Neil Estaris and Laura Benson are proud, self-proclaimed “geeks.” They have met weekly for two years, dreaming of a welcoming place where people can gather, sip lattes and flip the pages of comic books. As the winners of the Downtown Sacramento Foundation Calling All Dreamers business competition, announced June 27, the duo can finally see that dream become a reality.
Oblivion Comics & Coffee was selected from five finalists to win a grand prize package of business services valued at roughly $110,000. As the winners, Estaris and Benson will be given $10,000 in matching start-up capital to help open the doors of Oblivion.
“We are thrilled to open downtown because our target market lives and works in the area,” says Laura Benson, co-owner of Oblivion Comics & Coffee. The duo hopes to find a storefront near the K-Street corridor, close to the Sacramento Convention Center in order to attract comic convention attendees and people heading to the new Golden 1 Center.
One component of the selection was online voting, allowing the public to weigh in on which business they would most like to patronize.
“Sacramento caters to a wide variety of business, but until now, comic book culture hasn’t had a go-to spot,” says Jason Rico, a comic book aficionado in Sacramento who also voted for Oblivion in the contest. “I’m really looking forward to visiting Oblivion because it both acknowledges and legitimizes comic book fans. It will be nice to have a new home away from home.”
The five finalists were selected based on the viability of their business plan. The selection committee considered whether the concept was a good fit for downtown and researched whether a sizeable market exists. Then, it was a simple question of whether the business was really ready to open.
“The Calling All Dreamers competition is playing an integral role in downtown Sacramento’s urban renaissance,” says Valerie Mamone-Werder, Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s senior manager of business development. “By fostering the entrepreneurial spirit downtown, we are fueling business development, creating jobs and boosting our city’s reach and appeal.”
Oblivion Comics & Coffee will receive professional marketing support, a valuable business service often difficult for new companies to afford. The business will launch with a new brand designed by local firm MeringCarson, public relations services from T-Rock Communications, a website from Blanket Marketing Group, business cards and flyers from TDogg Studios, and a three-month advertising campaign with Inside Publications. Traditional business services are also part of the prize package, including: legal counsel, interior design consultation, phone and internet services, point-of-sale hardware and accounting support.
Sponsors Wells Fargo, SMUD and the City of Sacramento Economic Development Department fund the competition.
“The success of Calling All Dreamers is truly a reflection of the power of a good idea and the importance of innovation to Sacramento’s economic future,” says Leslie Fritzsche, senior development manager with the City of Sacramento’s Economic Development Department. “The program supports the City’s goal of fostering new businesses and sparking the imagination of creative innovators.”
Since the Calling all Dreamers competition launched in 2013, 11 businesses have been helped, leading to 70 new jobs. Previous winners include Andy’s Candy Apothecary, The Dailey Method, Sun & Soil Juice, Benjamins Shoes, Ana Apple, Allspicery, Figs and Feta, Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours, The Workspace: Fashion Incubator, Whired Wine and Metro Juice.
Oblivion Comics & Coffee hopes to open in November. Benson speculates they will initially hire eight employees. “We have been overwhelmed with the excitement and support we have received since the news was announced,” Benson says. “We are eager to create a place where everyone feels comfortable.”