Comic, game store plans 25th anniversary celebration
FARGO - For Richard Early, success isn't just measured in comics, cards and games sold.
It's being part of the community of "brilliant nerds" who've entered Paradox Comics-N-Cards - and by extension, into his life - that have made running the downtown mainstay worth it.
Early, the owner of Paradox, is preparing to host the store's 25th anniversary celebration Oct. 3-7.
He's planning a food drive, gaming, and what he hopes will be a massive group photo of 25 years worth of customers, friends and current and former staff outside the store on Sunday the 7th.
"Fargo-Moorhead is loaded with brilliant nerds ... I really think we are a special community," Early said Thursday, Sept. 13. "The shop is here for people to change their own lives."
If you ask some regulars, that goal has been reached.
Christian Duval, sporting a beard that would rival a Lord of the Rings wizard, has been going to Paradox since 2003.
"I fell in love with the place and the staff," Duval said as he readied to lead a group on a Dungeons and Dragons adventure Wednesday, Sept. 12.
"I really dig it," Duval said. "Very cool atmosphere."
"Paradox is the center of where my interests lie. I need people of like interests," gamer Bill Hein said. "Part of coming down here is to get some release from the week. You don't hurt anybody. You roll some dice and you go through some amazing adventures without leaving your chair."
"I've been playing games for about 10 years," added Ben "Tigger" Ochs. "We have a large circle of friends. ... It just started building and we gather here."
Comics as a way of life
Early had vision problems starting as a young child. Despite several operations, he is legally blind.
He uses electronic magnifiers, including iPads, to read.
"I like to introduce myself as America's only blind comic shop owner," he said. "Blindness is just a characteristic of who I am."
Comics were a refuge for him, he said.
Success at selling comics at conventions, and realizing college was not his passion, led him to drop out of Minnesota State University Moorhead at age 23.
He partnered with a card-seller and they opened for business in a bedroom-sized basement store on Roberts Street that they rented for $100 a month.
After a brief stint in another space, they moved into the current Paradox location 26 Roberts St. N., opening on June 14, 1993.
For inventory, they bought the stock of another shop owner going out of business for $25,000. A friend lent them $5,000 for the down payment.
Early has been there since.
"I was a young, dumb kid. I loved the feel of comics," he said. "I had no idea what I was doing."
He's learned a lot since, particularly about adapting and perseverance.
Comics were hot when he started, Paradox was the place devotees came to buy the latest from DC and Marvel. Six stores in town sold comics.
"There are two of us now," he said.
Paradox later became the main store for games.
"Now there are at least six big game stores" in the metro area, not counting big box stores like Target, Walmart or Barnes and Noble, he said.
"The fact that there are more game shops means I've been in the right business for a long time," he said.
The explosion of science fiction, fantasy and comic book-related television series, movies and books hasn't hurt business, he said.
"Last year, 5,000-plus board games were made" by a variety of firms and individuals. "It's just crazy," Early said.
Building a community
It was running the shop that taught him about community.
"I didn't realize what this shop was" at first, Early said. "In the '90s, I had kids in here until 9" at night playing Magic the Gathering and other games and they had to be herded out the door.
"We built a community. We were doing that before it was cool," he said. "Our message is, 'It's OK for you to be you. This is your safe place.'"
Now, the kids who used to spend nights and weekends playing games and buying comics at Paradox are inviting him to their weddings.
"The idea that I impacted their lives, or Paradox did, is great," Early said.
Gaming is also used for fundraising, Early said. Fees paid by gamers have been donated to charities such as the Ronald McDonald House, the Children's Miracle Network (which received $35,000 in 2017), and local dog rescues.
Early said the anniversary celebration is a way of sharing his joy with the people who made him part of their lives.
"I've been lucky to be part of a great community. There's nothing that's happened in 25 years that I haven't been a part of," he said. "At the end of the day, for me, it's been a life."