Great White North
BY CHRIS DIAS. PHOTOS BY BO DANNEFAER
In March of 1991, a little comic and sports card shop opened in an oversized walk-in closet above a craft store - a stone’s throw from Pine Center Mall. Up until then, it had been a table at the Parkhill Flea Market. After seeing the interest for what they were selling, Cameron Stolz moved into his first permanent location, a tiny 300 square feet. Cameron also brought on his best friend Tony Gambato, as store manager a position he has held for 26 years and counting.
A year later, Great White shifted down the hall and doubled in size…and hired me. (Technically I’m still employed, never receiving a termination notice. As I discussed this with Cameron, he stated I am in the reserves and could be called upon at any time.) At this location they brought in miniatures and anime, way before they became mainstays of pop culture.
In 1996, Great White would double in size again. Tabletop gaming exploded, but this was nothing compared to their greatest acquisition…Lego. “We continued to have great success at Parkwood,” said Cameron, “and as much as we liked being there, in order to support our customers and satisfy the demand for even more products, we had to move. This time to Pine Center.” And again, their size doubled.
It wasn’t always an easy road. An expansion in 2009 was poorly timed, Cameron admits. “The economic downturn, combined with increased costs for the larger space, forced us to reverse course temporarily. We worked through that thanks to our great staff and customers. We’re always reactive. We refocused and learned from that.”
Each time they moved, Great White would see its size doubled, and are doing it again. The new Great White, located at Spruceland, is now over 5500 square feet, with a second floor activity space the same size as their current Pine Center location. As before, previous product lines are expanding with new ones being added. The focus this time is on the whole family with toys and games for all ages and interests.
“We always listen to our customers and want to provide what we couldn’t before. We are now adding items to appeal to even more areas and that have greater cross-appeal, to include all ages and interests.” This includes product lines for science, magic, and construction. Creative play with Calico Critters and Roominates. Cameron is also excited that they will be doing even more to support local artists, such as those found at Northern FanCon. “We’ve made an area available to artists to feature some of their creations and offer them for sale to the public.”
But at the end of the day, the real credit for Great White’s success goes back to its staff, whom Cameron repeatedly praises and compliments to everyone. “They are amazingly passionate about the store. Together, Tony, Mark, Terry, and Leah have been with me for over 55 years.”
And with such a rock-solid team, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Great White.