics & Cards
Wilson Lew is probably best known for being the irritable owner of Broadway Comics & Cards, the narrow card and comic book shop smashed between Tower Cafe and Joe Marty’s. But he’s got good reason. He opened the store in 1988 after selling a bunch of his comics. Since then, he’s been burgled once, lost most of his business to the internet and has had to deal with pubescent children for nearly 30 years. SN&R recently caught up with Lew to talk about the comic book culture, the state of Broadway and his misunderstood demeanor. (Spoiler: He laughed during most of the interview.)
How has comic book culture changed over the years?
It’s hard to tell you because I’ve been in this business so long that I’m just like—I’m kind of jaded over this whole thing. I’m sorry to say. The past several years, Marvel has been really terrible sales wise … It’s like [Disney thinks], “The only way to sell more books is to make more books. It’s the same amount of characters, but we’ll have more books with the same characters, but we’ll make it a No. 1 issue, and we’ll make it great.”
Do all of the comic book movies have anything to do with the saturation?
Absolutely. It becomes a popularity contest.
So when the movies first come out, you see a sales jump …
Yeah, because there’s interest and speculation on first appearances. And it’s always been that key issues are very important, but it’s magnified. … So, getting back to your question—what was it again? (Laughs.)
We were talking about the culture change …
OK. You know what’s funny, I’m a big Superman fan. But Superman, the new titles of Superman, I can’t sell it. Maybe the first issues. I used to try to collect the whole thing. … Then I opened this store. Actually, I used my books to finance a lot of what you see [in the store] today.
You sold all of those to finance this place?
Yeah, I used my own collection. I was a big collector. I started collecting when I was 14, and I’m 58 now. I didn’t initially decide, “I want to be a comic book store owner.” I went to school. I have a four-year degree in criminal justice.
How have you remained open for so long?
(Laughs.) You know, if I had to depend on just sales from here, I think I would’ve been closed a long time ago. I trade stocks throughout the morning.
So this is just …
This is like an office in the morning, and a store in the afternoon.
So the store is basically a hobby now?
In the beginning, I did do this for a living—and I still do. I’ve always talked about and thought about, “Oh, I should just close and sell online,” because that’s the new trend. Everybody is buying online. And I see their points. It’s cheaper.
You say it’s cheaper, but aren’t most of these comics like $3?
Well, yeah. But that’s another thing about the culture, people like to read online and on their tablets. … And I understand that people don’t want to fill up their houses, so I guess we’re—comic book stores—are geared more to geeks.
So, you also sell a ton of cards.
Most of our business is cards.
I remember coming in here when I was younger for Yu-Gi-Oh! tournaments. What started that?
You know, your business motto changes and you see people—I guess it’s like keeping up with the Joneses. You have tournaments just to bring business in. In the beginning it was kind of awkward because parents would bring their kids in, and they’d just drop them off here. And I’m like, “Wow, I guess now I’m a free babysitter.” (Laugh.)
Do you still hold tournaments?
We still hold (Yu-Gi-Oh!) tournaments.
Do you have other tournaments?
No, not really. … I’m not like these other stores who just stay open until 10 or 11 at night for tournaments, because I’m at that point where I’m just, “No, I have a life and other things to do. I’m sorry.” (Laughs.)
Let’s talk about Broadway. You’ve been here since 1988 …
I know, isn’t that weird? I’ve seen like three or four different owners next door. … There was that Broadway Hardware that closed, but that was just too big. And then when Tower [Records] went out of business, I go, “Wow, it’s vacant. I can’t believe it.” Before it was rented, I thought, “That’s kind of sacred.”
Have you ever been asked to move?
In the beginning, the landlord asked me if I wanted to give up this spot because I guess he had someone else who wanted to come.
Will you ever close this place?
I think about it. I always tell people, “One day, but I can’t tell you that day. I can tell you it’ll be soon, but I can’t tell you when, because I don’t know.”
Would you miss it?
I’ve had a great time here. I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve certainly had my share of experiences. Learning and knowing and meeting people and sharing their joys and heartaches that they share with me. It’s like a “Cheers” here.
It’s funny, because people I know think of you as “Wilson, the grouchy old man who owns the store.”
I know some people think that, and I know I get a lot of bad reviews for it. But I’ve discovered I know why people think I’m a grouch, is because I’ve been in this business so long, and I’ve been through everything. … When I was a kid, I would go to a store and think, “Man that guy is mean and a grouch,” but now I know why. Because I’ve been through so much shit. (Laughs.)