Bliss’ Gift Mania fills long-neglected niche market for collectibles

BEIRUT: Stuffed into the small shop at the west end of Bliss Street is more superhero, anime and general pop culture paraphernalia than you can find almost anywhere else in Lebanon or the Middle East. Devil May Cry, Sin City, The Crow, Rocky, Street Fighter, posters and figurines jut from improbable angles, stacked to the ceiling, scattered and strategically positioned, giving the shop a feeling of intentional disorganization.

The superhero and anime figurines at Gift Mania are stacked so high and seemingly haphazardly, one wrong move risks an action figure domino effect: Gundam would fall on Gundam and Batman could careen into Joker.

The store scratches a hard-to-reach itch for anime and superhero collectors in Lebanon and the region. Gift Mania is an island of niche American and Japanese culture in a country that usually caters toward more mainstream tastes.

“It’s pretty much things I collect and we made a store out of it,” said store owner Mohamad Sinno, who opened Gift Mania in 2006. “It’s a whole culture, anime and superheroes and all.”

The shop started as a project while Sinno was in Lebanon visiting family. After his trading firm went belly up, the sale of pop-culture collectibles became a full-time gig.

“When we started, it was pretty much T-shirts and gadgets and that’s it,” Sinno said. “Then we started widening the circle.”

And the circle has widened many times over the years as Sinno brings collector’s items from the latest trends and keeps up with popular standbys.

You can find stylized models of the iconic Japanese historical figures Date Masamune and Sanada Yukimura in the shop, as well as Bane masks, the villain of the latest Batman movie, and replica house sigils from the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones.” There’s a rack of swords, a case of knives and wall of bobbleheads that almost touches the ceiling, all with connections to TV shows, movies and video games.

“We ship from both ends of the world and we are in the middle,” Sinno said.

The store has seen a surge in popularity for Superman items with the release of the new Hollywood movie, and Sinno is expecting a similar spike in demand for X-men collectables after “The Wolverine” release last week.

But pulling in a full stock of collector’s items from cultures across the world is a challenge. Items take a long time to reach Lebanon and come at a price: Collectables and figurines cost $20 and above, even reaching over $100.

Sinno said the already expensive items are a hit with a large customs tax driving prices even higher.

Despite the prices, Gift Mania has a healthy customer base that has kept the store open for almost eight years. Younger people come in for popular props from the latest movies and TV shows, while older shoppers come for the limited edition collector’s items.

Sinno says he is planning to expand to include an online presence to serve customers in the Gulf who buy high-cost items but haven’t been visiting the country because of the instability.

“I’ve been here for 2 hours and I keep finding stuff,” said 15-year-old Maria Nassif on her first visit to the shop. “It’s like a geek palace.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 01, 2013, on page 2.




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