Dark Side Comic Shop Provides Community Space for Geek Culture | Arts and entertainment
Rose Hedberg faced a common problem when she moved to Florida a few years ago: She didn’t know many people.
Her days were quieter than she would have liked. Hedberg would go to work at the Bradenton Police Department, return home, and do it again the next day. He paid the bills, but it wasn’t much fun.
But things have changed since she started playing Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy tabletop role-playing game, at The Dark Side comic book store in Sarasota. Now his life has become something more fantastic.
Sometimes she plays the role of Lady Selene of House Viermeier, a paladin. Other times, she’s Sarissa the Witch or Greenglass the Bard. One of her most personal roles is Aveline Winthrop, the warlock librarian, who recalls her time as a librarian in Chicago.
It’s just a game, of course. But it’s an experience she shared with her group of dark side friends – called the heroes of Undermountain – almost every week for two years. And that made all the difference.
“A lot of people here, including me, have been the rest,” Hedberg says. “You are drawn to this because it is such a welcoming community. We’ve all been on the outside of things. People here are not going to laugh at you for anything.
The Dark Side has served as the hub of activity for Sarasota’s geek community (which we affectionately say) for over a decade. The interior of the store is vibrant – comics, posters and toys from all eras line its walls – but what really matters is the community it is home to.
The shop is full of people of all ages, creeds and colors wearing their favorite t-shirts and headwear while playing all the games you can imagine. Some deal with cards and board games while others carefully execute attack strategies with miniature dragon armies in a fantastic battlefield. The most important thing, says Hedberg, is that they do it together – and that they have a good time.
“It’s just the fantasy,” Hedberg says. “I mean, who doesn’t want to be a hero?” “
The origin story of The Dark Side begins in New Orleans, where current owner Brian Polizzi decided to step down from his position at a national law firm. He said it was a good job but not one that made him feel particularly heroic.
“I wasn’t doing a lawyer, but I was supporting lawyers,” says Polizzi. “They are all good people, but … they celebrated a day when they stopped one of our clients from having to pay money to someone who was injured.”
He sold his house, bought a supply of comics from a friend who had closed his shop and traveled to Florida. He moved to Sarasota, where he has family, as a comic book store.
The Dark Side was a dream job for Polizzi. He sees comics as an escape not from reality itself but from pessimism. He says it’s also an often underrated art.
“They inspire me,” says Polizzi. “Comics as an art form are different from others. You actively participate in a comic book. When you move between panels and Superman hits someone in one panel and someone flies off into the next one, you make that visual connection.
The beloved boutique has moved several times over the years. Its new place in Sarasota Commons comes from a need for more space – The Dark Side is still growing.
Part of that continued growth, Polizzi says, is its ability to adapt to trends and interests in the geek community. Although the store initially had a LAN (local area network) gaming section where customers could link their computers over a local area network to play video games, the store now has ample space for table games, miniatures and company which is often populated with customers every night.
Polizzi attributes this to a resurgence in the board game market that he has seen over the past five years. The Dark Side has 2,500 feet of dedicated space in its 6,500 square foot location for playing table and board games.
Cheryl Miller oversees many of these games. A self-proclaimed board game enthusiast, Miller teaches people how to play board games three nights a week at the store. If you stop by on a weekday evening, there’s a good chance you’ll find her courting, explaining the rules and dealing cards to a bunch of curious newbies.
It’s good for her. Miller works from home as a computer programmer and says she often feels the need for a human connection. She found this in sufficient quantity at The Dark Side. According to her tally, she has played 370 unique games with 167 people a total of 763 times since 2015.
“If there’s three people playing a board game and there’s someone wandering around doing nothing, we grab that person and bring them in,” Miller says. “I have to make sure everyone is happy.”
Your kind of place
While the financial benefits of having a returning clientele are obvious, Polizzi emphasizes that the many events at her store are meant to nurture a sense of community. Customers often play games until the store closes at midnight, which he is particularly proud of.
“The store’s goal, initially and continuously, has been to give people a place to go,” he says. “Give people a community that accepts them and that they can have fun with. “
Sometimes this community stays longer than expected. Hedberg was eventually hired by Polizzi and now works part-time for The Dark Side. It’s his turn to welcome newcomers to the store and teach them how to play Dungeons & Dragons.
She admits that the drive to the store – especially after working all day at Bradenton – can be tiring, but that feeling evaporates as soon as she walks through the doors of the store.
“I get paid to go out and talk about what I love with people I like,” she says. “I don’t have to pretend I’m enthusiastic about anything. I can talk about things I had never been able to talk about before.
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