Remember when your life was filled with action figures, comic books and baseball cards? It would have been so cool to grow up and run a comic book shop or toy store and still trade cards with your pals. Well, guess what? Somebody DID grow up to do that, building successful businesses and steady clienteles for nearly 20 years in the Treasure Valley. Thanks to three shops that specialize in these collectible markets, you can still replace that old Transformer toy or buy a high-tech yo-yo, fill in your comic book want list or get the latest "Dark Knight" issue, or maybe open just the right baseball pack and find a really cool autograph card.
TIME ZONE TOYS
2945 W. Chinden Blvd., Garden City, 343-6358
Open: noon-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday
Owner: Dave Bazan
In business here only since July, Time Zone Toys is a treasure island of action figures, Disney "Cars," yo-yos and toy world collectibles. It's especially enticing if you were a kid in the '80s or '90s.
"When I created this store, I wanted to make it a destination location," owner Dave Bazan said. "I wanted to create something cool."
And he certainly did.
In addition to this little Garden City shop near the Connector underpass on Chinden Boulevard, he also keeps about $10,000 of steady inventory on eBay. (Check out that rare Transformer!)
"We also have the largest Disney 'Cars' (based on the movie) collection in the U.S.," he said.
He does buy collectibles by appointment, and he once hit the jackpot after finding a gold mine in a storage unit he bought. "I still have boxes I haven't opened," he said.
So if you've ever lost your brother's Hans Solo figure and are tired of taking grief for it, you can finally rectify that situation. One mom came in at Christmastime and bought her son a long-desired He-Man figure.
"That is probably the best $5.99 Christmas gift you're ever going to buy," Bazan said.
But there's more.
"Toys are a niche, yo-yos are our hook," he said. "We're the only custom yo-yo shop in the world."
Bazan bought his first yo-yo in 1997, and the following year he was hired by High Performance Kites in Hawaii.
"The next thing you know, I was traveling all over the world with the best yo-yo players," he said.
He left that job for a full-time yo-yo job. (Yes, there really is such a thing.)
Barely five years after buying his first yo-yo, Bazan began getting his name on trophies. He's a two-time world champion in spin top, and he placed second in the world in the Artistic Performance Division yo-yo championships.
"I'm one of the few guys in the world that has placed in both spin top and yo-yo," he said.
With that expertise to draw on, it's not surprising that Time Zone Toys offers free yo-yo lessons every week. (Need a new yo-yo? There are more than 100 models to choose from.) Bazan gives school demonstrations and has taught and coached numerous national and world champions over the years. And don't be surprised if you walk into the store and find a few people hunched over a laptop computer oohing over a YouTube video of some yo-yo phenom at a national event.
One of those kids might be 18-year-old Dalan Kerr, a senior at Boise High School. He's been yo-yoing since he was 9, and Bazan considers him a probable future employee.
Kerr is a big fan of both Bazan and this special store.
"He has toys people had when they were a kid and can't find anywhere else," he said. "This is the place to come. There's 'new' stuff all the time. It's legitimately a seemingly endless supply of vintage toys."
JERRY'S ROOKIE SHOP
3021 W. State St., Boise, 338-3828
Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Owner: Jerry McClusky
Jerry McClusky is another one of those guys who is the last man standing.
After the sports card boom in the late '80s and '90s, there were card shops everywhere. Today - it's just Jerry's Rookie Shop. And he's no rookie himself.
As is the way of most of these shops, it started as a hobby and then turned into a business. That was 20 years ago, and since that time, card shops have come and card shops have gone. In fact, they have ALL gone. But not Jerry's.
"I'm still here," he said.
Jerry's Rookie Shop has built a steady, loyal customer base over the years' ups and downs. He has at least 100 regular customers. But don't think it's easy.
"It's very tough," McClusky said. "I am the whole market. My main competition is the Internet. And every big-box store in town sells cards."
But here's what you need to know - card manufacturers really like guys like McClusky. You have much better odds of getting "the good stuff" at a dedicated card shop than you do picking up a few packs at that box store. Customers confirm that.
McClusky rarely buys stuff, but he is always looking to trade. He also carries plenty of collecting supplies. Shoeboxes are way too old-school for today's collectors.
"Our specialty is a complete line of the newest products to hit the market," he said.
He usually has $50,000 of inventory on order all the time and usually gets it the day it's released. That's always important for collectors.
Another important aspect of collecting is the card shows. McClusky promotes four card shows a year in Boise. The next one is March 9 at the Boise Hotel Conference Center at 3300 Vista Ave., and it will feature about 25 card vendors. These are free events that run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The other shows this year are June 15, Sept. 28 and Dec. 14.
At Jerry's, new cards are hot, and recent back stock is kept by year and set for those looking to fill in gaps. The chance to find autograph cards has driven the market in recent years, so box sales are almost a no-brainer for collectors. In addition to sports cards, he keeps a variety of other pop culture cards, which also have a following.
But McClusky's secret is the same as any successful business. Sure, he has a dedicated clientele because he's been around so long, but it's more than that. "I try to treat every customer the same whether they spend $1 or $100. I don't overprice stock, I keep inventory, and I treat them fairly. I keep my prices as low as I can keep them."
Bruce McAllister is one of those loyal customers. His love started as a kid with a Yankees team card.
He's now a lawyer in his 50s who has about 75,000 cards, and about 65,000 of those are baseball cards. (He grew up in Minnesota watching Payette native Harmon Killebrew's towering home runs.)
He likes to collect pop culture and history cards, too, and has managed to find a few cool redemption cards that added such autographs to his collection as Boris Karloff, Donald Trump, and Sonny and Cher. He even has a rare mounted rhino beetle he got from a redemption card.
McAllister's love of the shop goes back to the owner himself and the way he conducts his business. He says McClusky is a friendly guy who offers good pricing, and it's a good place to shoot the breeze. So it's little surprise that he can describe the experience in just a few short words: "Jerry's shop is great."
710 Vista Ave., Boise, 336-2333
Open: 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon., Tues., Sat.; 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Wed., Thur., Fri.
Owner: Corbit Wilkins, manager: Shawn Phelps
C'mon, who doesn't love comic books? Not only are they a way of extending your childhood forever, but they also open the door to an endless stream of blockbuster movies. "Spider-Man," "Batman," "The Avengers," "X-Men," and on and on it goes. This year alone will see "Superman," "Wolverine," "Iron Man" and "Thor" action flicks, as well as sequels to "300," "Sin City," "Red" and "Kick-Ass."
Comics are just as alive as they always were, and Captain Comics on Vista Avenue continues to battle changing times and remain the superhero shop of all things comic in the Treasure Valley.
In fact, the shop will celebrate its 20th anniversary April 15. And it all started when owner Corbit Wilkins walked into a comic store in Idaho Falls and walked out 10 minutes later, frustrated because everyone in the store was too busy with a role-playing game in the back to pay him any attention. That planted the seed. Within a few short years, that store was gone and Wilkins had the only comic book store in Idaho Falls.
A 1991 graduate of Boise State University in entrepreneurial management, he missed the Treasure Valley, so he opened a shop here. His days of lawn service and selling cars or real estate were over.
Captain Comics' main focus is, of course, the newest comics and associated collectibles. Another 10 percent of the business comes from collectible card games.
Some collectors, though, head straight for the room upstairs with boxes and boxes of back issues. The shop will buy some comic collections, but it depends on their conditions and the shop's needs. Those boxes upstairs will keep any collector busy with his want list.
"They have a good back stock variety, which is big with me," said Jared Murray, a comic collector now in his 30s. He's a DC Comics fan, and he comes in a couple of times a month to pick up items in his subscription box. He's been a fan of Captain Comics for about 10 years.
"It's a very good complete stop for people who enjoy comic books," he said.
And if you don't think comic books are still popular, then you haven't been in on Wednesdays, which is new-release day. There is such a steady flow on that day that the shop stays open an extra hour.
But Free Comic Day is the day you'll find the largest crowds. The first Saturday in May brings ALL the collectors out for free comics and a chance to get hooked on a new series.
These days you can probably count the number of comic book stores in the Valley on two fingers, but Wilkins still wishes there was more competition - other than the Internet, of course. Competition would mean a strong competitive market and growing interest. Kids have so many more distractions and choices these days compared to the days when there was a comic book rack in every corner drug and grocery store, Wilkins said.
"We might be becoming a dinosaur down the road," he said.
But it will be Super Dino, if that ever does happen. That's because the way they do business will never go out of style, no matter how much the market may change.
Wilkins said they make a point of grading their comics accurately, and they put fair, honest prices on them.
And after two decades, Captain Comics boasts a whole lot of loyal customers.
Manager Shawn Phelps says some customers have been coming in almost every week for 20 years.
"I'm not just talking a few, I'm talking several dozen," he said.
There are several dozen more who have been customers for more than 10 years. Countless others come in from out of town for their comic book fix.
So don't be surprised to see Captain Comics and Wilkins around for another 20 years. It's probably just the Peter Parker in him.