Heroes & Fantasies: Where Families Collect
Heroes & Fantasies: Our Story So Far
Rich Conley, President of Heroes & Fantasies, had a dream to create the type of comic book/hobby store that he always hoped he could find as a teenager growing up in metropolitan Chicago, Illinois in the 1960’s. He got “hooked on comics” in the summer of 1962 at the age of eleven (11) during a family vacation trip during which he purchased (at the Union Pacific Train Station in Chicago) and read (over and over and over, again) his first two comic books: Journey into Mystery #83 and the Incredible Hulk #2.
In those days, now called the “Silver Age of Comics,” there were no comic specialty stores, no internet, no comic cons, etc. New releases (and only about 10-15 new issues per week) were displayed in wire spinner racks in drug stores and “five and dime” stores. Old comics were mostly found in home garage sales and at a few used bookstores, operated by very scary-looking people in very scary storefronts! And, there were very few toys, games, apparel, or giftware of interest to fans of the comic art form.
For the next twenty (20) years, the realities of high school, college, and then household, family and career gradually slowed down his comic collecting, until reawakened when a 1941 edition of Whiz Comics (featuring the original Captain Marvel, a.k.a. “Shazam”) was displayed on the KLRN TV Auction; for which Rich paid about four times its value! Once that collecting ‘monster’ was released, Rich began to seek out comic shops and attend local shows, amassing more and more comics until, finally, he decided to become a “weekend warrior” and begin the transition from collector to dealer. He fondly remembers that his stated goal was to “sell down some the collection” though, most often, he returned home with even more comics than he started with!
Finally, on Halloween Day (October 31, 1987), with a very limited budget, but a lot of vintage comics, he formally ventured into the comic business world with a small storefront in northwest San Antonio – in the Ingram Square Shopping Center. It was only 800 square feet of retail space, and he partnered with a local record collector/dealer who was also in that transition stage, and they began their business journey by naming the store, “Comics & Records Unlimited.” The store’s slogan was “Where Every Day is Like a Convention!” It only took six months before our nasty habit of buying collections expanded our inventory so much that we had to move into a larger space (2400 square feet) within the same shopping center.
In 1989, driven by the ever-increasing public interest in comic books (propelled, in part, by a very successful Batman movie), we opened our second store in the Embassy Oaks Shopping Center on Bitters Road, and expanded our product offerings by carrying cards, toys, games, apparel, posters, statues, giftware, novelties, and more. A few months later, in February of 1990 we bought out a competing comic chain (Comic Quest) with stores at Blanco Road & 410 and Austin Highway @ Perrin-Beitel. That brought our operation up to four stores in just 2 1/2 years!
By this time, we realized that comic-related trademarks were becoming mainstream, and we ventured into new territories, opening a “Heroes & Fantasies” store in North Star Mall. Although there were Disney Stores, our approach was to offer a wider set of comic tradenames and pop-culture wares which was met with tremendous market acceptance. At this same time, we separated ourselves from records and the Rock-n-Roll Industry to focus on comic-themed products and dumped our “Comics & Records Unlimited” name and adopted “Heroes & Fantasies” as a more encompassing store name. We also adopted a policy to support the Annual KLRN TV Auction as a way to say “Thank You” for providing the pivot point from which our business was launched. We are now one of, if not THE longest term contributors/sponsors of the San Antonio local Blazing Gavels event.
By 1993, with the comic industry rocking with the advent of creative cover variants and the “Death of Superman” media frenzy, we had grown to an 8-storefront organization, including a store in New Braunfels. Our location in Universal City (one of the two stores we still operate) served as our corporate office, warehouse, and international mail order operation. We also ran “satellite” operations at Spurs Games in the Alamodome, Missions Games at V.J.Keefe Field, kiosks at Ingram Park and Windsor Park Malls, and stocked mini-displays at bowling alleys and indoor soccer fields…. Whew!
Per industry reports, we were one of the “top-10” privately-owned comic specialty retailers in the country; unofficially we were told that our ranking was #2! And this was accomplished in less than six years.
As our industry grew with ever-increasing types of products based on comic-trademarks (toys, games, apparel, etc.) so did the need for larger storefronts and we began the process of doing 1-for-2 and 1-for-3 consolidations as our small footprints just couldn’t effectively stock and merchandise the depth of products we wanted to offer. We sold a couple of our locations, too, when considering creating a franchising arm in 2001. We are still willing to help serious business-minded fans enter this industry by offering inventory floor-planning support and business systems, though we are not currently in the franchising business. Give us a call if you are seriously contemplating entering the trade!
The latest change to our retail presence in San Antonio came with the combining of our Ingram Square location and smaller Summit Parkway store into one of the largest comic/pop-culture stores of its type. The convenient Loop 410 location is 16,500 square feet of fun for fans of the genre, featuring displays of life-sized Heroes & Villains from Star Wars, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Pixar, and more! We’ve also got a family-friendly game/event room with capacity to seat over 350 players.
And, while we do operate an online store and have been PowerSellers on eBay since 1997, our commitment is to our local San Antonio Community. We do not sell “hot” products online when there is local demand going unfilled. We intend to remain focused on being the place that offers our home city guests their best opportunity for finding just what you’ve always wanted. We’ve helped hundreds of folks realize top prices for their collections by offering various selling alternatives, such as: outright purchase, in-store consignment sale, and online/eBay liquidation. If you’re considering parting with your collection or trying to get top-dollar for an inheritance, please visit us for a no-obligation professional opinion of value and explanation of the various ways we might be of help.
Thanks for reading this short story about our continuing journey in pop-culture retailing. We are especially thankful for the local support we’ve received over the past 25+ years, and hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of it!