Rod Dyke has owned Golden Age Collectables, frequently billed as the oldest comic book store in the world, since 1971. This year, for the first time, he thought about quitting.
Thankfully Colleen Dyke, who runs the store alongside her husband, harbored the optimism to keep them going: “I’m the Pollyanna,” she says, “[he’s] the pragmatist.” But those early days in March, amid full-on stay-home orders, were tough no matter how full your glass looks.
Golden Age and other “nonessential” businesses couldn’t provide curbside pickup until May, and the store was “hemorrhaging cash.” They continued shipping the rare stuff to regular customers between turns bathing in their inventory of novelty hand sanitizer—that was when we worried coronavirus could be easily contracted through the mail, each cardboard box “radioactive” (without the comic book promise of Human Torch–like abilities).
In a frenzied relay race down memory lane, Rod and Colleen reveal a 50-year history of bit-part villains hellbent on destroying the shop: daring burglars, clouds of construction dust. But even after a fire consumed a good chunk of inventory on New Year’s Day, 1989, staff had them back up and running within 24 hours.
“The difference with the fire was that was something we could do something about,” Colleen says. This time, it was purely a waiting game. And no one had any idea how long it would last.
When Kaitlin Uemura told her dad the sales numbers that Sairen, her boutique in the International District, had pulled in its first month, “He was shocked… He was proud.” Perhaps most of all because Sairen was launched in December 2020.
Uemura had previously worked at Momo, a beloved Japantown boutique that closed at the end of September—in part a victim of pandemic shutdowns and civil unrest, in part a happy retirement for owners Lei Ann Shiramizu and Tom Kleifgen. “They kind of nudged me saying that, if I wanted to consider taking over the space, that might be a possibility,” she says. “We just had dinner and were joking over sake, right?”
Soon enough, though, Uemura and her business partner, Kaitlin Madriaga (kind of confusing, Kaitlin Uemura admits), were in the little boutique on Jackson Street prepping Sairen for its December 4 opening date, dealing with all the issues typical of a brand-new shop: permit struggles, a lack of staff, their fair share of doubts.
“We just looked at the jobs we could have versus creating our own store, and the risk was worth it,” Uemura says. “Even if we had to struggle a little bit, we wanted to pursue this.”
The Kaitlins stocked Sairen with clothing and art by small-scale designers, specifically highlighting Asian Americans and other people of color. Their plans to open before the holiday rush had paid off: most of their appointments were booked.
It was “a roller coaster of a start,” though: On election night, someone broke the shop’s front windows. Nothing was stolen, and no one was hurt—though the Kaitlins, who were in the building, were shaken. But a heartbreaking moment quickly turned heartwarming: A community watch group was first on the scene, then people from neighboring businesses stopped in to make sure all was well.
“Everybody [in Japantown] knows everyone by name and you know their family. Everyone is so connected here,” Uemura says. “It's a small world, it feels like, in this part of town.”
When I ask how Rod and Colleen Dyke were able to get back on their feet, ultimately reopening for business seven days a week without taking advantage of fundraisers or loans, they begin a deluge of thanks for the people around them. Staff, of course, receive the first hat tip. Some have been working at Golden Age Collectables for decades—“most of their adult life,” Colleen remarks. “It's our responsibility to try to make this work for them.”
Nine months after closing its doors, Rod says Golden Age Collectables has its “head above water.” Plunge into the depths of Pike Place Market on a weekend and you’ll likely see a queue of masked Seattleites waiting for their turn to explore the shelves of action figures, board games, and comic books, lovingly collected by Rod and Colleen.
This year, customers joined in on the labor of love that is keeping a small business afloat: Colleen and Rod feel a special gratitude toward those willing to wait in a socially distanced line and buy an extra Funko Pop or two in the name of supporting the type of local shop that makes a city feel like a community.
“The most important answer to that question is the customer,” Colleen says.
Rod agrees. “They don’t want to see us go.”