Running a small business for 32 years is quite an accomplishment and local businessman, Randy Sauve, who owns and operates Fantasy Realm, here in Cornwall at 227 Pitt St. (613) 933-7997) has accomplished just that.
He celebrated his 32nd year Anniversary on Saturday, February 4th with an Open House and many, many visitors stopping by.
Randy started writing a “Dear Diary” article on Facebook which is an interesting and unique way to talk about his adventures in the Comic Book world and how he started in business as a young man and with his permission, the Seeker would like to share these writings here.
Dear Diary, part 1…It started with a little wooden box, given to me by my grandfather Harry Grondin who originally made it as a shoe shine box so I could go out and start earning money and become an entrepreneur at the age of 11. Being a shoeshine boy wasn’t what I really envisioned as a life path so I converted the box to hold something I really enjoyed, comic books. I removed the lid, painted the box red and printed the names of all my favourite superheroes on it with an indelible black marker. I carried that box everywhere with me, the neighbours, the park, the campground, and while a couple of other neighbourhood kids and myself really enjoyed reading them, they just didn’t seem to share the same passion I had for collecting.
Dear Diary, part 2…In the early part of the 1970’s we lived upstairs at 252a Sunnyside Avenue, not far from Optimist Park. Every Monday after school I would take my weekly allowance, walk downtown and make stops at all the convenience stores that had a comic book spinner rack. There was a Mac’s Milk at Pitt and Crescent View Dr., Collins was at Pitt and Ninth, Bill’s Smoke Shop at 311 Pitt Street, Carl’s Smoke Shop at 272 Pitt Street, Cornwallis Smoke Shop and City Smoke Shop were both on Second Street. I never took the city bus because the 50 cents to go down and back was equivalent to 2 more comic books. When I would visit my grandparents at 1213 Churchill, I would head over to Blanchard’s Convenience and Stella’s Confectionary on Thirteenth Street, and also East Valley Book Shop at the Eastcourt Mall when we picked up mom after her shift at Yannakis Restaurant.
Dear Diary, part 3...In 1975 at the age of 14, and entering high school at General Vanier, my love for comic books had grown exponentially. I was no longer trading away comic books, but had begun to buy doubles and triples of the same book, one to read and the others to put away. I was a closet nerd and didn’t want anyone at GV to discover that as they certainly wouldn’t think collecting comic books was cool. The only opportunity I had to release my inner geek at GV was in art class. During this time my parents bought their first home at 448 York Street and that brought me a lot closer to downtown. After school, a one block Standard-Freeholder paper route (York-Trinity-Augustus-Third) would bring me to Carl’s Smoke Shop on a daily basis to either pick up copies of the paper that I was short for delivery or to just check out the comic book spinner rack. Eventually, after spending so much time there, I was asked to process the weekly magazine order also giving me first crack at the new comic releases for the week.
Dear Diary, part 4… 1976, and it’s the end of summer vacation, which I spent pretty much just reading comic books and building model kits. My second year of high school is beginning in 2 days and I’m hanging out at the magazine rack at Carl’s Smoke Shop. Katherine, Carl’s wife, is working this night and as I’m browsing through a few magazines, including some in the “adult” section I see Carl come in the store. I quickly put the restricted magazine back on the shelf and head to the cash to pay for a couple of comic books and nod as Carl walks past me. I’m about to pay and Carl calls my name from the back of the store, and he’s standing right at the rack, right by the magazine I just shoved back on the shelf. He waves me over to see him and all I can think of is what kinda trouble I’m in for looking at the adult magazines and then he says to me, “would you be interested in a part time job here? $25.00 a week to do odd jobs on Saturday and after school.” I couldn’t believe it, I remember running home with excitement to tell mom and dad that I had my first job. 1976 was turning out to be the best year EVER, how could 1977 possibly be any better.
Dear Diary, part 5… January 1977, the year for me starts with a major nerdgasm. The Amazing Spider-Man is now a comic strip featured daily in the Toronto Star, Ottawa Journal and Montreal Gazette. Each day I would clip and collect the strip and besides tobacco and lotto tickets, Carl’s Smoke Shop sold a lot of newspapers, and at the end of the business day I would strip all the comic pages from the copies that didn’t sell. Comic book collecting was still my number one passion and every month there were more and more titles being released, but there was something on the horizon that was going to be big, REALLY BIG. In 1977 Starlog Magazine was my internet. This was the second greatest magazine on the shelf for this 16 year old fanboy, it had all the news and photos about the upcoming Science Fiction, Fantasy and Comic Book movies and TV shows. There were a few articles about a new movie called Star Wars that was going to popularize the genre, and based on the amount of merchandise that started to get released, they were right. By the end of summer my bedroom was filling up with the usual comic books, but now I was also collecting Star Wars trading cards, magazines, drinking glasses, posters, model kits, records, action figures, and pretty much anything else that had Star Wars on it. My dad had to build me some heavy duty wooden shelves with sliding doors so I would have easier access for filing items into my collection and also a separate section where I kept the extras to sell. I was sixteen when Star Wars opened at The Port Theatre in May 1977. There was no “Episode IV – A New Hope” tagged onto the opening crawl, It was simply titled Star Wars, and that spring/summer I stood in line a total of eleven times to go see it.
This movie finally presented fanboys a big screen science-fiction/fantasy adventure unlike anything else seen by that generation, in fact it would be directly responsible for an onslaught of genre movies that Hollywood hasn’t stopped producing. “Many a young life will be changed forever by the inspiration that Star Wars engenders, and consequently, so will the world.” – Kerry O’Quinn / Starlog editor-in-chief, 1977.
Dear Diary, part 6… As a teenager in the late 70s working at Carl’s Smoke Shop I loved listening to Downtown Business stories from the merchants when they came in to pick up a pack of cigarettes or soft drinks and just talk shop. Aspiring to one day be a Downtown businessman myself was a topic every so often and in fact I was sort of doing it already as Carl had allowed me to display some of my comics on the back wall and also put a box of used comics on the ice cream cooler. It was great exposure and I was meeting new comic book collectors because of this and the ad I placed on the comic spinner rack. I was still very much a closet geek and I would daydream frequently of owning a comic/hobby shop that offered everything one could possibly want, heck it even had two levels and product departments.
My time working at the smoke shop would come to an end as the opportunity to work as an apprentice carpet installer at Styrotile Sales would keep me busy for a couple of years and then a short stint moving furniture at Gerard’s Warehouse.
During this time I was receiving the new comic book releases in large quantity at wholesale prices from a distributor in Winnipeg known as Styx Comic Service. Once a week I would call in orders and wait for Canada Post to deliver the parcel. I can remember many days coming home after work and asking mom or dad if I received a package, they’d say no and I would head upstairs to my room and the next thing you know my dad is coming up behind me with a huge box of comics. He knew how excited I always was anticipating a new delivery and he just loved to see my expression, I was like a kid on Christmas day every time.
It’s early summer in 1982 and I’ve still been making a daily stop at Carl’s to pick up my newspaper strips and one night Carl asks me if I would be interested in renting the retail space upstairs above the smoke shop for $60.00 a month. I was working fulltime at Gerard’s but at the age of 21 I felt this was the opportunity and dream of a lifetime. I was finally going to be my own boss and begin a career as a self-employed downtown businessman. Mom and dad even paid the first 3 months rent as an official “starting your own business” gift.
Now all this business needed was a name because with all the daydreaming I did, I never envisioned a name. It had to be unique and not just describe one product, the name had to describe and encompass the genre that would be found behind the door. I played around with words like “imaginary”, “escape”, “kingdom” and by researching the definition of those words had come up with FANTASY REALM “Escape into a Whole New World”. It was now time to sell comic books to the entire city of Cornwall, ON.
Dear Diary, part 7…
Although Fantasy Realm’s time at 268 Pitt Street would be brief (June 1982 to August 1983), there were some life lessons learned and experienced. There was so much unused space that we set up a hockey net so we could play shootout, most times is was best to play after 10pm because all the running on the floor sounded like thunder to the people below in Carl’s, we also had a table top hockey game to pass the time too.
There were a couple of break-ins. The first one was mind-boggling but I figured it out and secured the area and then a few weeks later he broke in again, but this time he was caught. Just a fifteen year old, and a customer, and then he became a former customer.
There were many great comic books released during this time, but nothing was bigger than Alpha Flight #1, Canada’s equivalent to the Avengers. I had ordered 600 copies of that title as there were a few customers that wanted multiple copies.
In July 1983 I would get married and a week later Fantasy Realm was set up at it’s first comic con, Maplecon 5 in Ottawa July 15-17. Being there was a fanboys dream come true as this was the first time I got to see and talk to some of the creators that wrote and illustrated the comic books and novels I loved to read. Guests included Paul Smith, Fred Hembeck, C. J. Cherryh, Chris Claremont, Dan Day, Peter David and more.
In the late summer of 1983 I was approached by a fellow comic collector who was offering me a business partnership that would see us set up in the basement of his house. The Fantasy Realm name was pushed to the side, I moved all my inventory into his basement and ran that store from September 1983 to January 1985. The decision to merge the two stores may have been made out of fear of pending competition and after a few months the basement arrangement began to get very claustrophobic. It’s a decision I don’t regret as, like all other obstacles that I’ve faced, I knew there was so much more I could do and I just had to go get it when the time was right.
Many things finally started to fall into place by the spring of 1984. First off I found out I was going to be a father for the first time, then from July 13-15 we were at Maplecon 6 in Ottawa, and then TorontoCon on Sunday July 29th for a one day show. One morning in late October Carl McLaughlin knocked on my apartment door (we lived upstairs at 313 Pitt Street just across the street from the smoke shop). He said “grab your coat and let’s get to work.” He had opened KCK Enterprises on third street and needed help picking up and delivering furniture. I made some adjustments to my schedule so that I could still be at the store, but less frequently. At this point I knew it wouldn’t be much longer before I would be completely gone from what I had started to call “the dungeon.” On most of these pick ups there would be shelving units and display bins that I thought would work perfectly in a retail store. And while all this is going on Melissa Sauve was born on November 8th, and she eventually would become a geek like her dad.
My father-in-law was living upstairs at 229a Pitt Street Apt. 4. The tenant below him at 227 was Advantages, operated by Kevin Wilson. He had a store front in 1984 to sell Cornwall, Ontario Bicentennial souvenir items along with his regular products. His lease was expiring on December 31st and the building owner, Jack McGaughey, was looking for a new tenant. After Jack let me take a look around the store I realized this was the perfect location. I expressed to him how interested I was but that I had no cash upfront for first and last months rent, and Jack says to me “that’s ok, set up your stuff and let’s see what you can do.”
Things had changed so much in the past three years from my time operating Fantasy Realm above Carl’s Smoke Shop, now I’m a first time father with a one month old daughter about to make another incredible life changing decision with so much more at stake. I have a full time job at KCK but I’m still scared of what lie on the road ahead and I’m questioning if I’m making the right decision. Will this work? Will I be able to support and raise a family?
My parents instilled values that made me the person I am and along with my other mentors (Carl and Katherine McLaughlin, George and Joe Assaly and Jack McGaughey) all influenced me for my journey into business. It gave me a great feeling when these business owners welcomed a 23 year old kid with dreams of grandeur to Downtown Cornwall.
And the rest as they say is history…
The Seeker wishes to Congratulate Randy on his 32 Years in Business – Doing what he loves every day! Stop by any time from Tuesday to Saturday at Fantasy Realm, 227 Pitt Street to say hi and give him a well deserved Pat on the Back!
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