Local businessman channels inner comic book character

BY SETH ROBERTS | JULY 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Eric Vance really likes comics.

The self-described “Marvel head,” a reference to his favorite comic-book company, decorated his workplace with posters depicting such characters as Thor and Captain America.

One character in particular stands out, though. Plastered on one wall is a huge portrait of the hulking, fanged super-villain Venom, from the Spider-Man universe.

“I’ve always like Venom and thought he as an awesome, awesome character,” said Vance, who used the villain’s name as the basis for a green-and-black tattoo on his forearm.

The posters and body art also guided the 19-year-old Iowa City native when he was naming his business. Vance opened Venomous Glass Works in the space above TCB Pool Hall on June 10.

“It kind of fell into my lap,” he said and laughed. “I’ve always been really good friends with the guy who used to own it, and I bought the business from him, and now it’s mine.”

The store used to be called Head Hunters Glass and was owned by glassblower David Albery. When Albery decided to focus more on the artistic side of the business, Vance bought the space and rebranded it after his favorite comic-book character.

Albery, who couldn’t be reached for comment, still produces the bulk of the store’s wares. His work ranges from small, colorful pipes that sell for around $35 to ornately twisting, much more expensive waterpipes.

Vance said he likes the idea of supporting local artists by selling pieces created in Iowa, and he buys most of the material on his shelves from Albery’s studio in Davenport or from blowers in Coralville.

“Why not buy locally — why help everybody else out if you can keep your money in your community?” he said. “We’re about the only place in town that actually has locally blown [glass].

We’re not buying too much off the Internet [or] trying to sell people cheap, janky glass for expensive prices.”

Instead, he said, he wants to combine the local appeal with low prices to build a customer base for his store.

The main challenge has been advertising — Venomous is hidden away in a dark corner of the Hall Mall. Vance’s older brother, Nick — who, unlike his younger sibling, has prior business experience — has taken on some of the advertising responsibility and is using fliers, word-of-mouth, and a giant TV pointed out onto the Ped Mall to gain attention.

Nick Vance, 23, who joined his brother in the early stages of planning the store, described their business relationship as an equal partnership.

“We got all of our fighting out as we were children,” he said and laughed. “We decide everything together — if one of us doesn’t like [something], we don’t go through with it.”

Nathan Gilpin, who has known Eric Vance since the two were in seventh grade, said the early success of the shop is a factor of Vance being an “extremely hard-working person.”

“He didn’t get any handouts growing up — he’s always had to work hard,” Gilpin said. “I definitely see the small businessman mentality running in him, and that’s what sets apart his business.”

Vance said he expects his sales to increase exponentially once the fall semester starts, but for now, he’s happy to sit back and enjoy his first business endeavor.

“We’ll see where it takes us,” he said. “Hopefully, it’ll turn out as a career, but as it is now, it’s a steppingstone. Maybe there’ll be more things to come — maybe we’ll expand and move and that sort of thing. We’ll see.”

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