Monday, December 05, 2011

Outer Limits, Moody Street: A 20th-century shop thrives in the digital age

Comic book stores are one of those 20th century retail holdouts that will continue to hold on to their tight little niche. I realized this as I was browsing the aisles of Outer Limits, located on the bustling old-school shopping district along Moody Street in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Economists and e-commerce experts may be skeptical. How is it possible, they might ask, that a store that specializes in analog media and obscure toys, carries tens of thousands of dollars worth of inventory, and is generally regarded as a lifestyle business has any hope in the plugged-in, digital age?

My answer: It's not just that Outer Limits has an amazing collection of sci-fi toys, pop-culture memorabilia, Mad books, Dungeons & Dragons manuals, 45 RPM records, and (of course) several thousand comic books.

It's also because the collection is browsable and tactile in a way that eBay and Amazon are not.

It's because Outer Limits leverages these online channels to support customers outside of eastern Massachusetts -- and does so with near-perfect customer satisfaction rates.

It's because the owner, Steve, can answer questions about practically any obscure comic book author/artist, and has samples or collections of many of them.

It's because the store has a wide range of customers, mostly males from about age 5 to 50, but some women, and many foreign visitors.

And it's because customers can find things that they probably wouldn't even know to look for on most e-commerce sites. To wit:

Angry Birds stuffed toy? Check!

Darth Vader bobblehead? Check!

Model Clone Wars troop carrier? Check!

Newly published collection of Spy vs. Spy escapades? Check!

Die-cast Aston-Martin car from an old 007 movie? Check!

Collections of seemingly every well-known American comic book character, from Archie to the X-Men? Check!

Complete Neal Adams collection, from the 1960s to the 1990s? Check!

Large plastic Godzilla action figure? Check!

Large plastic Mecha-Godzilla action figure? Check!

I am not the only fan. I was in the shop recently and it was packed with kids, teens, and adults. Everyone was finding something that interested them. And as long as there is a supply of unique items that tug at people's sense of nostalgia, pop culture, and fun, Outer Limits will continue to hold on to its special niche.

The shop is located on 437 Moody Street in Waltham, Massachusetts (two doors down from the popular Patel Brothers Indian supermarket).

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