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They helped generations fall in love with comics, now they turn their final page

Blaze Ho’ Omakoa, 17, looks at comics at Bonanza Books and Comics in Modesto, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2017.
Blaze Ho’ Omakoa, 17, looks at comics at Bonanza Books and Comics in Modesto, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2017. aalfaro@modbee.com

Even superheroes have to hang up their capes sometimes.

The family behind Bonanza Books & Comics is retiring after more than 40 years of bringing superheroes, super villains and super stories to life for generations of readers. The McHenry Avenue store will close shop by Dec. 23.

Opened in 1973 by Bill and Lillian Allen, Bonanza has been a mainstay for comics fans over the decades. Their son, Jeff Allen, has run the store for years now but the couple remain a near daily presence at the shop. The news of the family’s retirement brought a stream of customers, some who have been coming since they were knee-high, to wish them all well and say goodbye.

“I’m so bummed, this is my favorite place in all of Modesto,” said 17-year-old Blaze Ho’Omakoa, who brought his little sister and mother to the store with him Tuesday afternoon and spoke with the Allens. “I’ll probably be here every week until you leave.”

The Allens know many of their customers by name, and have seen some grow up to bring their own kids into the shop. Even their first-ever comics customer from four decades ago still comes in almost weekly.

“There are a good many of our customers that are like extended family. It’s been a wonderful 44 years and we want to thank them all,” said Bill Allen, now 88, who is known as “Bonanza Bill,” by friends and customers.

The shop has seen many changes, and locations, over the years. It first opened in a space at College and Bowen avenues, then moved to off of Woodrow Avenue for about a decade and then to Roseburg Square for another decade. In 1999 the family bought the 1,8000-square-foot McHenry Avenue site and have been there ever since.

Inventory has also shifted during that time. When it began, Bonanza —named after the iconic TV Western —sold mostly used paperbacks. Books went for 38 cents in the store back then. But as comics became more popular their focus changed and the shop has since become a popular gathering spot for readers, fans and even cosplayers. The store has taken part in the popular national Free Comic Book Day since it started more than 15 years ago.

The Allens said they plan to enjoy their retirements once the shop closes. Bill and Lillian have four grandchildren and a new great-grandchild they are going to see a lot more of soon. The business is for sale, so interested parties are welcome to inquire. But Lillian Allen said from now until they leave they will spend their time thanking their longtime and loyal customers.

“It’s been an exciting ride. We’ve made permanent, lifetime friends through this business. I know we will miss them terribly. But it’s time for us to retire,” she said.

Bonanza Books & Comics is having a retirement sale with all inventory 25 percent off. The store will be open 10 am. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday until Dec. 23 or when the shelves are empty.

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland

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