Business turmoil redefining Main Street’s niche

The closure of Main Street’s R/X Comics at the end of January was no doubt worrisome for Mount Pleasant readers looking to get their fill of superhero stories, and seemed to be part of a growing trend of local businesses in the area shutting their doors. But like Superman (or any number of X-Men that were killed off only to make a speedy in-print return), the death of the medium on Main Street has been greatly exaggerated. Get ready to step into the 8th Dimension, a new venture spearheaded by a pair of former R/X Comics employees.

Though set to open by mid-March, peels of construction paper currently cover the windows and the inside of the structure is currently being gutted for a complete remodel. Standing inside, Nick Paraschos explains that he and business partner Kelly Everaert had been told by the former owner of R/X Comics at the end of December that he’d be closing his shop, and that he’d already talked to the landlord about getting out of the lease.

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“He just had, for his reasons, come to the determination that he could no longer run the store. He gave us the bad news and two days later Kelly and I sort of took over,” Paraschos says, adding that there had been outside interest in the spot before he approached the landlord to take on the existing terms of R/X Comics’ old lease. In addition to supplying new issues of Spider-Man or Saga, hanging onto the storefront gives everyday readers and local artists a chance to connect and converse about their favourite books.

“It’s a meeting spot for a lot of people,” Paraschos continues, as Everaert rips fixtures out of the former “new releases” wall from atop a steel ladder. “There’s six studios that do animation in this area. A lot of their animators come here for inspiration or ideas, or just to have a good time.”

A blowout closing sale at the end of January cleared out thousands of comics and graphic novels that R/X had accumulated since the early ’00s. Hoping to avoid the same kind of clutter, Paraschos says the 8th Dimension’s business model will keep overhead down by avoiding gimmick-heavy collectors-market moves by publishers like Marvel Comics. “We’re not going to be the top shop that has all the high-end, hard-to-find variants,” he says, explaining that the 8th Dimension will instead put the focus on surefire sellers and a handful of local books.

While comics aren’t leaving the 2400 block of Main anytime soon, there has been plenty of cultural changeover in the surrounding area over the last couple of months. The early 2017 announcement of the end of vegetarian eatery the Foundation has had many scrambling through its doors to get one last plate of nachos, while other area casualties will soon include the East Vanity Parlour, Wang On Blinds, and the nearby Hot Art Wet City gallery. Rising property values and rent increases are a factor in the Main Street exodus, but Paraschos doesn’t think that’s the whole story.

“Not everybody is leaving because of rent,” he says, suggesting “space constraint” could be another aspect of businesses pulling out of the area. “Maybe it’s just that they don’t feel like they have the clientele base here. That’s a possibility as well.”

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John's Jukes on Main Street. - Dan Toulgoet photo

Directly across from the soon-to-be-opened 8th Dimension, a for-lease sign sits in the window of John’s Jukes, a Main street fixture for music and arcade enthusiasts since 1982. Store founder John Robertson says that his business is casually getting off the block within the next few months, explaining that it’s a “friendly” move.

“They would rather be renting to someone that would pay a lot more, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on the building first,” Robertson says of his landlord’s plans for the space, adding, “They’re happy to have somebody here that’s knows [the building]. I’ve been helping keep the building going all these years.”
Pinball machines line the halls of the shop, but Robertson is quick to point out that he’s got plenty of games in storage at the moment that are waiting to be fixed. He’s currently got his eye on a few larger spaces in Burnaby for he and his team to move everything into.

Robertson fondly recalls his time on the block, explaining how it had been a “depressed area” before being revitalized, in part by the opening of the Foundation in 2002. He does, however, cite spikes in car traffic and a lack of nearby parking being a problem for clients that come in from other parts of the Lower Mainland. Getting off Main will take a bit of visibility away from John’s Jukes, but the owner hopes the to-be-determined resettlement will cut costs and speed up productivity. Running a niche business means customers will seek out his services, no matter where the store ends up.

“We don’t want to be hard to find,” he says. “I’m trying to be very close to a main street, so the signage would be somewhat visible.”

When pressed on his choice of words, he clarifies: “We’re not going to be on Main. Can’t afford Main anymore, or Kingsway or Fraser.”

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