A Bucktown comic shop has shuttered its in-house art gallery after two years of operation, but a family-friendly retail addition has popped up to take its place.
Challengers Comics and Conversation, 1845 N. Western Ave., has officially closed its Rogues Gallery and replaced it with a child-oriented "comic shop within a comic shop" called Sidekicks. Sidekicks occupies the 400-square-foot addition to the store that previously housed the gallery. It's stocked with a variety of all-ages comics, graphic novels and toys.
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Co-owner Patrick Brower said he and his partner W. Dal Bush have been looking to expand their all-ages section for years.
"When we first opened, we didn't realize how many families would be in this neighborhood and coming to the store," Brower said. "We're used to comic stores full of just 18- to 24- to 30-year-old guys, which this store's not that at all. So with the number of families we have, slowly we would build up and build up our all-ages section out in the store."
While he said parents would routinely compliment the store's all-ages selection, Brower always felt it was too small. He was excited to have a space the size of a full retail location to showcase content for kids, he says.
The space features lower, easily accessible shelves to accommodate young browsers, and Brower said the stock has been carefully selected so that any item in the room is appropriate for all ages.
While he hopes that parents will take an interest in what their children are reading, he said they can rest assured knowing that anything a child picks up inside Sidekicks will be appropriate.
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Brower also said that the dedicated children's space allows the store to expand its events programming to include more things like children's art classes or read-along groups. He feels that it's important to encourage young readers to develop an interest in comics because they're the future of the business.
"It's growing the medium," Brower said. "These are tomorrow's comic readers today, and if they don't get hooked now, they may never. And so many parents like comics for kids because they're reading—and fundamentally, it is reading. ... It helps improve literacy and it makes reading fun."
The decision to close the Rogues Gallery and replace it with Sidekicks was largely motivated by financial necessity, according to Brower. While the turnout was good for gallery opening receptions, he said customers showed little interest in viewing the exhibits or purchasing artwork once the opening was over and the work was left on display for a month.
"The Rogues Gallery was a thing that we loved having, and people loved looking at, but it never made any money," he said. "And we have just signed a new five-year lease for this building, and one of the things we had discussed was, if we're going to be here for five more years, we have to have something that doesn't lose money every month like the Rogues Gallery."
However, the end of the Rogues Gallery doesn't mean the end of art shows or events at Challengers. While there will be no more month-long installations, Brower said the Sidekicks space can still be used to accommodate one-night art openings, and that several such events are in the works for the next year.
"The Rogues Gallery is gone, and our art exhibits are gone, but we're not going to stop our art shows," he said. "This room is adaptable enough that one day a month, we can throw a table cloth over (the center bookshelf), take the shelves down, put art up on the walls and do a one-night open show."