Geek Road Trip: Who North America sign

Geek Road Trip: There's a gigantic Doctor Who store and museum in rural Indiana

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Jun 21, 2018

Camby, Indiana, is an unassuming place at first glance. Like most of the areas outside of Indianapolis, there isn't a lot to look at. Gas stations and retail shops line the main road off Interstate 74, along with one of the more unexpected attractions in the entire state.

Driving down State Road 67, you'll eventually run into a TARDIS-blue building with a large sign in front branded with the words "Who North America." As it turns out, this small township is home to the country's largest retailer of Doctor Who merchandise.

Back in 2016, Keith and Jany Bradbury moved their online Doctor Who store into a warehouse in order to provide fans and collectors with a brick-and-mortar retail experience, as well as a museum featuring items from every era of the Doctor. Inside the company's 5,000 square-foot location is a love letter to the nearly 60 years of Daleks, companions, and sonic screwdrivers, something that has to be seen in person.

But like many successful businesses, Who North America started with a passion, a few bucks, and an untapped market.

Geek Road Trip: Who North America

Credit: Who North America

In 1998, you simply couldn't find Doctor Who merchandise in the United States. The new era of the series was still seven years away and the show's biggest American fans were forced to pay ridiculous prices at comic conventions or import items from the U.K.

During those early days of the Internet, Bradbury was running a Who review site and chat board while also working in web development in Southern Indiana. While the site was focused on reviews of iconic episodes, it quickly evolved into much more as his desire to acquire merchandise grew.

"The Internet was just kind of brought into our town down there and I started looking up U.K. companies, wanting to see if you could get some Doctor Who stuff at the time. And they said 'Well, we don't have anyone in the United States bringing it in. Would you like to bring some in?'"

After discussing the opportunity with his wife and now co-owner Jany, Keith agreed to an initial order of $1,000 worth of merchandise. What amounted to a single box of figures and toys was gone within a week thanks to sales via his website, and the Bradburys immediately ordered more.

"It just went out that quick. [Doctor Who merchandise] just wasn't here. There were a lot of people who liked it, but you couldn't get ahold of it [for a reasonable price]."

An untapped market had officially been tapped.

Two years after their initial investment, the Bradburys moved their business into its first warehouse, still focusing on online sales, but also allowing Whovians to schedule in-person appointments to purchase collectibles. The business grew and grew from there and, 16 years after that first warehouse, Who North America relocated to its current location.

With a much larger space, Keith and his family have been able to create a full-service fan experience that's about much more than just selling merchandise. Along with the retail area — which features over 1,000 different items — and merch museum, Who North America includes a theater room where they offer screenings and viewing events, as well as a multipurpose room and an arcade room featuring a Doctor Who pinball machine. (Keith made a point of mentioning that he leaves it on free-play, available to anyone "as long as it's working.")

Keith wanted this current iteration of his business to be something more than just a place to sell collectibles. It's a geeky haven built for diehard fans, by diehard fans, and it shows the moment you walk inside. In an era where e-commerce dominates the collectible industry, a store like Who North America is rare.

And that's why it's so important to appreciate it, especially considering how much there is to see and how much hard work this family put into it all.

Geek Road Trip: Who North America TARDIS

Credit: Who North America

The museum section alone makes a trip to the warehouse worth it. Enclosed in backlit glass cases are Doctor Who items you've likely never seen. Keith has tracked down Dalek collectibles from the 1960s, premium merchandise — mugs and beach towels — from old PBS pledge drives (the Patreon of yesteryear), and even some of the snow used on the series' actual set. There are toys, games, and figures from all different manufacturers, including Dapol, the line that Keith first imported 20 years ago.

Who North America has seen some of the most knowledgeable, dedicated Doctor Who collectors come through its doors and, as Keith tells it, the museum has pieces that even those folks were surprised to find out about. Every time new merchandise comes in, he sets aside at least one for preservation purposes, so there's always a reason for repeat visits.

With a booming online business and a retail space built specifically for the fans, the Who North America team has built this company to last a long time. So, what's next for "America's Doctor Who Store"?

"We own the property right next to us…and one of the things we'd like to do long-term is develop out a live-action game…[something] between a live action role play and an escape room…where you're trying to solve an adventure with a Doctor Who theme."

But Keith was quick to mention that additions like that hinge on the dedication of its followers and patrons. Continued support for both its retail side and museum side — which actually has its own Patreon — will allow for further expansion and more fan service, and that's always been the goal of the business.

If you're in the Midwest or even just find yourself with an extended layover at Indianapolis International Airport (just a 16-minute Uber ride from the warehouse), take a trip to Who North America. Meet Keith, Jany, and the rest of the Bradbury family, and enjoy a Doctor Who experience you won't find anywhere else in the country. You'll be happy you did.

Who North America just wrapped up a weekend at Indy Pop Con and, up next, they'll host the All Things Handmade Craft Show on Saturday, June 30 in Camby, Indiana. For more information, call (317) 481-8189 or send an email to whona@whona.com.