Posted November 7, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in Community

A Nerd’s Paradise

Gabi’s Olympic Cards and Comics Continues to Expand

By Kathryn L. Casterline

Gabi’s Olympic Cards and Comics has been in the Olympia area for over twenty years, though there are still a lot of locals who don’t even know it exists. Over the years, it’s become less of a comic shop and more of a “nerdy community center,” as one employee puts it. The largest comic shop on the west coast, OCC has become a pillar of the community and offers much more than just comic books and Magic: the Gathering cards.

Gabi Trautmann purchased the shop in 1993. Since then, the store has had four different locations and is currently located in Lacey. This summer, OCC finished up an expansion that added an upper level to the shop. Trautmann hopes to expand the shop even more over the next few years, with the hopes of someday having the shop of her dreams.

According to Trautmann, she knew from day one what she wanted to do with the place. “This expansion is eight years in the making. As soon as we bought this property, we knew what we wanted to do,” said Trautmann. She literally helped build the store, and hopes to have the second half of the mezzanine finished within the next five years, though the next major step will be installing an elevator so that more people will be able to enjoy the space.
There’s more in store for this local icon, though. “Soon we’ll have a cafe so you’ll never have to leave,” said employee Kelly Okler. All the employees have their food handlers permits and the shop has the equipment required to open up a deli and espresso cafe. All they’re waiting for now is paperwork to be processed by the county.

And once that’s finished, Trautmann plans on adding outdoor seating and fixing up the parking lot.

Anyone who has stepped foot into OCC knows that Trautmann is completely dedicated to her store and, more importantly, her customers. She rarely misses a day, so setting up an interview proved to be somewhat challenging. We finally sat down to talk and throughout the course of our conversation, Trautmann would stop mid-sentence to engage in conversation with a passing customer.

When asked if the store has a mission statement, Trautmann said no. Her goal is a simple one- she wants everyone to have a safe place to go to. And when she says everyone, she means everyone. A family and pet friendly environment, OCC welcomes far more than just your stereotypical “nerd.” The shop offers something for all, but more importantly, it serves as a safe place for people who don’t fit in anywhere else.

“I would love for everyone who comes in this door to feel as though they’re not only a part of it, but that they should take that out into the world and spread that welcoming, embracing feeling,” said Trautman.

The best part is that you don’t have to spend money to be part of the OCC family. Unlike other comic shops and gaming cafes, OCC does not charge customers for table play or couch time. Everyone is welcome to just stop by and hang out. There are couches and chairs set up for anyone who wants to come in and just read a comic without feeling pressured to shop. When asked why her shop doesn’t do pay to play, Trautmann said that, “There’s a lot of people that I want to protect and give a safe space to, and not all of them are people who could afford something like that. I’m lucky that I don’t have to base my decisions off money. I get more out of doing things for the community than I do going out to a party or going out drinking. This is what I love. This is my life.”

Trautmann often gives back to the community that gives her so much. Throughout the summer, OCC hosts several food drives for the local food bank, and often hosts other charity events to help the community recover from unexpected tragedies. Roommates and co-workers Okler and Alison Poppy remember when part of their apartment complex burned down, Trautmann hosted a donation drive to help out the families who had lost everything. “At some point we had to ask people to stop donating because we had gotten so much that we didn’t know what to do with it. The families were content but the community kept giving. That’s what we mean when we say that the people who come here are family,” Poppy says.

“Gabi is very welcoming and she takes care of her kids, and that includes customers of all ages,” Okler says.

Members of Evergreen’s Gaming Guild who are passionate about comics should contact either Poppy, Okler, or Eric Manix, OCC employees and hosts of the Out of the Fridge podcast. They’re always looking for guest speakers. The podcast has been around for about a year now. It started out as a Tumblr blog called “Two Girls and a Comic Shop” but once Manix was added to the team, the project took off and started resembling the podcast it is today. It focuses on feminism, comics, and sexism in nerd culture. Regulars may have noticed business cards floating around OCC or might have seen posts on the store’s Facebook.

Both the shop and the employees who run the podcast want to make one thing clear- everyone is welcome. If you’re passionate about something, they’ll find a way to introduce you to like minded people. “As long as we have enough people to make it work, we put it on the calendar, we put it on our Facebook and we tell everyone else who’s interested in that activity to stop by and join in,” said Trautmann.

OCC is open until midnight on most nights, making it a perfect spot for students who take night classes and can’t make it out to other events on or off campus. Students with children who have alternative hobbies and interests are encouraged to stop by the stop. According to Okler, kids often get dropped off and play all day until their parents can pick them up. None of the employees are babysitters, but they watch after the kids in the shop and make sure they’re safe and having fun.

It’s also important to the staff that people of all genders feel safe and welcome. “As a female, going to a comic store is even more intimidating. Boys will either ignore you completely, only talk to the males you’re with, or flirt with you. And even if they don’t do any of that, they can still get really intense.” For that reason, OCC has a lady’s Magic: the Gathering event every Tuesday. Though it’s targeted for females, anyone who is invited to join in is welcome to participate in the event, regardless of their identifying gender. And, of course, everyone is welcome to stop by at any time. That specific event has been set up to make customers feel more welcome.

“This is more than just a comic shop. This is a family,” said Okler.

Anyone who may be interested in speaking on the podcast is encouraged to reach out. You can find Poppy, Manix, and Okler on Facebook. If you’re interested in what events OCC hosts each night (there’s always something going on) stop by and pick up one of their monthly calendars or visit them online. There’s plenty of room in this growing family.