HAMLET — Comic book and video game fans in Richmond County now have a place to be openly nerd.
It’s no coincidence that Stephanie Van Hassle scheduled the ribbon cutting for her new store, Nerdy Collective, on May 4 – unofficially called Star Wars Day, with the pun’s motto inspired by the sci-fi movie ” May the Fourth be with you”.
Shop window displays let customers know what to expect, with cardboard cutouts of Spiderman and Princess Leia on one side of the door, and Wonder Woman, Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Grogu – affectionately called “Baby Yoda” – from the Star Wars spin-off series “The Mandalorian” on the other hand.
The comic book store occupies the former Langston Bros. jewelry store. on Main Street in Hamlet.
While the front of the store serves as a retail space, with a variety of comic-related merchandise, Van Hassle said the back will be a “game cave,” where customers can enter for card and role-playing games. She said she plans to hold card tournaments for Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering.
“I want it to be a fun place for nerds around the county,” she said, adding that patrons can borrow the ones she has or bring their own. Space will be available on a first come basis or by reservation.
The COVID pandemic actually prompted Van Hassle to start the business.
Right before it all came to a halt, she was working as a middle school teacher. But after being sent home and seeing the number of virus-related deaths each day on the news, she said the mortality had set in.
“I thought, ‘Does this what I want to do for the rest of my life?'” recalls Van Hassle.
She started Nerdy Collective in 2020 with a few friends who made nerdy handmade crafts, selling them at craft shows and comic book conventions, as well as online at nerdycollective.com.
“We were getting together and doing things and it was very therapeutic,” she said. “We appreciated.”
Adding to the mortality issue, Van Hassle said his brother died in 2021.
“I thought if I could do something that brought me joy every day, it would be retail again,” she said. “I’ve worked in retail before and I love it. I’m a sociable person.
Van Hassle said she was at her chiropractor a few months ago and he asked her when she was going to open a store.
So, following this conversation, she quit her job and within a week found the space to rent.
“I hung around here for a few hours and was like, ‘You know what, this is a pretty cool place. I wouldn’t mind spending more time here,'” she said. love the historic building, I love Hamlet. This community has been so into the concept of the store and everyone has offered to pitch in and help out.
“Over the past two months, more people have told me they want to see me succeed than I have in my entire adult life,” Van Hassle continued. “It means a lot to a lot of people here, because they don’t want to have to go to Fayetteville or Southern Pines or anywhere else for their nerdiness.”
Van Hassle said she wanted to create a community center for those who are part of the Nerd culture where “kids have a safe place to socialize and stay off the streets.”
In addition to comics, maps, and related memorabilia, the store also offers vintage VHS movies and discs.
Although the doors have been opened as she continues to set up the store, the grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, May 7, Free Comic Book Day.