Bob Shallit

Dynamic Sacramento duo plan to pair comics and coffee

Laura Benson and Neil Estaris are hoping to open a downtown coffee shop with a comic book theme.
Laura Benson and Neil Estaris are hoping to open a downtown coffee shop with a comic book theme. Oblivion Coffee & Comics

Want a little Green Lantern with your latte?

That’s the novel – or should we say graphic novel – idea behind Oblivion Comics & Coffee, one of five new business proposals selected as finalists in this year’s Calling All Dreamers competition sponsored by the Downtown Sacramento Foundation.

Oblivion is the idea of Sacramentans Neil Estaris and Laura Benson, who think there’s a market for a shop where comic book fans can peruse the latest offerings from Marvel, DC, Image and other publishers, and engage in spirited debates about superhero films while sipping caffeinated beverages from Chocolate Fish Coffee.

“There’s a huge amount of interest and passion for these characters we grew up with,” said Estaris, 32. “No one else is tapping into it.

The Oblivion name comes from a fictional bar, located in a “pocket dimension” and appearing in various DC Comics stories, that’s considered a neutral area where superheroes and villains can hang out peacefully.

Will Oblivion have that same sort of mellow vibe?

“That’s the concept,” Estaris said.

The Dreamers contest awards more than $110,000 worth of free rent and other incentives to help the winning team. Among the other finalists this year: entrepreneurs proposing a fashion shop, a restaurant featuring Argentine empanadas, an upscale dog boutique and a business selling fresh-rolled ice cream.

You can view one-minute promos of each of the finalists at http://downtownsac.org/start-a-business/dreamers-welcome/calling-all-dreamers-contest/meet-finalists/

The five finalists will make presentations to a selection panel in June and a winner will be announced soon after. Since the competition began three years ago, 11 participants have ended up opening businesses in the area.

Associations regroup

Two Sacramento neighborhood business associations are sorrowfully moving forward following the unexpected death last month of their executive director, Terrence Johnson.

Johnson ran both the Stockton Boulevard Partnership and Oak Park Business Association before succumbing to sepsis at age 63.

“Terre was one of those people who was all about the community. If you needed help, he’d always lend a hand,” said Frank Louie, a longtime Sacramento restaurateur who was one of the founding members of the Stockton Boulevard business organization.

Louie has agreed to take over Johnson’s responsibilities along Stockton Boulevard, a big change after running Louie’s Restaurant & Catering for almost 27 years with his wife, Gloria.

“It’s a natural fit,” he said of the new job. “I’m into helping others better understand the challenges (of operating in the area) because I can relate to them as a business owner and property owner.”

Local consultant Seann Rooney has been tapped to assist the Oak Park group during its current renewal campaign and help in the search for a new permanent director.

Rooney, who has worked with several property and business improvement districts, said Oak Park has numerous challenges, including the perception it’s a high-crime area and the intense competition for public dollars needed for infrastructure improvements.

But, he said, it’s benefited from a surge in new business openings around the Triangle district.

“Boy, you can just feel the energy in Oak Park. It’s really exciting,” he said.

The Stockton Boulevard group faces similar challenges but also has two bright spots: development around UC Davis Medical Center on the north end of the business district and the Little Saigon retail area on its south end.

Revitalizing the area in the middle is going to be the big task ahead, said Bill Knowlton, the group’s chairman and an executive in Next Move, an agency helping the area’s homeless population.

He said the business group’s goal is to bring in jobs and make methodical progress in improving the area.

“If you change things one parcel at a time, you start to change a community,” he said.

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