Secret Lair

The comics that line the walls of the back room are usually rare titles, making them more expensive than your average book. 

Dreams are fickle. They’re always just out of reach, seemingly unattainable. Responsibilities given during and after college often force a loss of sight of  one’s personal magnum opus, our masterpiece. This is an illusion. Dreams are there to be taken — the only thing that gets in the way is the courage to begin, to forge a new path rather than following the beaten one. Running a small business like The Secret Lair sets an example of this attempt.           

The Secret Lair comic book shop, residing on the corner of University Boulevard and Reservoir Street, is the center for keeping tabs with the newest releases of comic books and graphic novels. Stephen Lotts, a JMU alumnus (‘06) is a supporter of having a place in your town to purchase comics. With this passion in mind, he decided to open up a comic book store while teaching eighth grade physical science at a middle school in Staunton, Virginia.  

“I always wanted to run a comic shop,” Lotts said. “When I moved back from Washington D.C., and the old comic book shop that was here closed down. I wanted to try and run one.”

Comic books have been with Lotts since he was a kid, where most of his imagination was made, not bought.

“I had a couple of cousins who always had comics and heavy metal magazines,” Lotts said. That was adventure for me. I grew up a pretty poor kid, so we made all of our toys out of cardboard and sticks. Comics were super cheap...it was a really great source of entertainment for me.”  

The comic book industry is a tough marketplace, according to Lotts. It provides a unique product accompanied with a very niche audience. To Lotts, however, running The Secret Lair is more than just a business — it’s his passion.

“Last year was apparently terrible for comic shops,” Lotts said. “ Marvel in particular was really struggling to make comics that people really like. For our shop, we break even. Everyone that works here puts their time in. It’s our hobby, and everyone that is involved works to keep the shop open. It is a labor of love for everyone that loves comics.”

Having the store available to lovers of superheroes is their main priority, not making a large profit. Unlike larger bookstores, The Secret Lair employees prides themselves on being on a name-to-name basis with their customers.

“We make sure everyone gets the books that they like,” Lotts said. “You really have to have a customer base that you can rely on. If Barnes & Noble gets too many books, they can send them back. If we get too many books, then we have too many books and now that’s my problem.”

The collection of books is constantly evolving with the tastes of its loyal consumers. With regulars like Roy Hattinger, who give the store recommendations on what comic series are good while steering clear on failing series.

“This is like a really close knit family,” said Hattinger. “Being around people who are like me has changed my life for the better. At first I barely knew Steve, now he gives us the space to hang out and relax.”

JMU students are also vigorously involved with the store. Rebecca Evans, a senior writing, rhetoric and technical communications major, ran The Secret Lair’s Facebook site for a school project.

“They are a bunch of great people,” Evans said. “I’ve never seen a group of people so involved and passionate. If you are looking for a book, they will not let you down.”

The Secret Lair is a snapshot of success, a dream that was caught. Soon they will be celebrating four years of being in business and planning on having many more. Start chasing, dreams are easier to fulfill once you do.

Contact Jonah Howells at howel2jm@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.

Jonah Howells is an avid dog petter and pop culture fanatic. He's the watcher on the walls and knows the names of all things. Jonah writes poems in his free time and hopes to one day finish the novel he has spent four years writing.