A store that’s out of this world

The front window of Forbidden Planet is hard to miss. Photo: Teddy Son
Forbidden Planet is the jam-packed center of the pop-culture universe, conveniently located right here in Manhattan
By Teddy Son

“Avengers: Endgame,” the final film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity Saga, hit theaters late last month like a pop culture tsunami. Determined to see the original Avengers team up one last time, fans were breaking records for ticket sales even before the film opened on April 25.

But cinemas weren’t the only businesses benefiting from the big event. Forbidden Planet, a store on Broadway at East 13th Street, directly across from the multi-screen Regal Union Square Stadium, has been a haven for pop culture fans, most definitely including Avengers people, for close to 40 years. And, thanks to a combination of “Endgame” mania and kids on the loose for spring break, April 24th was one of the busiest days in the store’s recent history.

A Treasure Trove

Which was just fine with owner Jeff Ayers, but he noted that the store is hardly dependent on movie releases. “We carry everything,” said Ayers, “pop culture, sci-fi, comics, horror, movies, graphic novel ... it’s really just anything. We’ve been like this since 1981.”

He’s not exaggerating. Forbidden Planet is a treasure trove where fans of any pop culture genre can happily (and hungrily) prowl the merchandise for hours. Star Wars? Check. Harry Potter? Check. Game of Thrones? Check. Doctor Who? Jurassic Park? Superman? Check, check, check.

On a recent visit, the front window held a life-size model of R2-D2, Luke Skywalker’s trusty astromech droid, a bust clad in a Black Panther mask and a swarm of various figurines. Shelves and showcases filled with toys and action figures greet you as you enter the large, high-ceilinged space (the biggest location Forbidden Planet has occupied in its long history). There are Batman figures that cost hundreds and moveable T rex toys from Jurassic World for $50.

Buy It, Wear It, Read It, Collect It

There are t-shirts for every taste hanging on the walls, from the familiar (hello again, Batman) to the literary (hey there, Edgar Allan Poe) to, well, whatever category a punked-up version of William Shatner belongs in.

There is plenty of small stuff as well, including mugs, refrigerator magnets and key chains. Stranger Things and Game of Thrones appear to rule here, although they are still rivaled by the famed Superman logo, which is one of the easier things to put on a magnet.

The back half of the store holds racks and racks of comic books, graphic novels, board games and much more. Marvel and DC are plentiful, of course, but there’s also Fantagraphic, Drawn and Quarterly, lots of horror, anime, manga and horror manga. Even the 2004 teen phenomenon “Mean Girls” makes an appearance in book form, albeit as a rather late addition to the collection.

There’s plenty to read, but this is no quiet retreat. “It’s fast pace,” said Ayers, “it’s high volume, it’s a lot of different things.” Indeed, people rarely just stop in to buy something and then leave. They browse the racks, bury their noses in a comic book or chat with store workers about “Endgame” or some other obsession.

Hard Work and Experience

Forbidden Planet has regulars who have been frequenting the store for years, semi-regulars who know it’s the perfect place to find the perfect present for that comic book nut of a friend, curious passersby and tourists who want to experience the American pop culture scene.

The business reaches its peak of peaks, however. from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. “You cannot walk in here,” Ayers said simply. This coming winter should bring a particularly large wave of customers, when the release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” coincides with the holiday season.

Like any Manhattan business, Forbidden Planet’s journey has not been totally smooth. The secret to its success, said Ayers, is experience. “We adapt, and we change. The place evolves to what we need. It doesn’t happen organically, there’s a lot of hard work in that, it’s something we’re experienced in doing.”

Forbidden Planet has established itself as a leader in the pop culture business. It has built its reputation over the years, and should continue to do so for years to come. If Marvel’s Infinity Saga can claim an untouchable legacy, Forbidden Planet can do the same.