Bob Katzman calls his store a magazine museum, but everything is for sale. The 63-year-old has been in the print business for almost a half century.He started a newsstand as a South Side kid trying to make ends meet so he could keep attending The University of Chicago Lab School.
He moved his business to the Northern suburb of Skokie a few years ago. Bob's Magazine Museum is one of 22 new businesses opened since the suburb's downtown revitalization project started, according to the local chamber of commerce. There’s a new Yellow Line CTA station just down the road and the Village is funneling TIF money and other aid into this area.Katzman's store is not a typical retail experience. But it is an experience. And it's is one of two businesses on Oakton Street in downtown offering a glimpse into the past -- and possibly the future -- of print publishing.
Two claustrophobic columns of shelves holding more than 100,000 magazines shotgun back from the big front windows at that proclaim Katzman's store as "Where Print Still Lives!"
"I wish I was valued more," Katzman said. "Because what’s the good of knowing this if people have an indifference. What do you have? You have 100,000 magazines. So what would I want? I’d want Chicago to realize they’ve got something remarkable."His oldest publication is from the 1500s - an English publication railing against the Catholics. It hangs high on the wall next to the front page of a newspaper from the day Marilyn Monroe died.
Katzman worries that as the Internet gobbles up the world of print, it's more than just the glossy covers and smell of paper we'll miss.
“I think that the present generation - which includes my children so obviously I adore them - is going to have an awareness of things that’s a mile wide and an inch deep," he said. "So they’ll know who Davy Crockett is but they won’t know all the other material. And you could say ‘so what’, right? But to me all of that’s important. There’s a lack of comprehension, a lack of depth and you end up with superficiality.”
Co-owner Marc Hammond says technology and social media are transforming the comic book industry.
Aw Yeah Comics will celebrate its one-year anniversary in April. It's a collaboration between Marc Hammond, who runs the store, and comic artists Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani.
"There are a ton of really amazing [comic] shops in Chicago," Hammond said. "We didn’t want to be one of many stores in Chicago. We’d rather be the store in Skokie."
Baltazar created a couple of characters - Action Cat and Adventure Bug - to be the store's mascots. They liked the characters enough to keep drawing. But would their customers want to hear about these super friends?
They took the question to the crowd-source funding platform Kickstarter. Their pitch: donate a few bucks and we'll be able to print the duo's adventures in comic book form. They set an initial goal of $15,000. The campaign closed last week after banking $47,483.
Hammond says digital tools like this democratize the publishing process.
A few dollars each from a lot of fans up front added up to enough to cover the cost of printing 12 issues.
Hammond said the comic shop and magazine museum refer customers to each other often, since their stock doesn't overlap. And they're both optimistic that downtown Skokie can add more traffic without losing its charm.
Katzman is no slouch when it comes to the digital world. He has a website and a Facebook page. He publishes his poetry online.
But some days, no one comes into the store.
"I wish I was valued more," he said. "Because what’s the good of knowing this if people have an indifference. What do you have? You have 100,000 magazines. So what would I want? I’d want Chicago to realize they’ve got something remarkable."
He has no plans to retire and his children aren't likely take on the family business.
Katzman hopes someone make his dream come true and turn the magazine collection into a real museum. He'd like to stick around as curator. Sounds like the start of a Kickstarter pitch.