When Paradox was imagined, I had no idea it would be around for more than 25 years. Ideas like that didn’t even occur to me. Heck, I thought my business partner and I would be the only ones working here and we’d be happy. I dropped out of college, i invested my personal comic collection, and was just happy to have found something that made me feel good about myself. Higher order thinking and long term planning were not on the agenda. Now I sit at my iPad writing this blog looking back and I can remember being young and trying to imagine what it would be like to be where I am right now. A few years back, I did a lot of off the cuff, stream of consciousness writing with the goal of turning it into a memoir about Paradox and my life and I hope to get to all that some day but let’s do the short version.
It’s been a long and winding story. In the 1990s, I nearly lost the business several times due to water leaks, partnership break ups, floods, and debt. I remember a night I called my dad and told him it was over. Next came a period of just getting by, playing Magic and reading comics being more important than growing or running the store. We’d been open for nearly a decade before the moment I realized this is really what I wanted to do. After that, the fight began. Most of the 2000s was an experiment. Who were we, what were we carrying, what could we bring in, and how could we afford to grow? We made our first expansion in 2005 adding play space and expanding the store. Starting in 2008, we saw nearly a decade of growth begin that brought with it our event center, national events and recognition, and the addition of board games. We also adopted our community building philosophy during this time. Wow, rereading this paragraph this is barely the Cliff’s Notes version...
Me and mine tried all kinds of things but we always had two core elements. Comics, especially weekly new comics, and Magic the Gathering. Those were always are core passions. There was Pokemon, YuGiOh, Star Wars, and so so so many others. The third thing that finally stuck was board games. Honestly, they changed the business for the better and ultimately for the worse in the 2010s. I was the right store in the right place to jump in way ahead of their explosions, but then I was the big guy who took the biggest hit when big box and local competitors and Amazon really came into being. But that was also the era that changed my paycheck, got me an event center, and woke me up to charity work.
The last 4 years have been among the most challenging in our history. As most of you know, small retail shops like ours face new and challenging problems. Since 2016, things have changed constantly. My first reaction to this was panic. I saw customers’ habits change as they’d dropped comics for Netflix and YouTube, started buying their board games online, and suddenly had so many new entertainment options. It seemed like every time I turned around, something else was changing. It was the first time in my business life where I was trying to navigate a big downturn rather than a big upswing.
For the past year and a half, we have undertaken the process of remodeling the shop. Last year, we commemorated our 25 years and it in many ways was marking the end of an era while setting the stage for what comes next. In 2019, the remodel went full steam ahead. We divided our shop in to 2 unique spaces, a comic shop and a game shop. No matter who you are or what you are in to, you are immersed in that when you join us. We also brought a modern, shiny, new website with ecommerce and event registration. I’ve concentrated on hiring expert staff with specific knowledge in the various areas of the shop and I’ve ended up with the biggest employee team I’ve ever managed. Oh, and there’s a new revamped streaming room that saw us reach 300 episodes of our podcast, the Doxcast, and now that room is turning into a YouTube production space.
I guess that’s a snapshot. I suppose it really would take a whole book to explore all the threads I just threw at you. I don’t have one big idea to tie it all together. Mostly it’s just the ebb and flow of life. During those really tough times in 2016 and 2017, I felt a lot of despair and did a lot of reflecting just like this blog. I had gained a whole lot of experience but I didn’t always have a lot of perspective. As I’ve said previously, a lot of my life was driven by anxiety, shame, and depression, and thinking long term or keeping things in perspective is tough to do when those things have their tentacles around you.
Thanks to friends, my then future wife, and keeping the door open, the reality was that this was just another evolution. It was another change and I’d dealt with so many before I should have known i had the ability to keep evolving with the times. Why was I crying about it this time? All that thinking and support and reflection eventually sent me looking for answers so in spring of 2018 I headed to Portland for Comics Pro, a trade organization meeting for retailers. I found out that what was happening here was happening all over the country. I was not alone. Most of all, I discovered a purpose that had always been right in front of me, had always been part of my life and business, but I had never quite fully grasped. Paradox is here to change lives. Look no further than what it has done for mine just in this quick overview.
I haven’t even written about how Paradox has been right smack in the heart of the greatest pop culture movement in the history of the world. Think about that. The stories and characters that have made $22 billion for Marvel and put Batman over $1 billion time and again all start right here. The video games, the TV shows, all of it is inside these walls at 26 Roberts St.
Comics are just a part of it. Our board games, our card games, and even our action figures contribute. Most of all, though, the real joy is to have done it all with the nerds of Fargo Moorhead and beyond. Whether we made a new friend with an eBay sale, whether we met our next employee as they came every week for their comic subscriptions, or met a future spouse over a gaming table, the really special thing about being Paradox has been those relationships.
I guess the point of all this is the realization of how much time has passed and how many ups and downs there have been. It’s easy to get focused on one moment, or on one bad thing going on. It’s hard to remember that everyone is always growing and changing. I remember the first time that kids and people who first frequented my shop were leaving and what a shock that was. Like I said at the beginning of this, higher order thinking was not my specialty when I started out. It was a shock to the system to think that these people wouldn’t always be here. It’s also painful to lose friends but still feel like you are stuck in the same place while they are moving on. That’s the whole point though, it turns out. Everybody grows up, everybody has their own goals and achievements. If Paradox is a happy memory for someone, then that’s the best I can offer. I know now that this place was always here to change lives and only wish I had come to that understanding earlier.
If people ask me what the keys to 26 years are, then, it’s simple. Perseverance and evolution. Every day was not perfect. I’ve made plenty of unhappy customers and enemies. I’ve made way more friends and great business partners. I’m still standing to tell the story and see what comes next. When I set out to write this, I thought it was time to do something I don’t want to do. I thought it was time to write something of a plea to keep supporting us despite all the choices out there. I have seen that kind of thing done before and I hate it. I don’t want you to be part of Paradox because of guilt or obligation or arm twisting. What I want is you to be with us because we earned it, because we try to make sure and do good deeds, and we try to change lives.