A Surprise Ending, a New Beginning
A comic book store owner’s unusual challenge leads to out-of-the-box thinking
A veteran comic book aficionado, Carmelo Chimera wasn’t sure where this particular adventure would lead.
The somewhat overcommitted attorney and entrepreneur decided it was time to cut back from owning two comic book stores (in La Grange and Oak Lawn) to just one.
He could have sold one store, or closed it. But Chimera chose a different storyline last February — he decided to give away one store to the winner of an essay contest. In the end, he has basically given away two.
After publicizing the contest, he dove in to the essays. Even without a rubric, he was able to quickly narrow the contestants from 720 to 170.
“What hurt a lot of them — they wanted to talk about what big fans they were and how big their collections are. That’s not what sets you apart as someone who should own the store,” says Chimera.
“The ones that spoke to me described how creative and inclusive the comic community should be. They respected the details of business but noted a comic book store can be special, it can play an important part in people’s lives.”
With some help from his wife and some friends, the list was narrowed to 10. But in a surprise twist even Chimera didn’t see coming, the one he eventually chose wasn’t one of the 10.
“I started talking to a couple of the folks, to give them an idea of the time commitment a small business takes. All 700 would probably have been good owners. I probably could have given it to anyone at random in the top 50 and they would have been awesome.”
Chimera had been hoping for an answer to the question he had posed originally: “What makes a great comic book store?” None of the “great essays” explicitly answered that. Still, one stood out.
"I kept thinking about this one essay,” recalls Chimura.
He searched through all 720 to find it again. When he found it, he knew he’d found the winner.
“I just remembered it so vividly, so in the end that’s why I wanted to go with it. This whole contest was unusual, really weird. This answer was really weird and I think that’s what really spoke to me. I thought, ‘How else should it really end?’” Patti Kosobud of Oak Lawn wrote that essay. But in another unforeseen development — she won’t own the Oak Lawn store.
The community development grad student’s essay declared that since comic books are special publications with an appeal to a diverse public, they should be owned atypically.
“I’m not writing for myself,” the essay continued, “but in favor of an alternative ownership structure. I’d like to see the community itself own the store, for it to be run for the community.”
Chimera wasn’t sure what, exactly, Kosobud meant, and it turned out, neither did she. But he thought it was a great idea. “She’s the winner, but my intention is to give a store to a Chicago nonprofit — the Port Ministries in the Back of the Yards.”
Chimera’s family has had connections with the charity, which provides vital services to the community.
“It’s hard to better your life if you’re worried about surviving,” he notes.
“I ran this by Patti and she said, ‘Yes! That’s like what I was thinking!’ I consider it a fairy tale ending. This contest inspired so many people to think of opportunities for their lives. Now it’s a chance for the store to live on” creating opportunities for many others’ lives.
After initially thinking it would be the Oak Lawn store he awarded to the nonprofit, logistics dictated a new store based in Chicago. So Chimera then awarded the originally-offered Oak Lawn store to essayist Christopher Cavanaugh, who stood out because of his close ties to the community and the store.
“He is well-known, well-liked and demonstrated an understanding not only of the practicality of the business, but the importance of the philosophy behind the store,” Chimera says.
Meanwhile Chimera will donate equipment, inventory and fixtures to open a new nonprofit comics store next May on the south side of Chicago. The exact location has yet to be determined but the aim is to spark new business in a disadvantaged area. It will be staffed by at-risk youth from the local community, not unlike the plot twist in, say, a comic book.Edit Module