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Neon Monster

A Collectors Trifecta

A good neighborhood shop should add complimentary color to a community. Customers should know that they can rely on the shop owners to carry the stock they need, plus bring them something new to surprise them. Bringing a new bold hue to Noe Valley, even on the foggiest of San Francisco days, is Neon Monster on Castro at 22nd, a collectors haven for comic, record and toy enthusiasts.

Less than half-a-year old, Neon Monster opened up in the old Rx Unlimited Pharmacy (check out the retro tiles still found outside the front of the shop). And when you finally open up the door, I dare you not to smile. Unlike a lot of traditional collectors stores, Neon Monster is not cramped and dusty, nor run by a cranky proprietor who has no interest in talking to you unless you want to pay premium prices for his goods. The space has a light and airy feel, much like a gallery. This all makes sense as shop owners John Crowe and brothers Jacob and Isaac Pritzker all have backgrounds in art. In fact, all the display cases are set on rollers so they can easily be moved to make room for their bi-monthly art shows.

Neon Monster is not stuffy or snobby either. Visitors are free to browse and touch the inventory. In fact, marketing director Kristy Klinck likes how the store feels at the end of the day when the displays have shifted, as if the store is a living, breathing thing. Another bonus is that dog lovers can bring their furry friends to visit, too.

The clientele is made up of a mix of collectors and locals, both kids and adults. As any good neighborhood store should, Neon Monsters owners get to know the likes and dislikes of their regular customers. For example, if someone comes in from the neighborhood looking for a toy to buy someone for a present, its quite possible that the shop owners will know if the person they are buying for already has that particular item or not.

As for comics, Neon Monster carries those from standard camps DC and Marvel, along with Image Comics and Slave Labor Graphics. The selection is refreshed on new release Wednesdays. You can find graphic novels, like Grendel: Behold the Devil ($3), The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone By ($10), or singles issues, like Zombie Proof ($3). More traditional kid picks include Scooby Doo: All Wrapped Up ($7), Amazing Spider Man: Brand New Day ($3), or Futurama: Conquers the Universe ($15).

Moving on to the music, theres a fun mix of records bound to spark fond memories in older customers and inspire a new generation of fans in the younger. In the small but varied collection, the styles run from metal to soul to new wave to rock and more. Newer releases include Nick Drakes Fruit Tree ($60), Daft Punks Discovery ($20) and Radioheads In Rainbows ($17). Used albums included The Cures Quadpus ($9), DIOs Last in Line ($2) or the Isley Brothers Harvest for the World ($2).

The toy selection is fun and arty -- think Takashi Murakami. A child can create his or her own works of art with Mega Munny markers or crayons (both $5). There are vinyl figures, like the Tokidoki set of Adios and Ciao Ciao ($32) and eBoy for Kidrobots PEECOL police officer, NYOff ($9). Or, for something different, theres an inflatable bubble mole ($25). You could even listen to your new records from the Mini God Speakers by artist Marka27 ($100).

If youre interested in jumping into the designer toy craze without making a big commitment, Neon Monster carries blind boxes. This means that you wont know what you are going to get when you open the box. I picked up the Munny Zipper Pull ($3) and the Ninjatown Micro Plush ($6). I found a yellow and orange one, respectively. For kids, though, Kristy said shell let them swap the toys they buy for the open ones on display if they dont get the ones that they wanted.

If for some reason whatever you want is not in stock, they can order it for you. In fact, regulars can set up a hold slot where they keep your requests until your next visit and will sell it to you for a 10% discount.

So, if you have a little or a lot to spend, are old or young, like comics, toys or records, you will definitely walk away with something great that will make you smile. Dont be scared to make friends with the Neon Monster.