South Side comic store provides geek oasis
By Oscar Gonzalez
Comic books in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s reached legendary heights, including sales of $1 billion in 1993 for Marvel Comics alone. Then, like Superman when in close proximity to Kryptonite, the industry fell to its knees in 1996 when Marvel filed for bankruptcy.
That was also the same year Collector’s Authority opened their doors for comic book fans on the South Side.
Whether it was the collapse of the comic book industry or the collapse of the U.S. economy, Pedro Contero Jr.’s little shop of comics survived catastrophe after catastrophe as if it had a healing factor like Wolverine.
The dream of owning the shop started when two guys realized their two garages filled with comics was enough to start their own store.
“When we opened in ‘96, my brother-in-law, I’m serious, had the foresight to see (the boom) ending,” Contero said. “‘This is the time for us to open. We’ll struggle a little, but we’ll get past it.’ Sure enough, we did.”
It’s easy to miss Collector’s Authority when driving down Military Drive. Located at 1534 S.E. Military Dr., the store stands tucked away behind Sanford’s Flower Shop and Southside Funeral Home. Little do passers-by know, it is the geeky oasis for those living south of downtown.
The shop’s counter is littered with various pop culture momentos like a 12-inch “Godzilla” figure placed next to a dragon from “Game of Thrones.”
Along the walls are bookshelves of graphic novels, which allow former readers to jump back into their favorite series without buying a dozen issues at a time. In the middle of the main room, as well as the adjoining side room, are the trademarks for any comic book shop: Cardboard storage boxes filled with back issues of all the popular series from DC, Marvel, Image and other publishers.
Rare issues are found beneath the glass counter and behind Contero himself to keep the comics safe from thieving hands and greasy fingers. All throughout the store are various memorabilia that decorate the store as if it was a geeky version of Hard Rock Cafe. From the full-sized Captain America shield to the 3-foot Spider-Man figure, any geek can tell that this is the right place for comics.
Contero’s love for comic books started back in middle school when he read his first issue of “Captain America.” His passion for the medium continued to grow over the years, as did his collection that was big enough to fill a garage.
“It helps out, when you yourself as an owner, or an employee, does that (collecting). That helps out your business,” Contero said. “If you’re not into it, it’s not going to help you out.”
Prior to opening his own store, Contero and his brother-in-law worked for another longtime comic book shop in San Antonio: Heroes & Fantasies. They both realized that with their combined collections, all they needed was a place to set up shop.
Armed with an arsenal of comics that rivaled the weapon cache of “The Punisher,” Contero and his brother-in-law had another secret weapon.
When he opened his store, he also sold the insanely popular Beanie Babies. Throughout the years, customers could find Hot Wheels cars, sports collectable trading cards, Magic the Gathering cards, and even Barbie dolls.
Contero provided the customers what they wanted and when the demand dried up, he dumped the product and moved on.
It’s that kind of service that helped developed a loyal customer base.
In a visit to the store on Sept. 25, a customer came in looking for a special edition of “The Punisher” that features San Antonio Spurs player Tim Duncan. Contero informed the customer that the comic is available for pre-order online and will be available on Oct. 25.
Even though Contero will probably be unable to sell the issue because of a partnership between Heroes & Fantasies and Marvel Comics, he didn’t hesitate to help the customer get the comic.
“As an owner … your best bet is to send them to the right place, as best you can,” he said.
On Sept. 25, Contero and his family, who also work at the shop, packed up their merchandise and attended the Alamo City Comic Con. Last year, Contero decided to skip out on the con’s inaugural year, something he now regrets.
“I should have did last year’s (con),” he said. As thousands of con goers attended the event, Contero’s booth was there to greet the geeks of San Antonio and to let them know that he’s there for them.
That customer loyalty doesn’t stay just on the South Side. Not only do customers come from different parts of San Antonio to buy their comics from Collector’s Authority, some customers live on the opposite side of the state.
“I have one (customer) move to Midland, she still gets her box (of comics) here. She sends me a check every eight weeks,” Contero said. Whether living in Texarkana, Hawaii, or even on a cruise ship, his customers stay loyal to him because he stays loyal to his customers.
Ernest Zamora Jr. is one of those loyal customers who has shopped at Collector’s Authority since the late 1990s.
“They (Collector’s Authority) love the South Side,” Zamora said. “That’s what I love about those guys. They’re cool.”
Along with the fierce customer loyalty, the comic book industry is thriving.
“The last few years have been a pop culture explosion,” said Jerry Kimball, owner of San Antonio comic store Alien Worlds. “They (Collector’s Authority) have been on the South Side for a long time and I assume they do pretty well.”
For 18 years, Contero and his family served the South Side, and he has no plans to stop.
“I tell my customers, if I don’t have a certain back issue you need, by all means check the other shops before going online. Some don’t want to. It’s not because of gas, it’s because of loyalty.“