ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA —
Some people don’t feel the need to have the trappings of today’s technology. That includes Dennis Webb who, 40 years ago, opened a shop in Alexandria, Virginia, that combined his boyhood hobbies of growing plants and reading comic books. He added trading cards and an assortment of other stuff to create his “Exotic Planterium and Card and Comic Collectorama.”
Sixty-eight-year-old Webb, a quiet soft-spoken man with friendly smile, looks a bit as worn as his store. “I’m just trying to have a good, steady income,” he said, “do things that I enjoy, working with people who like some of the same things I like.”
The Collectorama looks like a remnant of the past with its dim lighting, and handwritten signs announcing “Comics” and “Exotic Plants” on the windows. The display of exotic plants includes Venus Fly Traps, carniverous plants that eat insects. The dusty interior is packed with an eclectic mix of items – records, old books and magazines, and action figures in original packaging from the Star Trek science fiction TV and movie series. There are even newspaper clippings of famous peoples’ obituaries for sale.
Nothing is new. A refrigerator from the 1940s, where Webb keeps his lunch, sits in the center of the room, surrounded by the collectables. Webb thinks his landline phone may go back a couple of decades or more. He doesn’t own a cell phone. “I don’t like the idea of walking around with a cell phone and being on call all the time,” he explained.
Webb has no interest in selling his products over the Internet, even though he could make more money. Nothing here costs more than $100. "I like people coming to the store to buy things, to talk with them," he said. “Seems to me people would get more out of it if they came in, looked around, and maybe they’d find other things of interest to them.”
Webb’s biggest collection is several thousand comic books. There are rare editions on the wall, some going back to the 1940’s. “I get a lot of my comics from people who come by,” Webb explained. “Maybe they’re moving, they’re not interested in collecting them, maybe they inherited them and they didn’t really want them.”
Marty Belkowitz wanders into the store out of curiosity, and is drawn to the comic books. “He’s got an enormous collection,” said Belkowitz, “and a lot of things I remember from my childhood, which is always fun.”
Most of the comic books are jammed into old cardboard boxes, carefully sorted by era and type. “And they’re all in good order,” Webb said, “so if people tell me they want a Superman, I can take them right to that section.”
David Kingwood comes in to buy some Superman comic books he remembers from his childhood. Superman “has around for so long, since the late 1930’s," the 49-year-old comic book collector said, “and people have grown up with him.”
Webb writes up the sales slip by hand. He doesn't have a computer, because, he says, using it takes too much of his time.
The store also boasts an extensive collection of trading cards, which feature movie stars, explorers, inventors and sports figures. A unique card with a famous American football (gridiron) player has a background with real gold leaf.
Twelve-year-old Jayden Tumiwa lives nearby, and buys sports cards to trade with friends. “The older, the more valuable they are,” said Tumiwa, "and he’s got some pretty good prices, so I come in here often.”
The Collectorama seems out of place now in a neighborhood that has become more upscale in recent years. But Webb says he is content with the aging store and wouldn’t change a thing.