Washington comic store owner hoping to build community, comfort

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WASHINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — You won’t find many strangers at Zach “Zeek” Kalina’s comic and games store in Washington.

“We crack the joke here about how it’s like ‘Cheers.’ Everybody does know everybody’s name,” he said.

For some, comics and games are hobbies. For others, it’s all about community.

Kalina said, “This store is kind of a safe haven right for people. It’s a second home, you know? It’s a place for people to share experiences, become friends and you know we’re all geeks, so we all have a good time together.”

In Kalina’s case, comics have been a form of escapism during some of the most difficult moments of his life.

“In 2007, I had two of my closest friends pass away within about two weeks of each other, both tragic accidents. And where a lot of people maybe cope in other ways, I chose to cope through the purchasing and reading of comic books,” he said.

Diving into the whimsical world of superheroes, villains and creatures, Kalina found solace and then a business opportunity. What started off as a joke with friends in 2007, ultimately became a passion project for the LaSalle-Peru native.

He said, “We all kind of cracked a joke about opening a business together years later as a comic book store and they cracked the joke saying that if there was anybody that was going to run the hard part of the stuff it was going to be me. The one that made all the decision-making.”

In 2015, Kalina officially opened up Zeek’s Comics and Games. He’s now celebrating a five-year anniversary.

“For me it’s humbling because it’s not easy for people to do and this has just been such a blessing and it’s been wonderful.”

zach zeek kalina

Kalina said, “You’ll have multiple groups of different people from different belief systems and facets of life that you’d think they were the best friends of all time as soon as they walk through the door.”

He said it’s a humbling accomplishment, but he never would have guessed it would culminate with COVID-19.

“It was the emotional toll of not maybe having this anymore, more than it was the financial. We were just worried about our people. This is a lot of their place they can come and be themselves,” said Kalina.

While the pandemic has posed its own set of challenges, Kalina said he could not have gotten through it all without the ongoing community support.

“If I can spend the next five to 10 years building the same relationships that I’ve built since day one, and continue that kind of thing and see those types of things grow, that’s more important to me than it is anything else,” he said.

Zeek’s Comics and Games is located at 2263 Washington Rd.

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