Morgan Albritton - Morgan's Comics
At WWBC, we have a passion for small business owners and love to celebrate their countless successes. As part of that celebration, we also love to share client stories like this one, about Morgan Albritton and Western North Carolina's first woman-owned comics and collectibles shop.
Here's her story:
Tell me a little about yourself.
I grew up in a very small and poor North Central Florida town. But I grew up in what once was a large, tight-knit family that eventually grew apart. I moved at 17 and spent all of my adult years in Gainesville, Florida amongst the "Swamp" with Gator Football fans, though I was always more of a theater kid with bright funky hair color and clothes. As many do, I heard the call of these gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains and chose to relocate in 2011. I continued to contract, plan, and direct hundreds of weddings, charity events, and runway shows while also managing a salon and spa retail business, until I happened upon the opportunity that eventually led me to create WNC's first female-owned comics and collectibles shop.
Three years into its existence, while working, I met my now husband, Matt. He was our Haywood Road postman for years, and, previous to the beginning of the pandemic, became known as the "punk-rock postman". Eventually, with the pandemic leaving everyone exhausted, I suggested that he stop walking that 8.5-mile route every day and come to the Nerd Sanctuary to experience what the grass was like working on the other side of the fence from a government job. I was confident that he would be superb as he is driven, passionate, creative, etc., and he LOVES being a teacher for adults and kids who come to our games nights. Plus, our two "only child" girls, Isadora and Clementine, now have each other and are extremely close sisters.
What was your dream job as a kid?
After I passed my initial desire (like so many other kids) to be a veterinarian or an astronaut, I realized I wanted to be a therapist or counselor. I was raised in a large family where my Dad worked full time for the power company and spent the rest of his time building up and preaching for the non-denominational church that he and my mom had created. My Mom had been a Guardian ad Litem for most of my childhood and then moved on to help open and run a domestic violence shelter for women and children until well after I was an adult. So, I suppose the need to listen and offer a helping hand to others was instilled in me from my earliest years.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
After 11 years of beauty industry management, theater, and event planning, I happened upon an opportunity to open a comic bookstore in West Asheville alongside two men as the public representation in all capacities. As I bonded and built relationships in this neighborhood and nerd community, the store flourished in that way; however, behind the scenes, the business partners' relationship reached an impasse. It was decreed that the store was to be liquidated, but I pleaded my case to save it for the more professional and respectful investor partner. He agreed and when he canceled the former LLC to separate us, in its place the investor partner started the LLC we've come to be known as (a thrilling surprise to me at the time) Morgan's Comics.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I am a lifelong nerd myself and had experienced too many times the elitist "boys club" vibe in other stores, which I found unwelcoming. I wanted to build a Nerd Sanctuary where everyone could feel at home with whatever nerd-dom brought a sparkle of light to their eyes.
What products/services do you provide?
What we offer grows and changes with the beating heart that is our clientele. As new nerd folks suggest different items we should carry our variety increases. We started with new and old comics, trade paperback books, vinyl records, t-shirts, hats, board games, video games, and consoles. Seven years later, we also carry a wide array of trading card and role-playing game merchandise, kids' books, manga, action figures (loose and in box), plushies, mystery boxes, jewelry, and statues.
What barriers have you encountered as a small business owner?
Though I'm confident the pandemic is a standard answer for hardships or hurdles, I can't help but feel that, though I feel my natural strength is intuition, I needed more education in areas that don't come as naturally to me. My strength is that I can sense what most folks are looking for and help them find a happy path to a brighter day. Whether that is a book they've been searching for, the perfect toy for their nephew's birthday party, or even if they just need a sympathetic ear to hear them out about how frustrated they are with losing their job or their grandma not allowing their boyfriend to visit, whatever it is.
So I feel that any area that we have been less strong in is because I didn't get into owning a business with the education or time to learn specific nuances that bolster us financially. I needed to know what questions to ask and who to trust to help me find the answers. I needed to gain the connections and knowledge to run my business most successfully. Thank goodness I finally found the Western Women's Business Center. Because you folks have readily guided me to the answers that I would have had to have spent countless finance-draining hours Googling to, hopefully, find.
What did you do to overcome those barriers? Did anyone help you?
Yes, many of the community have offered their assistance at various times. Whether it was just taking time out of their day to teach me how to do the stores taxes on Quickbooks, organizing long boxes of comics, helping set up our new Wifi service, or 3D printing a new hinge for our broken R2D2 trashcan (he's been our Nerd Sanctuary trash can since before we ever opened the doors originally). And that's just a handful of stories, but I've been in this store for over seven years now, and it's seen me through both beautiful and dark times. Outside of this type of assistance, a few different customers have offered financial gifts to help the shop grow and succeed. The government offered us a grant during the beginning of the pandemic, and you, WWBC , helped us at a crucial time with a small business grant.
How did you get connected to the Western Women’s Business Center?
We were emailed with an opportunity to watch classes to learn how to run our business better. What a shining light at a time that we so needed it.
How did the WWBC serve you as an entrepreneur?
They have offered me a variety of online classes to further educate on how to run a business and even a small grant to help re-balance our small local business since the time of the 2020 pandemic first began. I plan to continue to move forward in developing these relationships because, as a wise woman once told me, "if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
How does your business serve your community?
Firstly, we offer a break from regular reality, which comes in handy after a long day in the office, classroom, or any time during the first year of the pandemic. Secondly, we are Western North Carolina's first female-owned comic book and collectible business, so there is a confidence-building, trailblazing element to the shop that many folks comment on almost daily. Eventually, we discovered that "Morgan" means "a powerful symbol of feminist strength and benevolence, intent upon finding justice in a lopsided world," which is a perfect name for this business in a typically male-dominated industry.
Third, though life took me in a different direction than becoming a therapist or teacher, I got to explore helping my community in various ways. Be that by raising funds for our local artists, directing/hosting a memorial for a family who spent many hours of their lives within the walls of the Nerd Sanctuary, entertaining children so that their adults can have a grown-up date night, drawing and painting a Morgan's Comics fan's favorite Pixar character while they recover from a traumatic event, helping matchmake comic artists with writers, custom costume needs with costume designers, musicians with band member, and even a few friends who met in our store and have now been together romantically for years.
What motivates you as a small business owner?
Family. Matt and I both come from strong, tight-knit families, and we enjoy including our ever-expanding chosen family in our lives as well.
What is your dream for your business?
It has always been a serendipitous dream to own this store. Helping it grow into what will offer the most to our community and be the most fun for everyone involved. I would immensely enjoy seeing it expand into various types of sanctuaries. We've already got a booming Pokemon Sanctuary within the walls of our Haywood Road home base, but I would love to see us begin our nerdy clothing line as well as short-term nerdtastic rentals and even a nonprofit area for raising funds for disadvantaged families to have access to fun comics, action figures, video games, etc, who maybe don't usually get the same as their peers. Plus, I'd love to write and draw my own comic book with our Asheville-based Morgan's Comics listed in it.
What is your dream for your community?
To find a balance between keeping the area healthier – fewer drugs, alcohol, violence, depression, homelessness, etc. – while also maintaining the spirit of West Asheville, which I perceive to be, and edgy artistic benevolent community. With that in mind, supporting those businesses that bring life and joy to that community and prevent Asheville from losing its unique heart and soul just to make a dollar. Preventing artists, homeowners, and the appropriate shops from being priced out.
What do you like about being a small business owner?
My favorite two things are creating and listening to stories. In Morgan's Comics, I get both all of the time. I, of course, love experiencing tales through the combination of author artists talents. But I also deeply enjoy listening to the life adventures of folks who visit our Nerd Sanctuary. As technology continues to advance I get to actually see their stories in photos of them on their phones visiting another country, pulling a valuable Pokemon card, getting a new pet, etc. And through these tales I've developed virtually all of my Asheville area friendships.
What is one thing you wish people knew about your business?
We have always strived to help support our community through fundraisers, donations, and free social events. Since my husband Matt and I have worked with children all of our lives and our background is pretty solidly in teaching, active listening and counseling, theater/performing arts, and event planning, it is safe to say that we are likely the most all-age-appropriate comics and collectibles shop in our vast surrounding area. If folks are looking to plan a child's birthday party, an engagement party, or just get together with pals to play some Pokemon or DnD, we are your one-stop all-inclusive break from regular reality space.