Comic Books Thrive in Lakewood’s Art-Filled City
In and around Denver, Mile High Comics has four locations. There are two stores within the Denver city limits, one in the Glendale area and the mega store on Jason Street. Then there are stores in the neighboring cities of Littleton and Lakewood. The store found in the cultural and artistic hub of Lakewood, just five miles west of downtown Denver, is the center of my focus.
Although Lakewood is the fifth largest city in Colorado, it still holds the feeling of a welcoming community with over 7,000 acres of parks and 80 miles of biking and hiking trails. Lakewood holds 147,000 people in approximately 45 square miles. The area is very residential and family-friendly and is very much the typical American city and was even awarded the All-America City Award.
Lakewood holds a lot of culture and art, which is primarily located in the neighborhood of South Alameda. Within half a mile, one can find the Lakewood Cultural Center, the Lakewood Heritage Center, and the Block 7 Galleries, a cluster of around ten art galleries and studios located in Lakewood’s Belmar Shopping District. Just about a mile from these centers is the Washington Heights Arts Center in the North Alameda neighborhood. Art is clearly very important to and much appreciated by the people of Lakewood. The Block 7 Galleries host monthly art walks in which locals and tourist alike take in the art of the area.
Lakewood boasts cultural diversity as well. The city won the first ever All-America City Diversity award in 2011 for its inclusivity. People from all walks of life are welcome in Lakewood. The city also hosts an annual Festival Italiano at Belmar. Here, festival goers can watch Italian flag throwers while eating Italian cuisine.
Belmar is not only a hub of art and culture, it is also Lakewood’s large shopping district. It encompasses 22 square city blocks and houses 76 shops of all types, from small boutiques to large chain stores. It also offers a variety of restaurants from Thai to Mexican to Italian. In the center of Belmar is a plaza that hosts concerts, festivals, and in the winter becomes an ice-skating rink. Belmar is a social and cultural center that plays a large part in life in Lakewood.
It is no surprise that a city so immersed in art and culture would be home to a branch of America’s Largest and Friendliest Comics Retailer. Lakewood flaunts its number of small businesses, 87% of which have fewer than 20 employees, so it makes sense such a store would be found here. Located in the Fairfield Commons strip mall in North Alameda just half a mile from the Belmar Shopping District, Mile High Comics has held the same manager since 1993. The store is in a quieter sector of Lakewood, but not too far from the excitement of the downtown area. Other businesses that call the same strip mall home include TJ Maxx, Planet Fitness, Starbucks, a gift shop, and various financial businesses, among others.
Why choose the strip mall instead of the large shopping district just half a mile south? For one, Belmar is relatively new – newer than the comic book store, but that wouldn’t stop Mile High Comics from relocating there. Well, the answer may lie in Tim Cresswell’s definition what a “place” is. According to Cresswell, “place” is a “meaningful location” (7). He also asserts that place is “a way of seeing, knowing, and understanding the world” (Cresswell 11). Strip malls are places associated with American suburbia, something to which many can relate. Being in a strip mall instead of Belmar allows Mile High Comics to retain the feeling of a “friendly neighborhood comics shop” that the shop’s website boasts having.
However, usually when you think about a comic book store, a strip mall is not the image that comes to mind. Personally, I think of strip malls as having the same old chain stores with little to no personal touches, and those types of stores can be found in the same strip as Mile High Comics. The choice of locating in a strip mall is one of business. The store is first and foremost a business, and a strip mall tends to be better for business. This goes along with Laura J. Miller’s arguments in Reluctant Capitalists. In this book she discusses the standardization of bookstores to help facilitate business. What could be more standard than the typical strip mall?
The Lakewood branch of Mile High Comics is surrounded by arts and culture, which is an ideal place for such a store to exist. If the area was not so immersed into culture, Mile High Comics may not have been able to thrive and stay in business in that location for as long as it has.
Cresswell, Tim. Place: a short introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.
Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.