Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award Nominee "Farpoint Toys & Collectibles" // Interview
In 1993 Will Eisner, creator of The Spirit and all around comic book legend proposed an award to be added to the slate of Eisner Awards. This award would be called the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award, and according to the official Eisner, “The Award is given out yearly to retailers who have done an outstanding job of supporting the comic art medium both in the industry at large and in their local community” (Eisner Retailer Award Current Info, 2019).
A store can be nominated for the award by fans, industry professionals, or other retailers alike, but it must have been in business for two years and no won the award previously.
Farpoint Toys & Collectibles, a comics and collectibles store located in May Landing New Jersey was nominated for the Spirit of Comics award first in 2018, and then again this year. YDRC was lucky enough to get an interview with Penelope Daniels, one of the owners of Farpoint, to learn more about the store and what the nominations have meant to them.
This interview was conducted via email.
YDRC- When did Farpoint Toys open?
PD- Farpoint was born in 2010, and we spent the first 7 years in business in co-op situations in our local mall. As good as that was for us, we always knew we would outgrow those spaces and our dream from the beginning was to have our own independent shop. In 2017, we made our big dream come true by purchasing our own building - in fact, that was 2 years ago this month! We opened our first standalone location on July 8, 2017! Time seriously flies!
YDRC- Why did you open Farpoint? What was the inspiration or reason?
PD-Farpoint started because my husband Justin and I are both nerds and collectors of nerdy stuff! Anyone reading this who's also a collector - of ANYTHING! - knows you inevitably end up with extras: doubles of items you've upgraded, extras from trade deals or swap meets! We've both been collectors for decades now, but even back in the mid-2000s, we were getting to the point where our extra stuff was beginning to take over the house! So we slowly started selling it online to further fuel our collecting. Turns out we were really good at it, and we both kind of hated our jobs at the time, so we started to pivot more of ourselves toward the idea of creating a real business instead of just entertaining our hobbies!
We knew running a collectible store in our area was possible even back then because our friend Frank was doing it a few towns over. Frank became our friend just from us coming into his store to shop, but he became our mentor because he saw we truly loved comics and toys just as much as he did. Instead of perhaps being bothered by us opening our own shop nearby, he embraced and supported us, and our strong sense of community really started there.
Years later, we realized we were evolving beyond our mall spot, so we began looking for a new location to make our home base. We found a much larger location better suited to our needs fairly quickly. After bidding farewell to the mall but before reopening in our new spot, we learned that our old friend Frank was also contemplating a change: he was thinking about shuttering his store. Turns out he really didn't want to do the retail thing by himself anymore and was considering closing up shop. Our old mall partners had decided not to join us in our new endeavor, so we invited Frank to come along for this crazy ride ... and the rest is history! The entire situation was actually incredibly serendipitous!
Our new location and all that came with it redefined Farpoint and was the biggest, scariest but the best thing we ever did for our business. It was truly one of the most rewarding things I've ever done in my life.
YDRC- Are there a lot of similar stores in the area? If not, why do you think that is? If yes, how does Farpoint make itself stand out?
PD- Southern New Jersey is a hotbed of toy & comic stores! There are at least half a dozen of us in a 40 or so mile radius, all different in our own ways. Some specialize in new products, others strictly vintage, or a mix; some only sell toys - other games and toys, but not comics ... still, other shops deal in comics and toys, but not games! Each store has its own 'vibe', and all have a slightly different focus.
If Farpoint stands out, I believe it's because our in-store focus is the customer's experience, and not necessarily the product. I mean, obviously we carry a wide variety of items - new and vintage comics, toys, video & tabletop games and all kinds of other pop culture collectibles - but we want the STORE ITSELF to be an EXPERIENCE for every person who walks in. We strive for a museum-like quality, and I really think that translates to folks! Someone once described Farpoint as a Museum of Wonders where you can buy the exhibits, and that's pretty much exactly what we're going for!
YDRC- What do you think makes your store unique?
PD- I mentioned the museum-like experience we cultivate, which I do feel sets us apart from a lot of shops like ours. We really want to WOW people and I like to think it shows! We also do a lot of social media stuff and are absolutely not afraid to be equal parts ridiculous and educational. Oh - and I hate to admit it, but being a (even 1/3rd) female owned shop is still a bit of a rarity, though nowhere near as rare as it used to be, thankfully!!
YDRC- What do you think draws customers to your store? What keeps them coming back?
PD- I think we have 2 basic types of customers: some people who might not necessarily be "into" nerdy stuff but are just really curious about it, or curious about the store itself. Like ... what is this wacky place with a dinosaur on the lawn?! Curiosity draws them in, and they end up returning, bringing their kids and friends because they're nostalgia tourists! The store reminds them of the fun of their childhoods and they want to share it: "Oh, I had that"!
Other folks are aware of what we do and are either already readers, gamers or collectors or are just starting. They come in because they heard about us, saw us online or we were recommended by a friend, and we specifically carry the kinds of geeky items they're looking for. I think one reason these folks come and come back, is because our entire inventory is both carefully curated and constantly changing. Everything we sell is hand-picked by us - we've literally touched and handled every single item, and we can not only speak to the quality of it, but we know both the broad histories as well as the specific details of everything we sell! Plus, we're always getting in new titles and toys and always buying pre-owned collections, so you literally never know what we may get in or when!
YDRC- What's your favorite part of running the store?
PD- I'm incredibly interested in stories. World history and myths, and fiction like fantasy and sci-fi interest me, but I also love people's stories and the histories of things. Memories, nostalgia, and the stories of objects fascinate me. What I do centers around all of that. Whether it's a new comic or an old toy, it has a story, and the people that come into the shop that cares for these things have stories as well. I'm surrounded by books full of stories, and things and people with stories, and I love it. They say if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life, and that is incredibly true for me. I am very lucky.
YDRC- What's your least favorite part of running the store?
PD- Well, speaking of stories: they're not always happy ones. The hardest moments I have at the shop come when folks bring us pre-owned collections to buy - specifically when those collections once belonged to a loved one who passed away. Hearing these people's stories makes me feel a bit like a Grief Counselor, and it breaks my heart literally every time.
YDRC- How did you feel when you found out you were nominated for the Will Eisner Spirit Comics Retailer Award? How did you react to being nominated?
PD- Our first indication that we'd been nominated was a letter from Patty at SDCC breaking the news to us. To be honest, our first reaction was surprise! And to be nominated [for] 2 years in a row was even more of a happy shock!
The Eisners are the Oscars of comics. The Spirit is like a lifetime achievement award, and to be nominated not once but TWICE, in just our first decade of business, is outrageously amazing. We feel so incredibly humbled and are so, so honored to be included, and again this year, among all the amazing nominees, many of which have been in business far, far longer!
YDRC- Who nominated you for the award?
PD- We have no idea who nominated us specifically, as the nominations are open & anonymous, but it certainly must have been one or more amazing folks from our community! Once those nominations come in, the large pool is vetted and narrowed down by the Eisner crew, and from there the official nominees are announced!
YDRC- How has the store changed since you were nominated last year?
PD- From a business standpoint, our largest change this year would probably be the exponential expansion of our back issue comics section! It has more than quadrupled in the last 12 months!
As far as the store's community outreach, every year in our new location grows our footprint in terms of involvement! In the last year, we've:
• Increased our partnership with our local Merchants Association, which acts as part charitable organization, part community group, and part peer-to-peer business support network.
• Partnered with schools, PTA groups, and booster clubs in our area to support extracurricular activities for kids, including the sponsorship of an All-Are-Welcome high school swim team with special needs swimmers (Go 'Gami!).
• Beat our record again this year with our toy donation drive for Toys 4 Kids, a group in our county that assures no child in need is without a gift for the holidays. This year, we were able to match every donation we received as well as make sure every toy had an age-appropriate comic or graphic novel to go with it!
• continued our campaign to raise funds via crowdsourcing toward the construction and installation of an accessibility ramp and matching bathroom at our shop. We love our building but it is old, and even though we are not required to have accessible features due to the building's advanced age, the most important thing we can do to help build and maintain an inclusive and welcoming community is making sure everyone who wants to can get in and be comfortable while hanging with us!
YDRC- Has being nominated changed the store at all?
PD- I wouldn't say that our nominations have specifically changed the store or how we do business, but speaking for myself, it has certainly changed how I perceive myself as a professional. To be honest, I am surrounded by toys, games, and comics all day every day; it's easy to forget that I am an ADULT, let alone a professional woman, let alone someone that can make a difference of any kind! Having been nominated for this award, twice now, reminds me personally that even though my business is (at face value, anyway) pretty frivolous - it matters.
Stan Lee said it best: "Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing."
YDRC- Do you believe that winning would change the store? If it would, how would it change? If it wouldn't, why not?
PD- Winning this award would probably not change the store fundamentally but it would certainly reinforce my personal belief that I'm doing what I was meant to do!
YDRC- What does being part of the comic and toy community mean to you? Are there any notable experiences you would like to share?
PD- I am incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do for a living. Being a "Nostalgineer" allows me to share my geeky knowledge and connect people with things that make them happy. There is often too little happiness in the world, and if a comic someone read as a kid, a toy they once had that they're now buying for their own child, or a new game to immerse themselves in makes them happy, I am happy. I get to make people smile EVERY DAY. That is HUGE! I have a thousand amazing stories of my time in the store - I couldn't possibly choose just one!
YDRC- How has the local comic and toy community changed since you opened the store? What about the broader community? How would you like to see the local and broader communities change? In what ways will Farpoint be a part of making those changes?
PD- I've seen my community, in general, become much geekier, with "nerds" becoming much more mainstream since we opened our doors in 2010. One way that's translated specifically into our local geek community is that we've gone from almost exclusively a "Boy's Club" into a more diverse and inclusive environment, and that makes me incredibly happy. I would definitely like to see that grow, and I hope that as Farpoint continues forward, our community outreach, as well as my presence specifically, can aid that growth!
On behalf of the YDRC team, thank you to Penelope for taking the time to answer these questions. Follow YDRC for more articles like this. Be sure to follow Farpoint Toys & Collectibles across social media @farpointtoys, at their website farpointtoys.com, or if you’re in Mays Landing, NJ, go in and check them out in person.
The Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award will be awarded July 19th, 2019.