Business is growing for Zeek's Comics and Games at its new, larger Washington location

Steve Stein
Peoria Journal Star

WASHINGTON — Zak Kalina thought he needed to make a move.

Not while playing one of the board and table-top games he sells at Zeek's Comics and Games, but the store itself.

"I wanted to go to a place where I felt we were valuable and wanted, and taken care of," Kalina said. "I felt that way for a couple of years."

The move has been made.

Zeek's is now in what had been a longtime vacant space and a former Washington State Bank branch in the Cherry Tree Shopping Center. It had previously called Washington Plaza home since 2015.

So far, it's been a good move for the 3,200-square-foot comic book and hobby store that's nestled between an H&R Block office and U.S. Cellular store three short steps down from the sidewalk, facing Cherry Tree Shopping Center's main parking lot.

Opening day for the new Zeek's was Feb. 24.

Kalina said the first week sales at his new location were 12% higher than the comparable week last year. Last week's sales were up 150% from last year. Sales for the month are up 115% from last year.

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Zak Kalina, owner of Zeek’s Comics and Games, has seen a big increase in business since moving from his store in the Washington Plaza in Sunnyland to a larger space next to Kroger in the Cherry Tree Shopping Center in Washington.

"It's been crazy. I'm getting 30 to 40 more people a day in the store than I did at the old place. Most are people I've never met," Kalina said. "I've been slammed. I've needed to restock quickly."

Kalina attributes much of the increased activity in his store to it being located in the middle of a busy shopping center that includes a Kroger grocery store, Dunkin' Donuts store, gym, restaurants and dance studio.

"I saw a car park. Two people got out of the car and went to Kroger. Two people got out of the car and came into my store. That's become typical," Kalina said.

Thursday was a busy day at Zeek's. Looking at stick figures he'd written on a piece of paper, Kalina said 46 people had come into the store that day with a few hours left before closing.

"We normally had 10 to 15 people come in each day at the other store," he said.

Nobody in Zeek's on Thursday night seemed to mind the loud music coming from the dance studio above the store.

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Ayrton Chitwood, left, and Jared Cody, both of Bartonville, relax in the lounge area at the back of the new location for Zeek’s Comics and Games in the Cherry Tree Shopping Center in Washington.

It was game night.

Players competed with their miniature figures in the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar tabletop fantasy war game on two of the long tables set up in the back of the store.

While all that was going on, a few customers painted miniature figures for Warhammer and other tabletop games.

Kalina made the rounds among his customers, acting as mentor and instructor when needed. Everyone was wearing a mask.

Zeek's is as much of a hangout as it is a retail business. That's fine with Kalina, a 31-year-old LaSalle-Peru native.

"We're all about community and relationships here," Kalina said. "This is like a second home for many of my customers."

Sarah Jacob is one of the customers who thinks of Zeek's as more than a place to spend money.

The nurse from Peoria spent much of her day off Thursday in the store painting some of the miniatures in her collection.

She goes to Zeek's two or three times a month. Her cat Navi sometimes accompanies her.

"This place is phenomenal," Jacob said. "It's brighter and warmer than the old place. When you come in, it feels like you're walking into a friend's house. There's a couch in the back where you can sit and talk about anything with other people who are here.

"I really enjoy painting here. It's very detailed work, but it's relaxing and stress-relieving."

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Owner Zak Kalina, middle in ball cap, helps players learn the ins-and-outs of the tabletop fantasy game Warhammer: Age of Sigmar during a recent game night at the new location of Zeek’s Comics and Games next to Kroger in the Cherry Tree Shopping Center in Washington.

Customers who stay a while at Zeek's and get hungry can purchase soda, candy or chips.

Kalina's customers went to work last month, moving everything from the 2,400-square-foot Washington Plaza store into the Cherry Tree Shopping Center store a few miles away during a five-day period. The new store is about one-third larger.

"More than 50 of my customers volunteered to help with my move. I chose about 20 to do the actual work," Kalina said. "They would have done it all in one day if I didn't send them home."

One part-time employee works at the store. Kalina hopes to hire more help in a few months, after his March 13-14 grand opening.

Kalina said the Cherry Tree Shopping Center location was the first place he checked out when he was looking several years ago for a spot to open his store.

He scouted nearly two dozen locations in Washington, Morton, Peoria, Chillicothe and Dunlap before deciding on the Washington Plaza space — formerly Sunnyland Plaza -- that had been the Washington District Library branch.

After seeing on a real estate company's website about a year and a half ago that the Cherry Tree Shopping Center space was still available, Kalina expressed an interest in it and began negotiations for a lease.

He signed the lease in November. His lease at the Washington Plaza location expires this month.

Kalina's renovation project at 30 Cherry Tree Shopping Center, Suite A4 was among 15 commercial building permits granted in 2020 by the city of Washington.

Those 15 projects had a construction value of more than $4.5 million. The construction value for the Zeek's project was $58,000, according to city records.

Zeek's hours are noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. For more information on the store, go to www.zeekscomicsandgames.com or Zeek's Facebook page.

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.