In 2005, an Onion headline stated that Pittsburgh was reprehensibly unprepared for a zombie attack.
This is still the case, I’m assured by Chuck Cramer, co-owner of House of the Dead, a zombie store that opened last month in Lawrenceville: “We’d be screwed. All these bridges and tunnels — our population would be just jammed.”
But, as his business partner Stu Neft informs me: “I don’t think House of the Dead would have worked anywhere else but Pittsburgh. We’re the zombie capital of the world.”
What might be the world’s first zombie-specific store certainly suits a city where George A. Romero invented the modern zombie in Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. We also host Zombie Fest, zombie walks and World Zombie Day.
Cramer and Neft certainly lucked out finding a horror-fanatic bank loan officer. Six months later, they opened House of the Dead, selling graphic novels, DVDs, artwork and any novelties with an undead twist you can imagine.
“So far it’s going gangbusters,” says Neft, who left his lacrosse-goods store to manage the business. “We’ve been very much accepted by the zombie community.”
It’s a community that is growing, thanks in no small part to AMC’s hit show The Walking Dead, the season premier of which House of the Dead will be screen in-store on Oct. 14. (The event starts at 7 p.m.; the show airs at 9 p.m.)
“In the ’80s, zombies got almost campy,” says Cramer, a “gore-fest freak” and former IT geek. “But like all good zombies, they’ve come back from the dead.” Neft cuts in: “They’ve entered the mainstream.”
Fans of the genre are increasingly diverse, Neft adds. “We actually had a grandma in House of the Dead last night. She bought a T-shirt. She is preparing.”
Cramer and Neft aren’t too concerned that the popularity of these all-consuming creatures might be a sad indictment of the consumerist nature of modern society.
“We’re actually hoping that’s the case,” Neft says.
“Come on in and consume!” Cramer adds.
And they have. So far the store’s already sold out of pint glasses from Shaun of the Dead’s Winchester Tavern and has just restocked “Run ZMB” Ts.
So what future is there for the dead? “I’d love to see Kevin Smith make a zombie film,” says Neft. “Yes! In Pittsburgh! We need another one shot here.” Cramer enthuses.
A zombiefied Clerks could star these two, who joke they’re preparing the store for an outbreak. “In another year we’ll have the full barricade and everything.”
Pittsburgh may be safe yet.