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August 21, 2012

New store brings gaming, zombies to downtown Utica

By Brad D. Bates
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Pop! Caffeine, Comics and Gaming features graphic novels, games, gaming accessories and various specialty soft drinks among its eclectic inventory.

UTICA — To say Phil and Kim Stone are looking to bring a unique demographic to downtown Utica is an understatement.

While the Stones’ new shop, Pop! Caffeine, Comics and Gaming, is open to anyone that enjoys board games, comic books or soda pop, the Stones are looking to raise the dead Oct. 13 to fill their store and the streets of downtown Utica.

“Oct. 13 has been designated World Zombie Day,” Kim Stone said at the Aug. 14 Utica City Council meeting while asking the council to allow Pop to host a blood drive/zombie gathering along Cass Avenue and Auburn Road.

“We would like you to allow us to hold a blood drive at Pop and reserve three of the public parking spaces outside for the bloodmobile,” she said.

The zombie event, which happens to take place on Saturday the 13th, would feature a “zombie-fying” booth at Pop that would help transform any living participants into the undead, so they can take part in the fundraiser by either giving blood or “taking a bite out of Utica.”

“We would make you look as ugly as possible and as undead as possible,” Kim Stone said of the zombie-fying booth.

Council unanimously approved the requests, and some members even said they might utilize the zombie-fication services.

The “taking a bite out of Utica” portion of the event would be similar to a pub crawl through downtown Utica where “zombie wranglers” would direct the brain-hungry masses to special seating areas at local restaurants.

“We have about 50 people interested right now,” Kim Stone said of the crawl, noting that proceeds from the crawl would benefit the American Red Cross. “We’d love to have at least 100, but it might be as few as 25. We’re hoping it gets larger in the future.”

Interactive events like the zombie crawl are not too different from standard operating procedure at Pop, which is located at 45163 Cass Avenue.

“It’s a midlife crisis,” Phil Stone said of what drove him to open Pop June 9. “My background is comics and gaming, and I wanted a place to play and for other people to play and have fun.

“What I wanted to create was a place where you could just come in, hang out and not feel pressured to buy anything,” Phil Stone added. “There’s no pressure sales. It’s just come in and have fun, and (sales) just follow suit.”

It may not seem like a match, but Phil Stone said that the interactive nature of Pop’s inventory and events is a model that has helped him successfully run a hair salon for the last four years.

“I’m always accepting ideas,” Phil Stone said. “If someone says you should do this or you should do that, I’ll listen. It’s never set that, ‘This is the way it is.’ It’s always changing.

“It goes back to the way the salon works,” Phil Stone added “I’ve been a hairdresser for 13 years now, and the mechanics of the way the salon goes — I’m very focused on customer service. So I just took those ethics we employ at the salon and brought it over here.”

Stone took that customer interaction to the next level to fill some of the inventory at his store after he found it was too costly to employ the services of major comic book distributors.

Rather than deal with new issues of comics and that overhead, he instituted a consignment process in which customers can leave their collections in his store, and he will sell them for a 20 percent share of the sale.

“There’s a lot of comic shops around here, and I couldn’t compete with single issues and didn’t want to compete with single issues,” Phil Stone said of what sets his store apart.

Pop’s comic selection includes the personal collections and a collection of graphic novels, but he said the true backbone of the store is gaming, with daily events for such titles as “Dungeons and Dragons,” “Warhammer” and “Magic: The Gathering.”

And those events have already started to create a loyal army of customers, which thanks to the Stones’ selection of caffeinated beverages, such as Towne Club pop and energy drinks, are anything but undead.

“It’s gamer oriented, so whatever (customers) can bring to the table, I incorporate it,” Phil Stone said. “If someone’s got a suggestion, I do it because it makes it that much cooler.

“You have the belonging and ownership feel about it. It’s like, ‘That’s my comic shop; that’s where I go.’”

For more information on Pop and its events, visit www.facebook.com/popgaming.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brad D. Bates at bbates@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.