Franco's Earth 383 finds new home at Halstead Plaza
By William F. West
Monday, August 14, 2017
After moving around Elizabeth City’s downtown the past 15 years, one of the area’s premiere shops for comics-readers and gamers recently found a new home on Halstead Boulevard.
Earth 383 Comics and Games operator Duf Franco said he’s happy about his new location at Halstead Plaza, with its neon Batman logo hanging over the front door.
"We've got a nice, bright, open, inviting store now," he said. "We're hoping to have our sign up in the next week or so.”
Franco likes his new neighborhood. The comics and game shop is now close to apartment complexes and a number of high-traffic businesses. Plus Elizabeth City State University and the Coast Guard Base are just minutes away.
Franco said he would have liked to have stayed downtown, but claims he just couldn’t work things out with his former landlord. One problem, he said, were the water stains on the ceiling of his former store in the 600 block of East Fearing Street. He noted that 90 percent of his inventory is made of paper “and water is just not conducive to that.” Also, the flooring in his former building seemed unsteady when you walked in his shop, he said.
Franco said he did look at other potential sites downtown but just couldn’t find what he was looking for.
"There just wasn't anything feasible – and we've had to move a few times over the last few years because of basically the old buildings being in disrepair," he said.
Franco said being downtown also wasn’t easy for his patrons who drive long distances – some come from as far away as Virginia – and wanted to park near his shop.
"Parking was a massive issue," he said.
Franco, 42, first opened 383 in the rear of the former Southern Hotel building on North Road Street and East Colonial Avenue. His stay there was cut short, however, because the property changed hands and Franco said his business didn’t fit into his new landlord's renovation plans.
Franco moved Earth 383 to a space on North Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, across from City Hall. The shop then moved to the Fowler Building on North Water Street before moving to its last downtown site on East Fearing Street.
Asked how Earth 383 has been able to remain business so long while moving from place to place, Franco credited his loyal customers.
"We do have a good community of gamers that do continue to follow us," he said.
Franco, himself the victim of domestic violence growing up, said a large part of Earth 383's purpose is to reach out to youths who otherwise might not have a place to go.
"Around here, there is not a lot of extracurricular activities for families to do sometimes that are necessarily cheap, or for kids to do just so mom and dad can go get a respite somewhere else," he said.
Earth 383 has a second site in Kill Devil Hills that a friend of Franco’s opened two years ago. Franco employs two people at his Elizabeth City store. He also has a small group of people who volunteer to help out.
"Everybody kind of helps out because it is a community based thing," he said.
Earth 383 is open Mondays through Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. On Fridays, the hours are 1 p.m. to midnight. On Saturdays, the hours are 10 a.m. to midnight. The Sunday hours are 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Earth 383’s phone number is 331-7686.