The comic book chain has experienced about 7 percent yearly growth for the last decade, driven by a wide selection of mainstream, alternative, and mini-comics, plus consumer products tied to major theatrical releases and hot TV shows.
Like the Empire State Building towering across the street, Jim Hanley's Universe has made a name for itself in the New York landscape, attracting comic book fans, collectors, industry professionals, and tourists from around the world.It is within the confines of its bustling 3,000-square-foot Midtown location on West 33rd Street and its other 1,000-square-foot Staten Island location that comic book fans scour aisle after aisle of everything from mainstream comics from Marvel, DC Comics, Image Comics, and Dark Horse Comics to alternative and mini-comics from Drawn and Quarterly, Fantagraphics, NBM, Top Shelf, and Slave Labor. Also on the shelves are manga titles from VIZ Media and Tokyopop and a complete line of Archie Comics, as well as Sabrina, Josie & The Pussycats, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Powerpuff Girls, Little LuLu, and Scooby-Doo for kids. The store also carries an extensive back issue collection.
Within walking distance of many publishing houses, the chain is a gathering place to meet and greet famous and upcoming artists for book signings and special events such as the 24-Hour Comic Day, an international event that took place April 23 with fans congregating to watch cartoonists create a 24-page comic story in 24 straight hours. The chain also participated in the 4th Annual Free Comic Book Day, May 7.
"Jim (Hanley) is dedicated to providing our customers with the best selection possible and tries to stock comics in every genre from everywhere including Europe and Asia, so that when customers come in, they are sure to find something that appeals to them," says Jim Pernicone, director of operations.
That quest started more than two decades ago when Jim Hanley opened his first comic book store in Staten Island in 1983. He closed that store and opened his first Jim Hanley's Universe in Staten Island two years later. A life-long comics reader, Hanley spent his childhood basking in the adventures of superheroes such as Superman and vowed to one day open his own store.
"I have always said I was severely damaged by my lifelong interest in comics," confides Hanley. "In fact, that interest, like most obsessive reading habits, was probably inborn. 'Readers' disease' got me early and never let go. I ate up superheroes, starting with Superman and studied all the arcane."
Hanley also is a student of merchandising and understands the importance of stocking not only the latest comic book titles but a wide selection of complementary licensed products. "Ordering for a comics specialty store can become a career in itself as distributors' catalogs contain more than 4,500 items related in one way or another to comics. For our customers, too, the selection of comics and other goods that greets them when they walk into the store often is daunting," says Hanley.
"Jim was the first guy to really understand the vertical nature of the market, and he has successfully made the adjustment from being just a comic book shop to being a purveyor of pop culture offering fans a large variety of products," says Dan Buckley, publisher and COO of Marvel Publishing.
Consumer products tied to major theatrical releases and hot TV shows have been top performers for the chain, which has experienced about 7 percent yearly growth for the last decade. "Licensing has been very effective for us, and we've done well with products and new versions of graphic novels for properties such as "Princess Ai," Hellboy, and Constatine," says Pernicone, who worked off and on with Hanley from 1985 to 1995 and came on two years ago to run the operation. "We are excited about Sin City and believe it will be good for our bottom line."
Pop culture enthusiasts will find no shortage of merchandise in both of Hanley's stores as T-shirts featuring Superman, Hulk, Popeye, Invader Zim, Family Guy, Teen Titans, Speed Racer, Sin City, and more line one entire side of the store. Action figures in all shapes and sizes, trading cards, games, collectible statues and busts, magazines, and price guides are among other featured items. The stores stock comic supplies; instructional books and novels; a small specialized selection of hard-to-find DVDs and those that are comic, manga, animation, or sci-fi related; and novelty items such as posters, key chains, magnets, patches, and stickers. Stationery is the next category on the radar.
Also on the radar is a new point-of-sale system in the works for more than a year. With that in place, the chain will upgrade its inventory control and computer systems and have a better idea of what is available in the backroom. Other goals for the chain include expanding its emphasis on gothic toys such as Toxic Teddies and more toys based on anime such as Full Metal Alchemist and Inuyasha.
"By applying our 'Where Art and Literature Meet' motto to our store, we signal that ours is the address to find the widest selection of what this medium has to offer," Hanley says. "So far, our customers have joined us on the journey down comics' well-trodden streets and avenues, as well as the less-often frequented alleys and cul-de-sacs. In some cases, they've brought us places we hadn't even known existed. As long as we can keep one step ahead of most and in sight of the trailblazers, we'll do all right."