When Challengers Comics + Conversation opened nearly five years ago in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood, owners Patrick Brower and W. Dal Bush expected their clientele would be predominantly men. However, families with young children soon began walking through the door.
"When we first started in March 2008, we were surprised by the number of families that would come in," Brower told Time Out Chicago. "Over the years, that’s grown, and it seems like a large portion of our regular customers have just started to have kids. They’re just infants, but those comic readers will want their kids to read comics."
So after a 2010 expansion into an adjacent storefront for a sequential-art gallery didn't prove as popular as they had hoped, the owners decided to transform the 400-square-foot retail space into Sidekicks, a "comic shop within a comic shop" devoted exclusively to family-friendly fare.
Officially opened on Wednesday, Sidekicks features a wide selection of all-ages titles, from Bone and Courtney Crumin to Kevin Keller and Adventure Time, most displayed on shelves accessible to pint-sized readers. Tom Kelly's painted-cardboard mash-ups of Hello Kitty and assorted superheroes line the walls ($10 each; custom orders available) across from a tiny desk and chair, where kids are encouraged to sit and read. There are plenty of toys, too, of course.
"Sidekicks isn’t just moving what we had from here to there; this is a dramatically expanded selection," Brower said. "We’re talking to other distributors and to young-adult authors about what they recommend, what books get their kids excited."
In 2011, renowned Toronto retailer The Beguiling opened Little Island Comics, billed as “the first kids comic book store in North America–maybe even the world,” around the corner from its flagship location. While Sidekicks is a "comic shop within a comic shop," it's surely another clear sign of the growing market for all-ages books. (And the next time someone complains about the lack of comics for kids, just point them to the photos at Time Out Chicago and Patch.com of the Sidekicks shelves.)
"It's growing the medium," Brower told Patch.com. "These are tomorrow's comic readers today, and if they don't get hooked now, they may never. And so many parents like comics for kids because they're reading — and fundamentally, it is reading. ... It helps improve literacy and it makes reading fun."