Comic Book College at 3145 Hennepin Ave. has been an Uptown staple for 43 years.
Its book signings in the heyday of the 1990s would draw massive queues lined up out the door and around the block. Some of its customers have known owner Tim Lohn since the day he inherited the keys in 2003. They drop in every week without fail to rifle through new releases in one of the last brick-and-mortar comic shops in Minnesota.
But in January, Lohn got some bad news. His landlord struck a deal with the Lander Group, which has a vision of tearing down the building that houses Comic Book College and Uptown Family and Cosmetic Dentistry and replacing it with upscale condos.
Lohn is a soft-spoken, bespectacled man who left an early career as a psychologist to take care of his two infant daughters and deal comics at conventions. Now his daughters are in college, and the Comic Book College helps support their tuitions.
As he imagines his impending move to a strip mall at 4632 Nicollet, Lohn breathes a tired sigh.
“I was kind of scared,” he says. “Everyone has always known that the comic book store’s in Uptown, on the corner of 32nd and Hennepin. It’s tradition. I’m just sad, worried that the history of this corner is going to be done with.”
Staying in Uptown would be impossible. Margins are thin in the comic book business as it is. While the Lander Group says they’ll have retail on the first level of the new building, the rent would likely be double what Lohn pays currently. He’s used to budgeting about $3,000 a month. Elsewhere in Uptown, comparable retail spaces go for $5,000 a month at least.
It’s a familiar story in a neighborhood much changed from the vibrant blend of mom-and-pop shops, independent restaurants, and diverse families that Uptown once was. With the infiltration of luxury condos built in the tradition of the Chipotle school of architecture, the Comic Book College is just the latest casualty of a personality makeover for the neighborhood Prince once celebrated in a 1980s single.
Yet, gentrification has fed more money and active community members into Uptown, says Maude Lovelle, executive director of the Uptown Association.
She describes the people who live in those oft-maligned condos as young professionals, downsizing older couples, families with small children who have been contributing to Uptown's vitality by volunteering for local charities, appearing at neighborhood association functions, shopping, and dining out.
"Communities change all the time," says Lovelle, who lives in Shoreview. "It's kind of what happens. Not all the time, but sometimes businesses are displaced for change. Is it a bad thing? My opinion is no, but change is really difficult as well."
Lohn has more or less made his peace.
“When I first heard, there was a part of me that wanted to stir up some controversy, try to rally up some people to try and protest or something,” he says. “But then the new developer came and met me, and he seemed like a nice guy who’s just trying to do what he can for his family, I suppose. It would be easier if he were a crabby old guy, to be like, ‘This guy’s stealing away our stuff!’ So, some things you just can’t change, I guess.”
On the bright side, the Comic Book College’s new home in south Minneapolis will have substantially more space. Lohn just hopes that his customers will stick with him as long as he can keep the lights on and pay his employees.