Deep into Stanton Street, on the Southern portion on what feels like the less traversed El Paso Street in the El Centro District of Downtown El Paso is where you’ll find Heroes for Hire Comics and Cards (600 S Stanton St). The street ends at the International Bridge to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua and is peppered with a variety of retail and is home to businesses that cater to the neighborhood community, such as a bakery, a barber shop, and two grocery stores. We spoke to the owner of Heroes for Hire, Fred Cortez, in his shop, framed by a colorful crown of pop-culture merchandise.
Born in El Paso, Fred’s family moved often, eventually staying in California for twelve years, until a return to El Paso his sophomore year of high school. “I graduated from Riverside High School, went to college and years later, got tired of working for someone else and said, ‘you know, let’s just stop and do something else,’” he said.
“Let’s take the risk and do it. About a year later, here we are,” he said. Fred admits he was well aware of the efforts the [Downtown Management District] was taking to revitalize Downtown. “We actually started out at a place on Doniphan, but we couldn’t find our groove. So, we were on our way to Juarez one day to visit family and saw several spaces for rent [in Downtown]. When I called, they gave me the cost to rent, and it was awesome, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” stated Fred. The shop was officially open in Downtown El Paso, in August of 2021.
Fred recalls his childhood and the impact of comics in his life. “I grew up on comic books. It started out with comics and cards because it wasn’t like we had the money to get a lot of toys, but we could afford comics. As kids, one of my fondest memories in the small California town we lived in was spending most of our weekends at the local comic book shop.” As Fred matured into adulthood and his disposable income grew, so did his collection.
In the 90’s, the comic book market was awash with superstar artists and gimmicks from both independent publishers and the “big two” (Marvel and DC) with stories designed to capitalize on the speculator boom, like the “Death of Superman” for instance. Fred rode that wave until the market dried-out as a consumer and didn’t return to comics or collectibles until years later. “As I got older, I looked at comics for more than just the art. I started to appreciate stories and went back to Marvel and DC.”
The immersion into the collectibles market as a hobby and the childhood foundation of fun spawned the idea to open a comic book shop-something he and his brother always talked about over the years. “I decided to do it on my own since my brother currently has his own business,” he expressed.
In these trying times, fiction serves its purpose to provide an outlet for people. Fred, articulates why it’s important, “Escapism is very important to people and obviously, for me, the store captures some of my childhood memories. I try to keep the store nostalgic and get that feeling from the 80’s or 90’s when we used to hang out with friends. It’s nice for people not to have to worry about anything else in the world when they’re here.” The store is designed to promote interaction, “I have chairs, video games, and a T.V., so people can come and just hang out.”
Being located in the El Centro District of Downtown El Paso inherently comes with a robust border community that naturally takes to the pedestrian friendly aspects of Downtown. “A lot of the Downtown community that comes into my shop don’t have a convenient way to get to [more corporate retailers] so we keep our prices competitive. We also see that they appreciate a place to come and entertain themselves. My primary goal is to sell an experience.”
The future of Heroes for Hires Comics and Cards may include an expansion in the space for artists, musicians and more to create engaging activities that customers can enjoy. If you’re an artist, musician or performing artist, the shop welcomes your outreach.