For more than two decades, the founder of Scarsdale comic-book shop Alternate Realities has left customers with one burning question: Who is Steve Oto? Well, it depends on your encounter with him. The co-founder of the comic-book shop can be affable with his regulars (most of whom he knows by name) and even organizes weekly dinners. Other times, though, he’s begrudgingly hostile, declaring delinquent customers “dead,” berating those who break his cardinal rule by calling on Wednesday (his busiest day), and doing little to hide his disdain for browsers. Despite this duality—or maybe because of it—Alternate Realities became a home to comic fans around the county.
Best. Otoisms. Ever.
“Steve Oto wills himself to health molecule by molecule.”
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“Everything sells for a dollar.”
“Steve Oto does not run.”
“Steve Oto does not let a woman break his heart more than once.”
Oto opened the comic-book shop in 1992 alongside co-founders Kevin Halstead and Gene Doherty, with the motto of “three geeks and a dream.” After changes in ownership, Oto became sole proprietor because, as he states, “democracy does not work in a corporation.” (That’s just one of his many “Otoisms,” more of which you can find to the right.) For Oto, the dream soon became a nightmare of long hours and low sales. During the store’s early days, Oto occasionally gambled at a nearby casino or shoveled snow to cover the rent.
In early 2015, Oto announced the June closing of “the last real comic book store in the county” in a scathing Facebook post blaming those individuals—by name, in some cases—who neglected to purchase items they ordered. “One of the biggest reasons I have to close is because of those customers who have left me in the lurch,” he wrote.
“Steve owns a retail store but hates people,” says Doug Doescher, a longtime friend and customer. Another customer, Zach Woliner, cites Oto’s “cranky charm” as the source of the store’s camaraderie. “Steve has always been willing to share his take on all subjects—from comics and collectibles to marriage and parenthood,” Woliner says. When Woliner got married in 2011, Oto and his employees were in attendance.
It’s that type of camaraderie that has given the store—where boxes of overstock fill every available space, the stained carpeting shows its age, and only half of the window’s neon lights illuminate—its oddly homey feel.
And despite the impending end of his 23-year nightmare, Oto maintains his characteristic saltiness, saying, “If the store blew up, I wouldn’t shed a tear.”