Ami Rizek sits in a brightly colored flood of pinks, whites and pastels. She’s surrounded by things she loves — cutesy anime merchandise often called “kawaii” — and people who appreciate the space, which brings a feminine charm to an often male-dominated subculture.
In the middle of the store sits a long table outfitted with a Pokémon tablecloth. The walls offer an array of various anime figurines, statues, plushies and shelves of manga. In the back, a bright neon sign shines with the likeness of Sailor Moon.
Doki Doki Kawaii Shop, the newest addition to Madison Avenue’s burgeoning, nerdy shopping district, opened in December. Alongside other staples like Superscript Comics and Games, Apple Jax Toys and Cleveland Curiosities, the store fits like a glove and provides a unique shopping experience all at once.
“That's the wonderful thing about it,” says Owner Ami Rizek. “I connected with some of the shop owners along Madison Avenue and we all have a nice little camaraderie together where we support each other. They kind of welcome you with open arms, especially Galadriel from the Lakewood Art Supply store.”
But Rizek recalls long years without a physical space to truly call home. In the early days of the American anime fandom in the ‘90s and early aughts, fans sequestered themselves to libraries that carried manga and online chat forums or niche school clubs.
By the time dedicated anime stores began popping up, Rizek noticed they could feel unwelcoming to women regardless of the wide spectrum of anime that they enjoy, from the action-packed Dragon Ball Z to the cutesy, colorful Cardcaptor Sakura.
In that climate, the women of the fandom could often feel excluded and even unwelcome.
“When I moved back to Lakewood, I was like ‘I need to create that space now that I'm back in my hometown, the place that helped make me who I am,’” Rizek says. “And my own self-love and self-care that I've grown to develop thanks to my fandoms and hobbies, I wanted to bring that space for other people to feel safe … where they can be surrounded by all the things that they love and grew up with and get to continue to explore that.”
While the shop’s inventory boasts a little something for every fan — from your brawny action heroes to your cuddly, stuffed Pikachus — Rizek plans to focus events on inclusive activities, including “Magical Girl Potion Making” and the family-friendly “How to Play the Pokémon Trading Card Game.”
“I'm pretty much doing events that I feel like are centered mostly on women,” she says, “because we don't really have our own nerd space. I didn't have — or anyone really — a space like this that they can come to and feel comfortable in themselves. Especially women who were really into specific [fandoms] or, you know, things that they really loved and appreciated but didn't have that kind of safe space for them.”
Dates for Doki Doki’s upcoming events have yet to be scheduled, but locals can expect the announcements soon, among many more changes and additions to come as Rizek proves her kawaii shop a necessary addition to the Northeast Ohio anime fandom.
“A brown girl like me can like anime and like gaming.” she says. “I'm hoping to open the eyes of people, to share there are so many different types of folks who are into this. It's such an amazing way to build community.”
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