Alliance Comics, Toys, and Games, located at 110 W. State St., is your one-stop-shop for all things comic, gaming, and pop-culture related. Owner Tom Milster has been in the heart… Continue reading →
Alliance Comics, Toys, and Games, located at 110 W. State St., is your one-stop-shop for all things comic, gaming, and pop-culture related. Owner Tom Milster has been in the heart of Downtown O’Fallon for nearly three years but his love for toys and “geek” culture goes back much further.
In his late teens, Milster visited a bookstore where he found a copy of the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. The story inside moved Milster, who found it more interesting and psychological than other comics, and a new hobby was born that ultimately led him to Downtown O’Fallon.
Always interested in pop culture, Milster worked in radio and lived around the country before landing back in his hometown of Belleville, Illinois. One day while visiting the Belleville Flea Market, Milster found a bag of about 20 Star Wars figurines he remembered well from his childhood and, much like his experience with The Dark Knight Returns, he was drawn in and soon turned his nostalgia into a career. Milster started buying and selling toys and related items at the Belleville Flea Market where he met his future O’Fallon landlord, Ginger Kammler.
Milster was gaining success with his business and was searching the area for a brick-and-mortar location when a recommendation was made to come to O’Fallon. A drive around Downtown and a “for rent” sign brought him back to Kammler. From here things moved very quickly and within 90 days Milster was open for business in his own shop. According to Milster, everything just fell into place and feels like it was meant to be.
There are multiple comic and game shops in the area, but Milster says this has never been an issue. Instead, he has been amazed at the level of cooperation among the comic book and game stores. Each shop has a specialty and is knowledgeable about the offerings found at other stores. Shops will refer customers to one another to make sure customers find what they are looking for.
As the name suggests, Alliance Comics, Toys, and Games specializes in comics, toys, and games. They are also the place to go to sell and trade. Prior to a physical store, Alliance Comics, Toys, and Games’ customers were mostly adults aged 35 and up. The Downtown O’Fallon store now catches the eye of kids walking by after school, too! Window displays include Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Funko Pop items that are popular with kids and adults alike. For Milster, this is very reminiscent of his own childhood experience visiting “RJ’s Variety” – his own local store. Milster is honored and moved by the knowledge that his own store will live on in these kids’ memories forever, just like his own memories of RJ’s Variety. Another rewarding aspect of business ownership has been the ability to mentor employees, giving two individuals their very first job.
Like most business owners, Milster had great concerns about the pandemic, but his resourcefulness led him to expand his sales on eBay, Whatnot, Amazon, and Facebook Live. Online sales that were necessary and successful during the worst of the pandemic are now a huge part of his business!
Milster stated the online sales have had an unexpected but wonderful side effect – a sense of community with a wide range of individuals across the country. Alliance Comics, Toys, and Games, while based in O’Fallon, has sold products coast to coast and Milster is thankful for the experience to connect with people all over the world. Milster is also thankful for the support and sense of community within the Downtown District and “can’t say enough about how great a place this is to open a business.”
So, whether you are in search of old video games, comic books, the toys of your past or toys of the present, Alliance Comics, Toys, and Games should be first on your list of places to look. Considering a little spring cleaning and want to see if your old comics are worth anything? Stop by Alliance Comics, Toys, and Games and strike up a conversation – you might just find a new community of friends in the process!
Refinery Salon and Merchant Parlor, owned and operated by Whitney Leidner, has been in downtown O’Fallon for nearly eight years. Leidner grew up in her sister’s hair salon which led… Continue reading →
Refinery Salon and Merchant Parlor, owned and operated by Whitney Leidner, has been in downtown O’Fallon for nearly eight years. Leidner grew up in her sister’s hair salon which led her to pursue her own career as a stylist. Leidner credits much of her success to her late father who was a hard worker and a good businessman. He supported Leidner and inspired her to take on her own business venture.
The name Refinery is meaningful to Leidner. To refine is to improve something by making small changes. Leidner believes in bringing out the best in people without reinventing them altogether, and Refinery does just that.
Before starting her own business, Leidner taught at New Image Technical Center in O’Fallon for 12 years and also worked for Matrix professional hair products where she provided education, traveled, and saw lots of other salons. Influenced by these salon visits, Leidner solidified her business plan, knowing she wanted a team environment rather than individual booths for stylists to rent.
Teamwork is a key component to Leidner’s business model. Her father’s motto “staff come first” is one she holds dear and practices daily with her team and it shows in the exceptional service they provide.
Refinery specializes in hair, but also offers waxing, brow, and lash treatments. Each of the six stylists has their own specialty, from specific styles to color techniques. Regardless of whom you see, you will always receive quality service and be treated like a friend. Learn more about each team member here!
But Refinery isn’t just a salon; it’s also a boutique! The Merchant Parlor, curated and managed by Sione LaPointe, features unique jewelry, clothing, and accessories, making for a great destination for gifts and self-care goodies.
Refinery is also well known for their ornate storefront displays. These dazzling window designs are the creative work of team member Sarah Wagner and Leidner. According to Leidner, “Sara makes the visions come to life!” The window displays are always changing – Be sure to check them out the next time you walk by!
Decorating the windows is just one way the Refinery team has fun all year. Leidner confessed that of all the holidays, her favorite is Halloween. The staff dress for Halloween the whole month of October – not only a festive way to celebrate the season but also a great way to build team culture.
Although Leidner is no longer behind the chair, you can still find her in the salon wearing a different hat (and often more than one) each day as CEO, marketing expert, finance executive, trainer, active Downtown District member, and so much more. So, whether you are in need of a cut and color, want some pampering, or are searching for that special gift, you will undoubtedly find what you are looking for at Refinery and the friendly and welcoming atmosphere will keep you coming back for more.
Art Gecko is a small storefront bursting with BIG creativity. Proprietors Cory Hollerbach and Robin Springer have called their space at 218 E. State Street home for the last three… Continue reading →
Art Gecko Studio
Art Gecko is a small storefront bursting with BIG creativity. Proprietors Cory Hollerbach and Robin Springer have called their space at 218 E. State Street home for the last three years, but Art Gecko has been in operation since 2016.
The mother-daughter pair have formal educations in art, and Springer is both a book illustrator and former art teacher. Their enterprise was first called “Hollerbach and Vine Design” when the duo started making custom painted gift boxes. Over time the business model evolved and expanded to the studio and local artisan shop that is now known as Art Gecko.
The name “Art Gecko” is a play on “Art Deco,” the style of visual arts and design that was popular in the 1920s and 30s. Springer and Hollerbach also share a love for geckos, exhibited by their matching gecko tattoos. The studio is decorated with an ever-growing collection of colorful lizards, many gifted by their clients. Most notable is the remarkable metal gecko sculpture in the studio’s entryway, a handmade gift from a special client.
Art Gecko offers wide variety of activities and services for kids from 3 to 103, including birthday parties, themed movie nights, painting classes, and polymer clay classes.
For birthday parties, Hollerbach and Springer go all out. The birthday boy or girl provides the theme and Art Gecko customizes everything to match, from the studio decorations to the art project to the custom cupcakes or cookies served by Baked Designs by JJB.
Some memorable birthday party themes include dragonflies, Labrador Retrievers, Harry Potter, and anime comics. Hollerbach loves a challenge, drawing inspiration from her own special birthday memories, and strives to recreate that wonder and magic for each of her clients.
Opportunities for creative expression are certainly not limited to children at Art Gecko. Hollerbach and Springer believe that it’s just as important for adults to find creative outlets, especially those who don’t consider themselves “artistic.” At the end of each class at Art Gecko, students present their art to the class and get to walk away with their work professionally matted (they can, of course, purchase the perfect frame in the studio, too!).
Art Gecko also has a great selection of local artisan crafts available for purchase in the studio, including handmade jewelry, pottery, and baskets. They also take on custom, unique jobs like repairs to damaged art pieces, repainting worn items, banners, signs, graphics, and more – requests are always welcome.
Unsurprisingly, the Art Gecko team has lots of creative new ideas in store for the studio, with an Introduction to Sculpture class starting November 2, 2021. Their classes fill up quickly so be on the lookout for new offerings.
When you visit you become family, and you are never too old for a birthday party. It is a place to let your children (or your inner child) be imaginative and great place for a night out with friends. You can even get charcuterie from Boarding House Bistro next door to make the event extra special.
To learn more about Art Gecko and check out their ever-changing selection of handcrafted items, stop by the studio at 218 E. State Street. They are not always in the shop so don’t be discouraged if you miss them. You can always find them online at https://www.artgeckostudio.org/.