On a trip to Portland I stopped by Floating World Comics – the city’s premiere comic book store. Whether you’re a fan, collector or someone searching for a little inspiration, you have to stop by and check them out. And, while I’m sure “Comic Book Store” is a badge they wear with pride, when I visited I got a sense the shop represents way more. On this day I watched people queue up outside and wait patiently for the store owner, Jason Leivian to open up. Luckily, I snuck in early to watch Jason’s pre-open routine. He’s a hurricane of energy and knows exactly what he’s doing. After everything was arranged he spared a moment to discuss with me how it all started and what makes Floating World special.
Jason Leivian: I worked at a comic bookstore in town when I first moved here 10 years ago and before that I worked at a comic bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona. I guess you could say it was a dream job because I was surrounded by the things I loved. I’ve been reading them ever since I was a kid and I always wanted to be a writer. So, I wanted to be close to the comic scene and then three years ago, one night, I had a brainstorm about starting a store.
The motivation came from being a customer. I had a subscription box and I was disappointed with the regular shopping experience I was having. I would look around for new things – I wanted to give the store more money – but they didn’t have anything I wanted. Especially because I’m more into independent stuff.
At that moment I realized I knew what a good comic bookstore would be and there wasn’t one in Portland. So that was it. I was in bed, asleep and I started writing ideas in my notebook which became the start of my business plan.
One of the hardest parts was finding an address – finding a location. You start doing all this research, going to all the business association websites and a lot of the forms require an address. So it’s hard to get started.
In looking for a location I had to consider the rent, and in the early stages I considered combining the store with coffee. I did a lot of math and number crunching so that I could establish a pretend year on paper. I thought man, “Can I sell enough comics to make it?” It looks tough. And then when I added my personal expenses to that too… It didn’t look like it was possible. That’s what made me think I had to add coffee to the plan.
But, with a little more research, I realized starting a coffee shop would be like starting two businesses at once. Plus I didn’t want to do coffee. So I paired it down and focused on the comics.
Eventually I found a space for the store. It was in the Active Spaces building. They have a couple locations in Seattle, San Francisco, Portland and some other areas. They renovate big warehouse buildings about 4 stories or so and they’ll have these little studio spaces in them. They’re really cheap – somewhere between $100 – $300 dollars and its month to month. So I decided to go with them. They were like my business training wheels.
Once I figured out my initial risk – lets say you have a store and it totally fails and you lose all of your money – it was about $30,000. So that’s not too bad. It’s not like a million dollars or something.
I took this idea to my parents and explained my plan. I knew I needed their support. So I said to them – let’s look at it this way. $30,000 is about what you would spend for a year of college and they were always encouraging me to go back to school which I had no interest in doing. I told them, “Here is something that I am interested in doing and this is what I’m going to do.”
Shortly after our conversations I acquired a line of credit, which I got from the bank and I also used credit cards that had 0% APR. Luckily, I had really good credit when I started because I had a job. That was key because when I went into the bank to apply for all of these loans – I was still employed. I opened like 10 credit cards in the beginning with 0%.
The first store was really small. It was 10 × 14 or something. I wanted to focus on two things. One was a subscription service box for customers. My orders were really small in the beginning – basically one of everything and now our bestsellers are between 50 – 100 of them. The other thing I wanted to focus on was having a good selection of new stuff coming out every week with a backstock made up of paper backs and essential high quality graphic novels. It would be a lot of the Vertigo stuff and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Then for Marvel and DC, I pick a few really great writers and I get a good selection of what they have. That’s one half of it, catering to the mainstream comic book readers, and then the other half is the independent selection. I order all the good independent stuff – publishers like Picture Box and others. We do art shows with the local artists and big names. We do zines, consignment and I never turn down anything.
We have a lot of great publishers in town and I think the store represents them well. They’re my favorite publishers too. For instance, Darkhorse is one of the reasons Portland’s a huge comic town. I didn’t necessarily know that either, but it’s something I discovered over time and I would definitely consider it the West Coast capital for comics. A lot of that is because Darkhourse has been here for 20 years or more. And with that more creators, writers and artists keep moving in.
Location | 20 NW 5th Ave, Portland, OR 97209