Reported by Cherry Hill Patch Editor Bryan Littel
When you walk into Adventureland in the Voorhees Town Center, you’re not just walking into a spot where you can pick up Dr. Who gear, find a Mario Brothers plush villain, pick up the latest comic books or meet a WWE superstar.
You’re walking into a little slice of Sal Fichera’s soul.
Sitting next to a model of Dr. Who’s TARDIS—sorry, no time or space travel available with this one—Fichera, a Cinnaminson native, is a pop-culture machine gun, zipping from his childhood, watching Ultraman and Godzilla flicks, to why Pacific Rim was the monster hit—literally and figuratively—of the summer, to referencing the computer game Minecraft, all while an orchestral version of the Legend of Zelda theme plays on the store’s stereo system.
The store is a reflection of that, with Walking Dead stuff in one corner and Magic: The Gathering cards in another, and everything else a pop-culture geek could want in between.
“This is what I’ve always loved,” he said, gesturing to the packed walls around him. “I don’t think I’ve worked a day in my life…I still haven’t grown up yet.”
Adventureland has its roots two decades ago, when Fichera worked in a comic book shop, eventually parlaying that into his original store in the Echelon Mall.
It was in those early days of the store when Fichera, trying to find a way to differentiate himself, landed on an idea: Why not take the men who were essentially comic book heroes and villains in the flesh—professional wrestlers—and bring them out of the ring and out to meet the fans?
As it turned out, no one had even tried, Fichera said, but he had contacts with local promoters and figured out a way to make it happen.
Fichera started out small, bringing in wrestlers from Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) to the store, then known as Hall of Heroes, without there ever being a blueprint for how to get it done—50 people showed up the first time, with musclebound stars packed in next to Hello Kitty merch.
Still, Fichera got a sense he’d accidentally hit gold.
“This is something—this is really great,” he said, recalling the feeling.
As those ECW stars moved up the ranks and ended up in bigger promotions, like World Championship Wrestling, bigger names came through—Kevin Nash came through several times, among others.
Fichera knew he’d found his niche as it kept growing—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made a half-dozen visits, starting when he was billed as “Rocky Maivia,” and bringing the stars to the people was proving to be a huge success.
“We were something no other comic shop was,” Fichera said. “We’re trying to make an event—we trying to make an experience.”
Fichera rode the wave of wrestling’s popularity and was able to expand at least in part because of that first shot in the dark with ECW.
“The world was moving in the right direction,” he said. “I was just lucky.”
But the economic slump hit him as hard as anyone else five years ago—knocked down to a cart in the Deptford Mall, Fichera eventually worked his way back to re-establishing a full store, opening Adventureland a little more than a year ago.
Fichera’s worked with local hospitals and charities to get kids in to meet big names like Ryback and Sheamus—though it’s not only about kids. A 90-year-old woman came down from New York to see Sheamus , Fichera said, and seeing a tiny grandmother next to the 6-4, 267-pound wrestler was “priceless.”
“Her entire face lit up,” he said. “That was awesome—I’m so glad I could do that.”
Giving back to his customers—who are back in force, and now with families in tow—and the community is big for Fichera, who had plenty of help from others during those lean years, especially when it comes to helping kids who might not otherwise get the chance.
“I want to get them in front of their heroes,” he said.