Anime enthusiasts rejoice: Last month Essex welcomed Black Knight Comics, an anime-themed retail shop on Kellogg Road.
Essex Town resident and shop owner Valerie Tatro started planning the business in high school and sold comics and memorabilia online for 14 years, but this is her first time behind a counter since leaving a Vergennes storefront in 2004.
The business is a family affair with Tatro at the helm plus her husband, Laban, and daughter, Allura, on deck to help.
“We’ve always been motivated to reopen a storefront. Affordability has been what was holding us back,” she said. “This opened up and … it was a perfect fit for what we’ve been looking for.”
Black Knight is Tatro’s passion, allowing her to work around a genre she’s loved since shows like “Robotech” and “Voltron” caught her eye as a child. Anime’s appeal comes from its mature themes and creativity, she said: “It’s a neat exposure to a different culture.”
There are relatively few anime stores in New England, according to Tatro, which made opening the store a no-brainer. Though there are many hobby shops that cater to fans of the genre, Black Knight is the state’s only store dedicated to it.
“We have a little bit of everything as far as anime goes, and we try to have a good selection of gaming on the side,” she said.
Figurines top tables, and video games, DVDs and Blu-ray videos fill a glass-topped counter. Cards, board games and assorted memorabilia dominate the walls; there’s even an area dedicated to Japanese foodware.
The shop currently has limited hours, but the Tatros will expand operations as the store’s Facebook page and word of mouth increase their clientele.
Black Knight will soon offer a range of event programming. Currently, they hold Weiss Schwarz card game events each Saturday at 2 p.m.
“That was also a big motivator to get a store,” Tatro said. “Because you can’t [host events] in your basement.”
Events are a large draw for anime and comic enthusiasts alike. Tatro met her husband when he came to a Burlington-based comic convention and bought games from Tatro’s booth.
“[She] made the mistake of marrying one of [her] best customers,” Laban Tatro joked.
A Dungeons and Dragons player since age 5, Laban Tatro specializes in games. He enjoys their social element, with many requiring a minimum of two players, and appreciates their intellectual component. Many of the cards and board games sold at Black Knight require more thinking and strategy than traditional games like Monopoly.
Besides the shop, the Tatros peddle their wares at conventions across the U.S. that cater to their niche market. The gatherings are an opportunity to sell goods and restock with distributors, Tatro said.
The Tatros even founded Vermont’s anime convention, Bakuretsu Con, which is held in Colchester each October and is now in its 17th year. The Tatros hope events like this and collaboration with area clubs will bring more anime and gaming opportunities to Chittenden County and more customers to their store.
“It’s very much a work in progress,” Laban Tatro said as he looked around the shop. His wife smiled at the well-stocked shelves and nearly blank events calendar that were brimming with possibility.