MASON CITY | It all started more than four decades ago, with Frank "Pat" Tickal selling stamps in his upstairs den, and his son Mike selling comic books in the basement.
And today, Mike is nearing 40 years of selling not just comic books in Mason City, but also vintage toys, records, baseball cards -- anything he deems a "collectible."
Mike Tickal, 60, has owned Oak Leaf Collectibles since it originally opened just under 40 years ago as "Oak Leaf Stamps and Comics" near 10th and North Federal Avenue. He's moved around town a bit, but has been at his current spot at 221 N. Federal Ave. since 2011.
His store is filled to the brim with several different types of collectibles. One wall that stretches about 50 feet is filled with racks of comic books. Display cases near the front of the store feature everything from NFL sunglasses to a Snoopy-themed card holder from the 1970s. Various superhero figurines, baseball cards, movie posters, and even beef jerky is available.
Tickal said his bread and butter, however, is comic books.
"I’m a comic book person," he said. "What I technically like is printing and engraving. Vintage paper money is printing and engraving, comic books because it’s line art."
The Mason City native is extremely knowledgeable about not only comic books, but pretty much all of the 50,000 items in his store. He walked around his store earlier this month, detailing random items throughout the space.
Tickal is also preparing the store for its 40th anniversary, scheduled for Oct. 14. Guest author Christopher Schmitz, who has written mythological novels, will be present, along with the Ghostbusters of Iowa and an inflatable Mystery Machine, the hallmark vehicle of the Scooby Doo series.
Some things, however, will be a surprise, Tickal added.
"We want to surprise people with some stuff," he said. "They come in and say, 'Oh, I didn’t know I was going to be here!'"
Tickal a lot of the stuff that he buys for his store is not just from distributors, but also from random people he meets on the street and those who have collections online. Those relationships lead to partnerships and opportunities to promote each other's business, he added.
"I like our customers to meet our artists," he said. "I like to educate people as well as entertain them … I don’t do this just to make money."
Next month's event will also benefit The Humane Society of North Iowa, as 5 percent of all sales will be donated to the organization.
Tickal said all of his events give part of the proceeds to some charity. If he can't give money, he volunteers in other ways.
"I give because I can," he said. "My wife and I go to a lot of charity events. If we can’t give money, we go help … we’ve helped the Humane Society 20 times, I’ve helped the North Iowa Youth Center 100 times.”
When it comes to the day-to-day operations of the store, Tickal said he and two other employees review what was sold overnight, set up what needs to be shipped out -- he also has a website, dustcatchers.com -- organize new items and collections and see what to order from vendors.
Steve Sorbo, 55, has worked in the store for more than 25 years. He said that despite reading comics since he was a kid, he still enjoys going through all the new inventory.
"It’s kind of like Christmas every weekend," Sorbo said. "You read these comics for years, you know the characters, you know what they’re going to do, and it’s hard to surprise you after a while. But they do manage to do it on occasion."
Outside of his employees, Tickal has had some customers open up their own comic book and collectible stores throughout the state: in Ames, Des Moines, Cedar Falls and Iowa City.
Despite having half a century in the comic book business, Tickal still sees surprises. He pointed to one comic book on the about 50-foot stretch of his store, which sported Batman on the cover. The price of that comic book when it printed three years ago? $3. Now? $65.
"That’s a phenomenal increase," he said. "That is a humongous price increase from $3 to $65 in three years. I wish I had bought an extra hundred of those."
Tickal, however, still has considerable knowledge, even outside of the comic book industry. He noted that certain boxes of baseball cards skyrocketed from $25 to $100 when Major League Baseball players went on strike in the 1990s.
There's also a difference in the value of those packs, and comic books and items where you know what you're getting, he said.
"Sports card collecting is legalized gambling," he said. "I mean you buy a pack for $11 and you pull out a $500 card, you hit the jackpot."
Throughout the years, Tickal has endured and survived through some tough periods. In 2008, the global financial crisis severely impacted his business, and flooding that filled his store with over two feet of water caused Oak Leaf to close for four months at 23 5th St. S.W.
Tickal said he persisted and kept chugging along, and soon enough, he was back in the black. And now, about half a century after he started selling comic books, he continues to serve Mason City and those throughout the state looking to satisfy their craving for collectibles.
Matt Greiman, 42, of Garner, was shopping for Spiderman comics for his 11-year-old son, Jaren.
Greiman said Tickal and his employees' knowledge of collectibles is impressive.
"They just take really good care of us," said Greiman, who's been shopping at Oak Leaf for about two years. "That’s why they’ve been here for 40 years."
Tickal said that when he is done running the store, he plans to hand it over to his two children, 33-year-old Matthew and 30-year-old Sarah.
Until then though, he'll enjoy serving those who come through.
"Just the joy that people have, they come in, they look around, they go, ‘I can’t believe I found this place!’" he said. "It’s just the pure joy that people have in finding a place like this and loving everything that we have and we do here. I love making people happy.”