The bulk of the space at Legacy Comics and Cards is filled with staple-bound books telling suspenseful tales of superheroes and underdogs.
Tucked in a corner of downtown Glendale for 26 years, the 2,300-square-foot store is the sole destination in the city where customers can take home the latest comic issues or stay for a time to peruse a small library of mostly American artists.
"The Amazing Spider-Man" No. 1, the 14-page story that reintroduced Spider-Man to the world in 1963, is preserved somewhere in the back. It's a kind of holy grail for nostalgia collectors, completionists or anyone interested in Marvel Comics' history. Here, too, is the formation of the X-Men, the death of Superman and the violent stories that spawned popular TV series, "The Walking Dead."
Owner Howard Chen, 45, discovered comics at age 14 thanks to a cousin who would often stop by and share his Avengers collection with Chen and his siblings. Years later, Chen would inherit that same collection and start selling them at local comic conventions.
"I pretty much started when I was in junior high school selling at comic book shows — two shows a month when I was 16," Chen said. "I was selling to school kids, kids in my junior high, kids at my high school at the back of my house. It's the only thing I've ever done since I was 16."
Chen spent only a year at Cal State Northridge studying business management, foregoing a degree at 19 after he got the opportunity to buy a comic shop in Glendale. One generous loan from his parents later and Heroes for Sale reopened as Legacy Comics and Cards in 1990.
"My goal was to enjoy what I was doing," Chen said. "I remember saying to myself at the time, 'I don't care if I make any money.' "
There is considerable life outside of the books themselves at Legacy Comics. Located just past the downtown retailer behemoths, the store gathers fans from all over Los Angeles searching for their favorite or latest issues, usually on Wednesdays when fresh stock arrives.
If shoppers are overwhelmed by the healthy selection of books, they'll be greeted by employees like Nirut Poonsombat, who juggles the colorful inventory in ways to make it accessible to novice, longtime or lapsed collectors. The occasional celebrity who's benefited from the popularity of comics will stop in for help too.
"We're more like a pop culture store now, not a comic book store," Poonsombat said he likes to say.
Jim Marx, 65 and retired, is a once-a-week staple at Legacy Comics. His collection dates back 46 years and is spread out across two homes in Los Angeles. Marx started buying books from Legacy when owner Chen was still running the shop on his own.
Marx hasn't switched shops because he said the place still retains the personal, small business feel that is more and more difficult to find downtown.
"It's kind of nice for me because I'm old and I'm old fashioned," Marx said. "I like the kind of small-town atmosphere of Legacy. It's sort of stayed the same after all these years."
Legacy has changed, however, mostly behind the scenes. After the comic industry crashed in 1996 "everybody went back to their regular jobs," according to employee Poonsombat. While several comic stores closed up like dominoes, including one started by a former employee of Chen, Legacy was kept afloat by his knowledge of the business.
"When the boom sort of died, I didn't really have a sense of 'oh no, it's all gone,' " Chen said. "It was like going back to when I first started selling comics. I diversified product lines to include comics, sports cards, and later on card games."
Glendale's recent dramatic increase in development has also been a small boon for Legacy. The neighboring empty lot was recently filled with luxury apartments, and Chen has noticed not just more customers, but a shift in demographic as well.
Once a haven for older males, the comic shop is today more welcoming to kids and women, thanks to recent efforts by mainstream publishers Marvel and DC Comics to include them more prominently in their stories.
"That wasn't happening back in the '90s, 2000s," Chen said. "Now, we see a lot of kids and we see a lot of women, so much so that that is the biggest change — the demographic of comic book customers."
Jeff Landa, firstname.lastname@example.org