Tate’s Comics Brings Together Toy, Comic and Art Fans Under One Roof
Before toys were “vintage” and graphic novels simply meant books my mother wouldn’t let me read, I was an avid comic book collector. I saved my dollars for weekly raids at my favorite haunts, now-defunct neighborhood joints like Comics Bazaar and Tropic Comics. Walking through the front door of Tate’s Comics, I flashed back on those endless Saturdays where the stacks awaited and money burned a whole in my pocket. Talk to Tate Ottati, the store’s 29-year-old owner and namesake, and he’ll reminisce right along with you. Until he points out the newest shipment he’s received from Neca or the new line of Transformers “that you can only find in Japan”; once he does that you’re blissfully lost to the store’s promise of great finds and better deals. On both counts, Tate’s delivers.
Housed in an unassuming strip mall, Tate’s is Xanadu for South Florida’s comics, toys and anime crowd. Staffed by Tate’s extended family (his father Tony is a fixture here, as is his longtime girlfriend, Amanda, whom he met when she was a customer) the store has given birth to a small army of loyal fans. “It’s all about giving the customer value,” Ottati says of the store’s success, no slight achievement in a town where comic book shops have gone the way of the dodo. “The shops had to evolve in order to stay in business.” In fact, when Ottati opened his first location in 1993, the store was stocked with a treasure trove of comics from his personal collection and offbeat toys the soft-spoken entrepreneur simply “thought were cool.” Those cool additions included vinyl and resin models that had not yet caught on in the mainstream but soon would. “Most stores were afraid to change from what they knew,” Ottati adds. “I never had a formula. I just sold stuff I liked and the times changed with me.” Though comic books and graphic novels take up the third of the store’s 4000-square-feet, toys amount to more than one quarter of his annual sales, a percentage Ottati can’t ignore when it
comes to stock.
And when it comes to stock, Ottati deftly balances the demand for classic, vintage toys with the newest cutting edge offerings for trend-seeking collectors, though he’s quick to point out his refusal to inflate prices on a toy line just because it’s the toy of the moment. “It’s wrong to charge ridiculous prices for something when you know it’s far more than the toy’s worth,” he says. Worth is a fluid concept in Tate’s mind, but one easily found on its shelves. A central, glass case houses the newest in Japanese playthings alongside a mint condition original Alien action figure and resin models from the sci-fi trilogy. Ugly Doll fans will walk away pleased, as will McFarlane Toy aficionados and those seeking the newest release from Sideshow Toys, a line which Ottati is an avid fan. The back wall of the store offers, perhaps, the most tempting display.
There collectors can find row upon row of vintage Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures, a number of which are in their original packaging and fetch a hefty sum. Hence, the locked glass. Also behind glass is Ottati’s personal collection of movie memorabilia, which he sheepishly admits he’d find hard to part with. Fabulous finds include an original Chucky doll, a busted helmet from Starship Troopers, a continuity shot from Pulp Fiction and a severed alien’s hand from the cantina scene in Star Wars.
Always mindful of changing trends, Ottati expanded his empire in October 2003 with Tate’s Gaming Satellite, a separate space next door offering the newest computer games, systems and accessories. “I opened it to satisfy my customers,” he says. “A lot of my regulars would tell me that they buy all their stuff (comics and toys) here, but hated to go elsewhere to buy their games.” It’s those regulars, Ottati, admits that have made him so successful and helped make his annual anniversary sale such an event.
For the bash, Ottati turns the parking lot into a pop culture tent revival, complete with local artists, giveaways, live bands and, of course, tons of toys and comics. “People line up hours before we open,” Ottati says. “It gets bigger every year.” Speaking of bigger, Ottati is working on moving the store and the Satellite to a 7000-square-foot space in the same plaza sometime this year. If he succeeds, he’ll have extra room for stock and a 200-square-foot loft he plans on converting into an art gallery for the burgeoning lowbrow art movement. “I want to help unify the local toy and art community,” he says. With his unabashed enthusiasm and eye toward trends, success seems evident.
Tate’s is located at 4566 North University Drive in Lauderhill, Florida. Telephone: (954) 748-0181. www.tatescomics.com.
By: Lawrence Carrino
Publication: City Link