If Gabi Shephard doesn’t know your name when you enter her shop, chances are you’ll be on a first name basis by the time you leave.
“I think the best level of respect is to know who someone is,” says Gabi. “When (customers) walk in and I know who they are, that feels welcoming. You want to be places where you’re welcome.”
Gabi owns and operates Olympic Cards and Comics in Lacey. She’s been at the helm of the store for twenty years now and has watched it grow from an 800 square foot space in the South Sound Mall into increasingly larger spaces. In 2008 the store moved into its permanent home, a 7,000 square foot warehouse located at 4230 Pacific Avenue. Even though Olympic Cards and Comics is the largest store of its kind on the west coast, and is among the top five largest in the entire country, Gabi says she is hoping to break ground on a 5000 square foot expansion later this year.
Gabi credits her customers for creating the friendly atmosphere and tenor of her store. Most people who come into Olympic Cards and Comics are repeat customers. A large percentage of that customer base consists of teenagers, and Gabi knows that building relationships with them is just as important as with adults. Many start coming to the store to play Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh when they’re in elementary school. They move on to Magic the Gathering or Dungeons and Dragons in high school. During summer and winter breaks, it’s not unusual for college kids to stop by the store just to say hello and catch up with their friend, Gabi.
Last week, Jared stopped by the store to use one of the gaming tables to fill out some contracts for work. He said he started playing Magic the Gathering back in the “old building” (a two story 3200 square foot building across the street from OCC’s present location) back in 1999. He was in second grade at the time. After finishing his contracts, he enjoyed a pick-up game of Magic the Gathering with another friend who happened to be visiting the store at the same time.
“Especially with the kids it’s important because so much in society, kids go in a store and they’re not respected. They are not treated well; they’re not made to feel welcome. They’re looked at like ‘What are you going to steal or what are you going to do,’” says Gabi.
“I have found that if I am going to make this the community center that I want to make it then the kids are a big part of that. It makes them feel good when they come in and someone knows who they are. It’s important. It’s respect. And if I tell the kids, ‘My expectation when you come in here is that you are respectful to me, my staff, and each other,’ then we have to lead by example and also be respectful to them.”
Despite its massive size, Olympic Cards and Comics still has a homey feel. “I am not interested in just having a place of commerce,” says Gabi. “I need somewhere in our community where people feel welcome, where they feel safe, where they have a place where there are people like them, where they can hang out and be a part of a community.”
An entire section is filled with gaming tables where, even at 10:00am on a weekday, people come to enjoy any one of a variety of role playing games, collectible card games, or fantasy board games. Comfy couches are scattered among the million comic books and ten-thousand-plus graphic novels that populate the book and collectibles section. People are welcome to come in and play or read without any charge. There are entry fees for scheduled tournaments, but all the money that comes in goes back out in the form of prizes.
“On a Friday night I may have 60 or 80 kids over there,” says Gabi as she points to the game tables. They come from “…all walks of life, of all different ages, military, hippies, poor people, rich people, lawyers, everything is over there. When they walk in that door, they are none of those things. They are just Magic players.”
Olympic Cards and Comics is “their place,” she insists. “This is the place that they call theirs because they have ownership in it and they have helped to build it, and all of the people that are here are their community. It’s their tribe as people say.”
She’s made it that way by learning one name at a time.
Some of the games and products you can find at Olympic Cards in Comics include:
If Gabi doesn’t have what you are looking for, she can place special orders.
Olympic Cards and Comics
4230 Pacific Ave SE
Lacey, WA 98503