Sci-fi tries to make it in the real world

Store front
By MIKE MILIARD  |  February 14, 2007

If a sci-fi specialty store can’t survive in Cambridge, where can it? Such is the existential predicament facing Tyler Stewart, owner of Pandemonium Books & Games, which for 17 years has been catering to the needs of the geniuses, weirdoes, and ingenious weirdoes of the People’s Republic.

Last year, disturbed that Harvard Square “was becoming less and less of a unique place, and more of a large mall,” Stewart reluctantly relocated his store to a much bigger space in Central Square.

But as he set about creating a “community center for the science-fiction fans of Boston,” Stewart ran smack into reality. “The move was traumatic. There were a number of different reasons, but we had to close for three months, which threw everything out of whack. We never really recovered.”

After some painful layoffs, Stewart was eventually able to reduce overhead. The store is now operationally in the black. But it has accumulated a mountain of debt. And back taxes are owed. He has arranged with most of his vendors to pay them back slowly over time, but “the IRS is considerably less flexible about such things.”

With the threat of closure on the horizon, there was but one remedy: T-shirts! Fun, high-profit-margin, free-advertising T-shirts; a new design every month. “I told people we were having a great deal of difficulty, things were desperate,” Stewart says. “If we could have a thousand people buy [a shirt], then the proceeds would be able to take out the entirety of the back taxes.”

First off the assembly line: a bold yellow number emblazoned with a marauding green demon clutching a ray gun and poised for pillage. PANDEMONIUM BOOKS AND GAMES, it reads, KEEPING MAYHEM IMAGINARY SINCE 1989. Cost: $20. Buy one.

Already, sales are about two-thirds of the way there. And Stewart is confident he’ll make it back from the brink. “Even if I didn’t,” he says, “I’d keep going. This is what I do. Over 17 years, the store has had its ups and downs, but I’ve always been able to keep it running — sometimes with chewing gum and bailing wire. But it’s a passion.”

Pandemonium Books and Games | 4 Pleasant Street, Cambridge | 617.547.3721

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