You can never have too many geeky stores or art galleries. However, imagine taking a risk and opening a business, only to have COVID land on you not too long afterwards. It’s a small business owner’s nightmare, but Ray isn’t backing down in the face of a global pandemic. Nope, instead he doubled down and expanded, demanding only the very best be offered to the geeks of San Antonio.
Geek News Now: Tell us about your geeky background. How you got started painting, your favorite genre to paint, all that jazz.
Ray: I started reading comic books around the age of 10 years and loved to reach Spiderman, Superman and the Flash. As I got older, I started reading Venom, Carnage and the Punisher, Fantastic Four and the Hulk. I also loved playing video games and arcade games. Fast forward, I started going to small “comic cons” in the back of libraries and would go to flea markets that had comic books and artists there. I got started painting when I was in my teens and then started to really focus on my painting about ten years ago. My favorite genre to paint is comic book/pop art.
GNN: Opening up the Lvl Up Art Gallery, like opening up any business, is a risk. What prompted you to open up the Gallery?
Ray: We started with a gaming lounge in September 2019 and worked towards growing that lounge. After COVID hit in March 2020, we were shut down and knew we weren’t going to be able tog continue as a gaming lounge with the threat of COVID being extremely high in that type of setting. We started preparing to close the store but with my art background, we decided to evolve the store to an art gallery that would work with local anime/comic book artists to give them the opportunity to display their art since comic cons were cancelled due to COVID. After that, we started growing and expanding our store to include anime, video game, and comic books/toys, etc. We’ve since moved into a larger space and are working to bring back a small gaming lounge in our new location.
GNN: You didn’t back down, you’re expanding the art gallery! What about current plans? Any insight into future plans and what prompted this move?
Ray: We plan on bringing in anime voice actors and TV show actors. We are going to be doing mini-events at the mall at least once a year, if not more. We also plan to start bringing our show on the road by attending the larger comic cons to showcase our artists and merchandise. That secret construction is our new mini gaming lounge/anime room. We plan to have a version of our old gaming lounge and it’s halfway built with the expectation that it will be fully operational in 1-2 months. We’ll have six gaming stations set up with the Nintendo Switch and PS4 plus a retro gaming station for old Nintendo and Saga gaming. As we move into more calmer waters with COVID, we may also bring back our gaming party packages as well. There will also be a larger screen for Anime viewing during specific days and times for a small fee that will include a Japanese snack and drink.
GNN: What do you love about anime? What has it taught you?
Ray: I really like the storylines in the Anime and style of animation. The art style is amazing and so much better than the American “cartoons”. The way they draw the women in anime is also amazing. It’s taught me that the little guy can get one over on the big guy if he just keeps trying. Anime has also taught me there is always a “power up” and win the fight.
GNN: The biggest challenge in being a business owner has been…?
Ray: The biggest challenge in being a business owner is keeping up with and figuring out the trends. We face challenges in figuring out what merchandise to carry and making sure we get those orders in on time so that our shelves don’t run bare. We have to work on keeping our shelves stocked and the merchandise revolving to keep the customers coming in and coming back. It also helps to have a lot of money. I would also say getting our store out there in the public view has been a challenge. We have to make sure we stay on top of social media posts to bring those customers into the store.
GNN: The biggest thrill or success in being a business owner has been…?
Ray: The biggest thrill as a business owner is to see people’s faces in awe when they come into our store and see what we have to offer, or they look at the model AT-ST on display in our store. Johnny Dominguez built that AT-ST and we are very proud to display his model in our store.
GNN: If you could paint one famous actor or actress for your art, living or dead, who would it be?
Ray: I would love to paint Sigourney Weaver from Aliens. She was a badass in that movie.
This terrific gallery and store is located at Rolling Oaks Mall on the north side of San Antonio (1604 and Nacogdoches Road). Don’t forget we do different Spotlights in different months. Check out “Bitforce” from last month!