Surrounded by action figures sculpted into the rippled likeness of professional wrestlers, his store phone rang about every five minutes Tuesday, while his cell phone rang about every three.Balian spoke with all the callers quickly and moved with haste as he went about his daily chores of arranging new shipments of action figures and packing up baseball memorabilia in his Whitestone specialty store, Ultimate Card and Comic Universe."I'm ambitious," he said. "I want to open up three more stores by the end of the year."And if the hundreds of people who line the sidewalks of 150th Street for his weekend autograph signings are any indication, three more stores might not be such a distant goal.In two weeks, the crowds will again file into his store for a meet-and-greet with the "Dr. of Thugonomics" himself, World Wrestling Entertainment wonderboy champion John Cena, a man Balian describes as "a big version of Marky Mark," the former rapper turned Hollywood star Mark Wahlberg.Cena is the latest in a string of sport celebs at Balian's store, the name of which he is currently in the process of changing to Wrestling Universe.For the visit from the WWE champ, Balian has been busy converting his store from the general collectible shop it used to be to a straight-up wrestling specialty store, with the majority of the goods rare action figures priced anywhere from $15 to $150."Toys 'R' Us has maybe two or three of the same action figure, but I got maybe two or three hundred," he said.Amid a shelf of videos with titles like "Seasons Beatings" and "Halloween Hell" sit several empty glass display cases that Balian will remove to set up the entire store to resemble a wrestling ring, complete with ropes and turnbuckles.In the past Balian has held signings with notable wrestlers like Nick Foley, aka Mankind, Mr. Wonderful and the Bushwackers.Former Cardozo teacher Matt Striker even made an appearance at the store shortly after his decision to quit teaching.Balian is currently in the process of setting up a signing with the New Age Outlaws: Road Dog Jesse James and Bad Ass Billy Gun and a possible date with Rey Mysterio."No one's doing this," he said. "It's an untapped market and I want to get my grips on it and be the first one."For details on how to obtain tickets, visit the store at 12-60 150th St. in Whitestone, or call 718-746-0010.Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at news@times
©2006 Community News Group
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