Ken LeMay has always loved comic books.
As a child growing up in the ‘70s, he’d pick up his favorite Captain America comic for a quarter, whenever his mother went to the grocery store.
“I love the artwork and the stories. I even love the smell of the ink,” he said.
Now, he is surrounded by his favorite things.
In October 2019, LeMay, along with several family members, opened Monkey Biz, a comics and collectibles store, in the Logan Neighborhood on North Nevada Street.
“It’s definitely an interesting time to start a business,” LeMay said.
But the business has been a longtime dream.
“Ever since we’ve been married (17 years) he’s been talking about this,” said his wife, Tawnia LeMay.
And Ken LeMay is familiar with running a business. For many years, he worked in a family-owned and operated salvage yard in Airway Heights.
Last spring he, his mother and his siblings started talking about the new venture in earnest.
“I did a lot of research,” he said. “When we found this building – it was perfect. I love the neighborhood—Gonzaga Prep is right behind us.”
LeMay’s mother, Carol LeMay, came up with the name.
“It’s fun, whimsical and a little goofy,” he said.
They purchased the building, the former home of Abacus Computer Center, and began buying inventory.
With approximately 6,500 square feet of retail space, they had plenty of room to work with.
The lower level features a snack bar, gift items, and a selection of inspirational books and comics. This section was prompted by a desire to honor LeMay’s father, Lucien LeMay, who died in 2014.
“I wanted to carry his book (‘The Last Generation: A Revised Pretribulation View’),” explained LeMay. “Then we got some stock from LifeWay when they went out of business, and there’s a whole line of Christian comics with great art.”
LeMay said comic book artwork has vastly improved since he was a kid, and of course, you can’t buy a new comic for a quarter anymore.
“Now they’re $3.99,” he said.
Every Wednesday is new comic day at the store. That’s when publishers and distributors release their latest offerings.
But not everyone is looking for the latest issues. Budget-minded buyers gravitate to the sale rack featuring new comic reprints for $1. And there are boxes and boxes of individually-priced, neatly-labeled and bagged back issues.
“During the shutdown, my sister Teri (Dashiell) and I bagged and priced 3,500 comic books,” LeMay said.
He and Tawnia have four daughters, ages 10 to 16, and they enjoy helping out in the store, especially when new stock arrives.
Since Monkey Biz re-opened on Memorial Day weekend, LeMay said business has been encouraging.
“We really appreciate our customers,” he said.
He enjoys chatting with people and discovering what they’re into. In addition to the biggies like DC and Marvel, Monkey Biz stocks smaller companies like TKO.
“They’re out of California. Last I heard I was the only one that carried them here.”
When a customer told him about Sitcomics, he quickly added them to his inventory.
“They’re written by a former ‘Seinfeld’ writer. They’re double the size of regular comics at the same price,” LeMay said.
There’s even a small section of comics by local authors and illustrators.
While comics and graphic novels abound, Monkey Biz is also filled with pop-culture themed items, including board games, role-playing games, puzzles, statues and mugs. However, many customers are drawn to their huge selection of Funko Pop.
Funko Pop is a line of small vinyl figures that depict licensed characters from movies, television or history. The figures are recognizable for their exaggerated features, including oversized heads and large eyes.
On a recent visit, a customer gravitated to a new selection of Baby Yoda figures from “The Mandalorian” TV series.
“We also purchase comics and Funko Pops for cash or store credit,” said LeMay.
They recently hosted a socially-distant Funko Pop Swap, facilitated by the Lilac City Pop Coalition. When the new coronavirus restrictions relax, Monkey Biz has several rooms they hope to use to host birthday parties and game nights. Currently, a small group of Dungeons and Dragons players use one of the rooms on Saturdays.
The LeMays are also finishing up a virtual reality room, for those who like an immersive gaming experience.
But comics are absolutely the heart of the business.
“Anywhere you go in the store you’ll find comic books,” LeMay said. “We’re a family friendly neighborhood mom and pop comic shop. It’s just what I wanted.”
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