“I’ve made a lot of changes in the last four years, substantial changes,” said 36-year-old Ryan Liebowitz, who returned to Los Angeles to run Golden Apple Comics after his father, store founder Bill Liebowitz, died suddenly in 2004. Two years later under the younger Liebowitz’s watch, Golden Apple moved its flagship store several blocks away to its current location on Melrose Avenue, diagonally across from another family-owned Hollywood icon, Pinks Hot Dog. Then in April he pared down the business to a single location and sold the 25-year-old satellite store in Northridge to Earth-2 Comics.
At the time of the sale, Liebowitz told the media, “My family wants to focus on our flagship mega-store in Hollywood and grow business to new heights.” As a second-generation general manager of a legendary comics shop, that’s not mere hyperbole. Liebowitz is determined to expand on his father’s legacy at the store, which turns 30 this year, despite teasing from industry friends about “big shoes to fill.” Bill Liebowitz was 6-foot 6 and wore size 13 shoes.
“I felt it would be best if we all focused our efforts on our legendary shop. A lot of folks never knew we had a second shop,” said Liebowitz, who wants Golden Apple to continue to be known as “the comic shop to the stars.” That tagline got an unintended boost earlier this summer when the news media ran photos of Michael Jackson and his children shopping at Golden Apple, where he was a frequent customer. According to Liebowitz’s mother, Sharon Liebowitz, who can be spotted in many of the Jackson photos, it’s not just the celebrities who draw visitors to the store but the fact that so many movies are based on comic books. Among those she cites are new releases like Whiteout, starring Kate Beckinsale, from the 1998 comic by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. “Every day directors or their PAs are in here looking for the next Iron Man or Spiderman,” she noted.
To accommodate those who prefer to do their shopping online, Liebowitz launched a significantly revised Web site late last month. Not only does GoldenAppleComics.com highlight store events, like a movie promotion for Gamer and weekly releases, but it also has more items for sale. To differentiate Golden Apple from other comic shops, which all order from the Diamond catalog, Liebowitz is looking to sell mostly autographed items online.
In-store, he also seeks out unique products, and Golden Apple was the first comic store to sell the Batman/Joker and Superman sneakers. Still, Liebowitz, emphasized, “I want to be sure that when you walk into Golden Apple you walk into a comics store. Ninety percent of the inventory is comics; the other 10% I’m willing to play with. Even with the vinyl designer toy boom, I didn’t jump in with two feet. I kept it relevant to pop culture icons.”
For him, the biggest change in the business has been the rise of graphic novels. “Personally,” Liebowitz confessed, “it’s the only way I read comics anymore. It’s like buying a DVD set of your favorite show.” Another change that has occurred over the past decade is the broadening of publishers’ catalogs, which no longer appeal just to 18 to 35-year-old men. “There’s something for everybody,” Liebowitz said, “and it’s opened the door to a lot of female readers.” On the store’s weekly pull and hold list he’s seeing at least 20% to 30% women, and they’re not just reading Archie and Veronica. “With Oprah and The View talking about comics, that certainly doesn’t hurt,” he added.
If there’s a particular bright spot for Golden Apple besides comic-based films, it could be kids comics, a section that’s also growing for general book trade retailers. Liebowitz is particularly aware of the category because of his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and he said that he’s noticed a lot of other second-generation geeks shopping at the store with their children. Whether that will be enough to push up comics sales at Golden Apple, which have been flat, is not certain. However, Liebowitz’s wife, Kendra Liebowitz, CFO of Golden Apple, is optimistic. “The good news about comics,” she says, “is we get brand new product every week. And I’m hearing a lot more positives right now about people going back to work. Television still has to go on and so do movies.”
As for the store’s 30th celebration, which will take place in late October or early November, that’s still in the planning stages. Given Golden Apple’s history of large-scale events that can draw up to 2,000 people, Liebowitz guarantees that it will be big.