Indie Awards: ‘Why not go for it?’

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Finalist: Big Leap

Vault of Midnight

Owners: Curtis Sullivan, Steve Fodale

Founded: 1996

Full-time employees: 8

Website: vaultofmidnight.com

Curtis Sullivan | Photo by Benjamin Weatherston

Curtis Sullivan | Photo by Benjamin Weatherston

Tell Curtis Sullivan, co-owner of Vault of Midnight, that the Internet seems to be spanking local retailers across the country, and specifically on Main Street in Ann Arbor, and he looks at you like you’re crazy.

Sullivan says the most difficult barriers local retailers must overcome are internal. “I see apathy and paralysis as things to be mindful of,” he says. “I run into small business owners who are risk averse. I ask them, Why not go for it? If what you’re doing’s not working, course correct. It’s a matter of passion and finding your niche.”

Vault of Midnight, which sells mostly comic books, has found its niche. The store opened in 1996 and spent several years in a Liberty Street location before moving to Main Street nine years ago. Though the new location was only three blocks away from its old home, “the difference was night and day,” Sullivan said. Traffic and sales increased dramatically. “We’re never moving from here,” he added.

But Vault of Midnight is expanding. A new store just opened in Grand Rapids, and Sullivan said it’s doing well: “We mapped out lofty goals, and we’re a year ahead.”

That success might come as a surprise to many who study trends. After all, the store sells print in a world gone digital.

Sullivan explains why Vault’s had success swimming upstream: “We don’t trend surf. We look for perennials. We’re confident in our ability, what we sell and our employees.” The store’s biggest sellers right now are the “Saga” series and “Batman.”

Asked to describe his typical customer, Sullivan can’t. “It’s the whole swath,” he says. “It sounds cheesy to say, but it’s everyone.”

Sullivan was born and raised in Ann Arbor and is a lifelong comic book fan. (He still remembers his first exposure: “The Savage Sword of Conan.”) “The fact I could go to school here, have a business that is my hobby … that’s the coolest thing.”

And he has no ideas of slowing Vault of Midnight’s expansion roll. “There is no escape plan,” he says. “It’s going to work. It’s got to work. We’re all in.”

Kyle Poplin

Kyle Poplin is co-founder and editor of The Ann magazine.