From the Stands is a series that profiles comic book stores around the Twin Cities and talks about their histories, their offerings, and the communities they serve.
You can’t get your shoes fixed at High-Class Comics though people have asked.
“This used to be a shoe shop for about 50 years,” says Bjorn Brosdahl, owner and operator of High-Class. “This was Bernie [Apple’s] old shoe repair store and still every day someone’s calling me up asking, ‘Do you think this sandal could be fixed?’ and I say, ‘Well, I think it could be. I have no idea, but somebody could do it.'”
Brosdahl doesn’t mind that people need time to adjust, nor does he mind his prime location at 48th and Chicago which brings a lot of traffic both by and into the store. “It’s really an awesome part of town,” he says. “There’s big groups of people and friends and families walking their dogs and riding their bikes. They walk by and they either say, ‘Oh look, a comic shop!’ or they say, ‘The shoe repair! That’s the cobbler.’ OK, well . . . not any more.”
High-Class, which opened in June of last year, could hardly have asked for a better location for foot traffic: just around the corner, Turtle Bread, Town Hall Tap, and Pepitos stand as popular neighborhood dining destinations. The Parkway Theater—a frequent geek destination for its cult movie and Doctor Who showings—is just a few steps away.
Turning a former shoe repair shop into a comic book and collectibles store was no small feat. Brosdahl says, “[It] was probably one of the most laborious, difficult [things] that I’ve ever done.” Over the course of 21 days, Brosdahl and friends renovated the entire store “into a cool comic shop that would be nice and inviting. I don’t think any of Bernie’s customers had ever walked past the spot you’re standing in,” he says, indicating the space in front of the shop’s counter—about 4 1/2 feet into the store. “So we shortened that down, opened it up, and made it nice and bright in the back area. You can walk by and see through the window that there’s cool retro video games all the way in the back.”
Indeed, there are a lot of cool retro items at High-Class Comics. In addition to selling his own classic comics—amassed over his long years as a reader—Brosdahl buys and sells old comics and collections, and vintage toys and video game consoles. The consoles have been a big hit. “The Nintendo 64 couldn’t be more popular,” reports Brosdahl. “It’s next to impossible to keep in stock, and I get calls every single week from people asking for Nintendo 64 games and controllers and consoles. People who must have played it as a kid want to recollect their childhoods.”
High-Class Comics is a popular destination for kids from the neighborhood, too. Last summer, Brosdahl set up some of his retro consoles in the store and let local kids play games their parents might have once owned. “We set up PlayStations, Sega, Nintendo, and Super Nintendo. They really like it ’cause it’s something that they might not have access to,” he says. When I question if modern kids with smartphones would actually be interested in a few rounds of Mario Kart 64, Brosdahl counters that they love it and that “it doesn’t seem outdated to them because it’s ‘new’ at this point.”
Brosdahl has earned his retail smarts the hard way: he’s worked in the business of selling comic books since 2001 as an employee at Shinders, the now-defunct Twin Cities comic and newsstand megastore. Jobs at Hot Comics and Captain Jack’s Comics followed, where he “developed a knowledge of how to buy and sell and grade and price things accurately. I got to know the difference between what people will actually buy and what kind of stuff might just be shelf-warmers.” Using his expertise and the name High-Class Comics (from the brand name under which he and a friend published their own amateur comics), he decided to hang out his own shingle. High-Class originally did business at conventions, selling back issues and collectibles (“local shows, MCBA, Planet Comicon, C2E2—not going too far”) but finally committed to a physical location, opening at 48th and Chicago in Minneapolis in June of last year.
High-Class’s shelf space is crammed with back issues, action figures, and geek paraphernalia. Behind the register is a wooden set of cubbyholes (which may or may not have been part of the original shoe store’s trappings) that is full to bursting with Kenner Star Wars playthings, beefy He-Man toys, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. Brosdahl also boasts of having more than 175 longboxes of comics that aren’t on the shelves but are available for sale by arrangement, at cons, or online through eBay. “It was just a good idea to be able to have somewhere to showcase all the product and not have to haul it in and out of storage which can be a big ordeal.” Brosdahl adds, “It’s fun just to have a door for people to walk through.”
That door, though, will say something else in a few weeks: the day before our interview Brosdahl signed the lease on a new location for High-Class, one that is less expensive but offers three times the space as the current 300-plus square foot store. It’s in the Dayton’s Bluff area of Saint Paul and opens on February 29. Brosdahl is optimistic. “We could be opening up a whole new market to some people. There’s no other comic shops right in that vicinity.” He plans to take advantage of the extra space. “We’re going to have a whole bunch more comics: a ton of inventory we’ve been hoping to sell [and use to] create some new customers.” As for his current clientele, Brosdahl regrets having to close the “old” store so soon but hopes that his current customers will come to the new one. “A lot of people in the neighborhood are going to be upset to see that the shop is no longer here, but it’s a move we had to make in order to expand and keep doing great business.”
A new storefront isn’t the only way in which Brosdahl is expanding his business. He and several other local shop owners have organized their own comicon, Blizzard World, on February 27 at Minnesota Transitions School in Minneapolis. It will feature local creators and, of course, a ton of comic books. When I asked if the store owners with which he worked (and Twin Cities comic shop owners, in general) were a close knit group, he replied, “Absolutely. We’re all on a first name basis, we all know each other from doing shows, we send business each other’s way.”
That camaraderie was helpful for High-Class recently when they experienced an early-morning break-in on Black Friday. “Some person broke through our window and stole three boxes of the all-ages kids comics.” Thinking quickly, Brosdahl called his fellow shop owners. He told them what was stolen and how they’d be able to identify his product if someone tried to sell it to them as his own. “I thought, ‘Nothing’s ever going to happen with this,'” he said. “But then, lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago I got a call from one of the shops, and they said, ‘Your guy is in here trying to sell the comics from your shop’. They gave me a description of the guy, got his license plate number, and identified who it was.” Brosdahl reported him to the police. While nothing has come of it yet (recovering stolen comics might not rank high on the law enforcement priority list) the rest of us can still be glad that your local comic shop owner is likely someone who’s concerned about his or her customers and fellow proprietors. “It’s a pretty cool community, and we’re all looking out for each other and hoping we can all succeed,” concludes Brosdahl.
The new location in St. Paul has been home to more than a few businesses: it was most recently a cell phone store. Though High-Class won’t be able to help callers find a new phone or get their old one fixed, it’s sure to provide the community with a fun place to read, shop, and play.