Safari Pearl celebrates 31 years in community

Moscow and Pullman regulars are the reason local game store is still open, owner says



“What used to be niche no longer is, what used to be entirely nerdy is now not quite so nerdy. I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say it’s hip and cool, but it’s pretty darn close,” Simmons said Saturday at Safari Pearl.

RACHEL KOCH, Evergreen reporter

On Saturday in Moscow, Safari Pearl Comics celebrated 31 years of operation with a sidewalk sale. Displays of comics, board games, costumes and more sat on tables outside of the shop with two employees outside.

All the items outside were marked 31 percent off in honor of Safari Pearl’s anniversary.

Store founder Kathy Sprague left managing a restaurant in Seattle to open a comic shop in Moscow, where she grew up, she said.

“My first location was about the size of our bathroom here,” she said. “It was a mud porch in the front of a used book store. I started in this one tiny room with two long boxes of comics.”

Sprague first developed an interest in comic books in 1984 when she would go to a local comic book shop with a friend, she said.

“My best friend was flirting with the guy who owned the comic book store at the time. For her cover to go in and flirt with him, I would go in and buy comics,” she said. “They dated for a while, they broke up, and I own a comic store.”

Sprague and Tabitha Simmons co-manage Safari Pearl Comics.

“I’ve worked here off and on for 22 of our 31 years,” Simmons said. “I’m Kathy’s partner. We’ve been married for 25 years. She needed some help in the store, so I just stepped in and started helping.”

Simmons attributed the longevity of Safari Pearl Comics to its adaptability to meet the customers’ requests over time, she said.

She added that the comic industry is growing in popularity due to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, which has also opened people’s minds to try stereotypically nerdy things.

The UI football team came to Safari Pearl to buy miniatures for their new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition campaign, she said.

“What used to be niche no longer is,” Simmons said. “What used to be entirely nerdy is now not quite so nerdy. I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say it’s hip and cool, but it’s pretty darn close.”

Simmons added that those who do not know as much about comics have no reason to feel nervous about entering Safari Pearl.

Another reason for Safari Pearl Comic’s longtime success is that it stands out in the industry, Sprague said.

“Our store is kind of unique,” she said. “It’s one of the older stores in the country at this point because we are 31 years old. I believe we are the only lesbian-owned comic book store in the country. We’re certainly the only 31-year-old lesbian-owned comic book store.”

Many of their regular customers have helped keep their business afloat thanks to the close relationships both Sprague and Simmons have formed throughout the years, Sprague said.

“I have a customer, I’ve watched his daughter grow from a toddler,” Sprague said. “She just finished her Ph.D. in economics.”

Sprague and Simmons also host an all-day Thanksgiving dinner at Safari Pearl in which people can come in and play board games, Sprague said.

Safari Pearl Comics is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and 12-5 p.m. on Sundays. It is located at 660 W. Pullman Rd. in Moscow.