Columbus, Ohio USA
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Maotef Comics and Gifts Calls It Quits
By Margaret Marten
January/February 2017Issue

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Todd Fry

Doing business for nine years in the Short North has been quite a learning experience for Todd Fry, owner of Maotef Comics and Gifts. The shop, which opened a few doors down from Surly Girl Saloon in 2009 before moving to the corner of High Street and W. Starr Avenue in 2011, closed at the end of December.

When Fry and Marc Offenburger (the previous co-owner) first opened the shop, it was stocked with an assortment of rainbow-themed merchandise geared to attract the gay consumer. Fry, 40, said he learned the ropes of retailing while volunteering as a teenager at a gay pride store in his hometown of Pittsburgh. The experience taught him almost everything he needed to know about running a business. “It was a lot of fun,” said Fry, who also worked parties for the owner, “so my store kind of resembled his.” Fry finally realized his dream of opening a shop a dozen years later in the Short North with the help of Offenburger – who was working sci-fi conventions at the time. (The name “Maotef” is an acronym of the owners’ names.)

Retail has to re-invent itself sometimes in order to survive, and after a few years in business, Maotef’s inventory evolved into a wider range of general gifts and, eventually, comics to draw customers. “You have to be able to compete with the surrounding businesses to be able to stay in the Short North,” said Fry. “When we opened years ago, it was real slow for that – comic book stuff – that’s why we never went with that, but it’s been doing very well (in recent years)” – partly due to the popularity of comic book-related movies. The comic angle worked so well as to attract another retailer into the store. Gotcha Gachapon, a business dedicated to Japanese animation, arcade games and comics, opened a pop-up in the back of Maotef in 2014 for a yearbefore finding a larger space.

So why did Maotef close? A sense of community and belonging are important to Fry. He points out that the annual Pride Festival, which is a big money-maker, is leaving the neighborhood and that change would impact his business. “It’s just the way that the neighborhood is changing,” he explained. “That’s why we’re leaving.” Getting priced out by chain stores is a constant concern if a satisfactory lease agreement is not a viable option. “All the big changes coming down here,” he added. “And the landlords, they want more and more money, and they’ll get it with these chains, so they’re kind of pushing all of us out.”

The good news is that Fry and his fiancé Stephen Gouge will be attending the Gallery Hop for the first time in almost ten years. Being in the shop to greet customers during the Hop always took precedence over stepping out into the crowd, but it was worth it. “I got to meet a lot of nice people and had a lot of fun doing it,” said Fry about his nine years in business. “I’m really going to miss everyone.”

The future holds some surprises for Fry who said he is still weighing his options. After scouting around for the past few months, he ruled out relocating the store. As a property owner, he might focus on more rentals and real estate, he said. For now, the couple plans a trip to Las Vegas, so it looks like basking in his newfound freedom before stepping back into the reins of responsibility is Fry’s best bet.

© 2017 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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