By: James Paleologopoulos
With their undead eyes staring at those who pass, light from refurbished fixtures reflects off the “rotted” scalps of plastic zombies sitting in the expansion of Fitchburg’s own That’s Entertainment. The zombies are new merchandise of the hit television show, “Walking Dead,” and take up residence in the addition to the local hobby shop. Nearby is Luke Skywalker and Jean Luc-Picard sitting side-by-side peering at the “Justice League” volumes. It is a mini-plastic comic convention.
“We call ourselves a pop-culture emporium,” says veteran clerk Dario Dellechiaie, from behind a desk counter littered with trading cards, “Game of Thrones” stickers, and imported Japanese candies.
“We originally started out years ago as just a comic shop … now we’re offering video games, records, toys; anything pop culture.”
It’s a pop emporium that, after two months of knocking down walls, spreading carpets, and rearranging wares, has successfully doubled its size by moving into the vacant storage area next to the original store.
“We were given the opportunity to move into that section and we took it.,” Dellechiaie explains. “We talked to the landlord, saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could expand over there?’ So after a lot of negotiation, it worked out and [we] expanded into the empty spaces.”
Based in Worcester and purchased in 1989, the Fitchburg location, formally known as Same Old Bat Channel, has seen itself move from Main Street to the Market Basket plaza to its current home at 56 John Fitch Highway.
The business avoided both Fitchburg’s business decline in recent recessions and major contractions in the comic book world, including the “Crash of ‘93” when comics were overprinted and major publishers like Marvel and DC Comics faced bankruptcy. Numerous comic shops were forced to fold.
To dodge the declines & crashes and stay afloat, That’s Entertainment sold what was most in demand.
“When DVDs and video games started to explode as a business… we expanded into that,” says Dellechiaie. “We [now] sell video games the most, followed by Magic (a popular trading card game), then comics. Comics are still a good piece of the store for us, but right now it’s gaming.”
Comic books of all kinds, from “Superman” to “Chew,” the chronicles of a supernatural FDA agent, continue to occupy That’s Entertainment’s back wall. They are a cornerstone of the store but sit side-by-side with an array of electronic equipment.
The emporium’s digital and video game section has become an integral piece to the store’s survival. The stores’ distribution of electronic entertainment in the mid-90’s brought in browsers and immense sales, piquing during Worcester’s own arts and entertainment festivals.
Moving into gaming was a smart move for That’s Entertainment as revenue from comics became less reliable. According to figures from the “Comichron” database, a website specializing in compiling comics sold and profits, comic book sales have declined 28% since 1997, from 100 million to 72 million copies.
Meanwhile, the video game market has expanded exponentially in the last decade. A single release the new “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” made an estimated $500 million during its first day on the market according to its publisher, Activision. Compare this to the estimated $248.4 million the comic book industry made during all of 2011 and it’s easy to understand why the store devotes so much space to games.
Nintendo 64 controllers sit side-by-side with the hardware that succeeded it. They’re a few feet from the Black Ops II merchandise and hang around with the PlayStation 3 and Sega Genesis hardware, primed for purchase after a decade off mainstream shelves.
“There’s also a lot of vintage video game players from the University,” Dellechiaie notes when speaking of his new market. “A lot of Nintendo 64’s [being sold]. They love it.”
Those 64’s are another part in the mix of old and new pop culture available at That’s Entertainment. Mint-condition action figures including Superman and Homer Simpson line one shelf while dozens of classic board games take up the entire adjacent wall. Used DVD’s and game cartridges fill up the cabinet only feet away.
After years of constant growth and accumulating such merchandise, a second store’s worth of space is a welcomed addition.
“This is a place where people can come to relax and find what they’ll like,” states the man behind the counter for the last twenty years. “There’s no one from any walk of life that won’t find something [here] and go ‘Oh my God, Oh my God! I haven’t seen this in so long!’ It can really be a family atmosphere.”
With the addition of “Warhammer Miniatures,” a gaming balcony in the far corner, and six tables filled with records of all genres, it’s an atmosphere that’ll bring in more demographics than ever before; so many that a second store’s worth of space is needed.