People say the best stories aren’t found in fictional books or comics, but in real-life moments. And like any good story, Gene Lee’s began with a turn of events.
For the 49-year-old owner of Atomic Age Comics, it started over a decade ago when he noticed his father being drawn to the Danforth area, where he would regularly visit his daughter (Lee’s sister) and her family.
Lee then decided to move to the Danforth area with his father and open a comic-book store a block from his sister’s house. Lee’s dad, who has since died, would visit his grandkids almost every day and spend time at the store chatting with the customers.
Things haven’t always been easy. According to Lee, many store owners in the area are worried about the changing market and the cost of renting.
It’s a rent issue, Lee said. “People can’t stay in business, especially the small stores that are family-owned.”
With regulars and out-of-towners stopping by, he is confident his store will continue. When the time comes, he said, he’ll either pass down his store to his children or sell it. But for now, he has no plans to retire and wants to keep running it as long as he can.
One thing is for certain: There is a high demand for books and comics today.
“People still want physical copies,” Lee said. “They are realizing that it’s not as relaxing when using eBooks or Kindles.”
The main demographic of Atomic Age’s customers ranges from late 20s to 40s, but kids are also common in the store. Atomic Age encourages young girls to get into comic-book reading. Lee takes suggestions from parents and kids on what kind of comics they want to read and places orders with distributors.
Twice a year, Atomic Age gives comics away for free to children: the first Saturday of May and again on Halloween. They also donate the remaining comic books to a children’s clinic close by on the Danforth.
Lee doesn’t have a lot of free time to read books or comics when running the store. Then again, what’s a good story without some good, old-fashioned irony?