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Strip-mall confidential

In a sea of synthetic stucco, these stores stand out

The Comic Empire

Greg Bollinger

Tulsa is filled with strip malls of all sizes. Some are in disrepair, with a seedy-looking neighborhood bar as the anchor—or perhaps a Family Dollar or payday loan lender a few doors down. Others seem to be in good shape, but the banality of beige, synthetic stucco slides past your car window unnoticed, never to be thought of again.

However, there are treasures hidden within the rows of shoe repair shops, locksmiths, and laundromats. I visited a few of Tulsa’s best to get a sense of what makes these hidden gems truly special.

The Comic Empire

The Comic Empire sits in a small strip of shops on Mingo Road just south of 31st Street. Mike McCormick has been the sole owner since 1984. That makes The Comic Empire the oldest surviving comic book store in Tulsa. To many loyal customers, this gem is no secret. Even with the advent of the internet, they choose to return every month rather than order comics online or read them digitally. A lot of that has to do with McCormick.

McCormick is an easygoing guy who can talk about almost any subject intelligently and thoughtfully. His love of 60s garage rock has made him an unstumpable expert on every obscure garage band from Nowhere, U.S.A.—no matter how many times I’ve been sure I’d finally brought him a head scratcher.

McCormick, an obscure comic book trivia whiz, enjoys underground comic illustrators, most of whom have never drawn a single superhero comic in their lives. Empire sells new issues of every kind of comic, from the major players down to locally-created works. The majority of the store is filled with boxes of back issues, which McCormick sells for half off during his bi-yearly sales. (The fall sale is right around the corner!)

He acknowledged the future of any brick-and-mortar store is precarious. “This could all be gone in six months,” he said. But McCormick is still getting new customers at a steady rate, and he has a c’est la vie outlook on small business ownership.

The Comic Empire is located at 3122 S. Mingo Rd. Perhaps you can find a 60s garage band McCormick hasn’t heard of yet. Lord knows I’m still trying.

Emily’s Esoteric Emporium

Emily Halifax started out doing psychic readings on the east coast. She’s originally from Tulsa, but she lived in New York and the surrounding area for more than 15 years. It shows in her “Brooklynese” accent and her free use of the “F-word” throughout our conversation—a habit I found charming. The sign outside her shop advertises Hoodoo products, readings, classes, and private lessons.

Halifax made sure to reiterate that Hoodoo is a Christian practice, and in fact, she says daily Psalms as part of her candle work. A self-taught practitioner, she became interested in Hoodoo about a decade ago. It seemed a natural progression from her regular work of psychic readings and Wiccan spells to candle readings and “root work.”

“They call practitioners ‘root doctors’ because we treat your ‘condition,’ and the work is a prescription for that condition,” Halifax said. “You have to follow directions—just like with any other doctor—or it won’t work!”

Halifax opened a store because she wanted to help those in need. “Money is a big issue, of course,” she said, when asked why people come to her. When I was there, Halifax dressed a candle for a client who was hoping to get a better position at work. She claims to know the candles, oils, herbs, and seeds to fix almost any condition.
    Hoodoo originated with Africans brought to America during the transatlantic slave trade, who mixed their religion with Native American beliefs and European folk practices, and many of the items used can easily be found around the house. “They had to use what was available, like honey and ammonia.”

It seems as if there’s a candle and a powder for almost any problem. Halifax will sell you everything you need to do your own works at home—or, for a little bit extra, she will do everything for you. She’ll be doing a free Root Work 101 lecture at my own bookstore, Bound for Glory Books, at 7 p.m. Sept. 29. In the meantime, you can go by Emily’s Esoteric Emporium at 3230 E. 15th St., or watch her online in one of her many Psychic Emily Halifax YouTube videos.

Albarka Food International

Albarka is part grocery store, part café, located at 5010 S. Sheridan Rd. The inside is small but has all the essential ingredients for a good home-cooked Indian meal.

I picked up a bag of split red lentils, canned chickpeas in brine, a jar of Ghee, pink salt, and two “Today” brand donuts in individual packages. One donut was for my husband, and one was for my ever-present partner in adventure, Jen. We decided to try out the café’s offerings since we were both starving and the $1.19 samosas looked so very tempting.

Added to the four samosas were two huge pieces of tandoori chicken, covered in chopped onions. Seated at a table in the small cafe area in the back of the store, we dug in as several curious shoppers asked us if the food was good. We confirmed that yes, in fact, the food was very good—and affordable, too! (The chicken was only $3 per piece.)

After a good-natured chat with the friendly cashier, we paid for our meal and groceries—along with sodas from the cooler—and made our way out to the car, pleasantly full of samosas and spiced chicken, confident that we would be back soon.

The Hussar

The Hussar is a shop my husband would have invented when he was 10 years old, if charged with creating his very own dream store. It’s full of assembled, painted model soldiers and vehicles, as well as unpainted, unassembled kits. World War II figures are featured very heavily, but other conflicts and historical eras are also in the mix. There are Israeli troops from the Six Day War, American Vietnam troops, and several movie star, Old West, fantasy, and post-apocalyptic science fiction figures that have nothing to do with military history.    

Just as impressive as the many figures and model kits is the assortment of new and used books about military history, uniforms, and firearms. Also notable are the many authentic military collectibles, ranging from British full dress parade uniforms to American and German World War II combat helmets, and even a full-size metal artillery shell canister painted Afrika Korps desert tan.

The store has been in its current location, 6029 S. Sheridan Rd., since it opened in 1982. Owner Mike Davidson is affable and knowledgeable, and he will gladly explain and share knowledge about the hobby in a way that is engaging for beginners and experts alike.

“I feel very lucky to be supported by such a strong community of painters,” Davidson said.  At every turn there is something that will delight and fascinate any history buff, leaving even people who grew up in the hobby exclaiming, “I can’t believe they have that!”

Though they may not look like much from the outside, all of these places have something unique to offer. A vision tailored to each individual owner’s passion, without oversight from “headquarters” or “corporate”—a throwback to the days when small business was the norm and the communities that developed around them were as important as the business itself. Next time you need something, take the time to see if there’s a place tucked away in a forgotten corner of Tulsa that can take care of your needs before you reflexively drive to your go-to big box store. You might just find more than you expected.

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