Comic fandoms of all genres have a home in Pop Cultured at Mill No. 5. Renee Mallett owns the shop with her husband Mike Misiewicz and together they welcome anyone and everyone to explore and join their community of fans and gamers, which will now be easier with a recent expansion of the shop.
Renee says when new customers come into Pop Cultured, they are a little bit surprised at what they have to offer. Typical comic stores are dark little hole in the wall places that don’t feel bright, open and welcoming like Pop Cultured. She adds that the Mill No. 5 atmosphere adds to that feeling of being very inclusive. Even as a customer, before they opened their shop she felt that the mill had a very welcoming energy. And that feeling of inclusivity is mirrored by the customers who venture into the space. Their customers are those who don’t feel comfortable in a typical comic shop because they don’t fit the stereotype of what – in the comic world – are called “fanboys.” They are women, they are gender fluid, they are LGBTQ and they are families.
Renee adds that there is a lot of elitism in the geek word. There are many people who feel that if you don’t know the story arc of every character going back generations, you are not a real fan. For Renee and Mike, a real fan is anybody who loves a character or story genre. “If the first time you saw Xmen was an Xmen movie and you loved it, then you are a fan to us.” Renee says. Growing up reading comics and knowing all of the secondary characters that aren’t in the movies is not a prequalification. They are happy to welcome all fans.
Welcoming all fans is easier when there is a variety of items being offered. Mike and Renee’s five kids all have different interests, and those interests can be found within the shop. As the shop has grown over the almost 3 years it has been open, each child has been given seed money to order products within their niche to sell in the shop, and they are all given a commission on those sales. For example, Renee and Mike are not familiar with Anime, but one of their kids is, so when they wanted to bring it into the store, they ordered items based on what their friends were reading and talking about.
Renee notes that traditional school lacks the ability to teach kids how to be a boss, how to start a business and how to run a business. She thinks it is a big bonus that her kids have been able to see Pop Cultured come to life as a brick and mortar. They can see how hard it is and how rewarding it can be.
Renee is a writer and began writing comics for her illustrator friends. As she was attending conventions to promote their books, she realized that her books were selling as well. As a family they began attending various conventions and Pop Cultured became their family business at Comic Cons. They never started the business with the idea of growing into a physical location, they just started it because they loved doing events and interacting with people. While visiting Mill No. 5 as customers they realized that it would be a great place to have a pop-up shop as they had the products and knew of the need in the area. After having a conversation with owner Jim Lichoulas the idea of opening a shop happened organically.
Last month Pop Cultured expanded its footprint. With this change the shop has now doubled in size and most of that newfound space will be used as dedicated gaming space for fans to come together to play Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering and a newer game Warhammer. “Gaming has always been a big thing for us and sort of having a permanent space for people to come together felt even more important to us as the pandemic winds down.” All of the different fandoms are communities and having a place for those communities to gather has always been high on their priority list.
Also, in this new space they are dedicating more room for hobby items such as models, specialty markers and paint. Renee feels that a lot of the customers at the mill don’t just want to be sold something, but they want to create something that has their own personality to it. That is part of the creative spirit of Mill No. 5.