Bad economy kills my longtime comics shop

Written: 16 December, 2008

Well, I stopped in to my local comics shop today and picked up the two new releases that were waiting in my pull bag: the new ASM by Roger Stern & Lee Weeks, and the latest issue of Alter Ego magazine. I told the man behind the counter that I wanted to look on the new releases shelf, too, and grabbed the latest Booster Gold. I had let BG slip off my pull list recently, and decided to grab the other 3 most recent issues of the series that I had missed. After ringing up my order, the man behind the counter, the owner of the store, dropped the bombshell: tomorrow would be the last day that the store would be receiving a shipment of new comics.

The store is, and has always been, a used bookstore, but with one-third of the store devoted to comics, mostly newer ones. It was the first comics shop that I ever went to, back around 1979-80 when I was around 8 to 9 years old. Other comics shops in the neighborhood had come and gone, including many that were far superior in every way, but this shop had outlasted most of them, probably because of the used books part of the store. For around the past 8 years, I've had my pull list at this store. Because I always ordered something out of the Previews catalog every month, and had a few titles on my monthly pull, I would get the catalog for free from them each month, to order out of. Discounts on new comics were usually 20% off, but if you bought over $24.00 worth of new releases, they'd take 30% off. I don't drive, so even though it was far away, I was able to take a bus to its neighborhood and then it was just a 30-minute walk to the shop.

Anyway, today the owner told me that they were no longer going to be carrying comics, after 30 years in business. Tomorrow they would receive their last shipment of new comics. By January 6th, they would no longer be carrying any comics at all, and he invited me to stop in after the new year for the sale they'd be having to get rid of them. I gestured to the part of the store that the comics presently occupied and asked, "So, all this part will be for the used books, too?" and he said, "Until March." What happens in March? That's when he is going to decide whether to shut the whole store down for good.

So, this sucks. And now I have to begin the somewhat painful process of figuring out where I'm going to be getting my comics at from now on. Although I voted for change last month, this is the kind of change I hate. I have to find another place to set up a pull list (and find out what each store's policies are, discounts, rules, etc.), deal with a new set of people I don't know, figure out how I'm going to get there every month (and ideally every week), and so on. I don't have a ton of options obviously. I went to two comics shops today to find out their pull-list policies and neither one offered a free Previews catalog each month as part of the deal. The highest discount they offered on new comics was 20%, not 30% (a fact about my current shop that had always factored into my purchases). One of them had a rule about having to have six monthly titles on your pull list, and older titles have to be purchased before you can get newer ones. (I don't know these people, so I don't know how strictly they enforce these rules.)

Unfortunately, that shop is along a nearby bus route so I will probably end up choosing to go with them simply so I can go there on a regular basis without too much difficulty -- regardless of whether I like their rules or not. I can understand their not giving out a Previews catalog free due to cost involved, but it does mean that I'll have to look online more for what's being ordered instead of relying on the convenience of browsing through the catalog. (Maybe I can simply browse through it at the shop, too.) I only have 3 monthlies that I want pulled (not counting mini-series), but some irregularly published independents (such as three of the TwoMorrows magazines and the upcoming "3 Geeks" mini-series), but I'm not sure how friendly they are to my wanting to order stuff like that every month.

In the back of my mind, there is also a thought that maybe I just ought to forget setting up a pull list somewhere else. When I was a kid, I didn't go to comics shops as regularly as I do now; most of my new comics purchases were made at drugstores and 7-11s and regular bookstores. I've sometimes wondered if I should go back to that model, and maybe pick up my new comics at the local Borders as they arrive on the rack, without knowing what to expect. Maybe it will be more fun that way, I think.

But then I hate the idea of missing an issue of the latest Captain America or DD or The Twelve. And the only place I can find the mags like Alter Ego, Back Issue and Jack Kirby Collector are at comics shops (I can't afford to subscribe to them by mail), and I don't want to take a chance missing one of them. I enjoy being able to walk into the shop and get the latest issue of these titles without having to hunt for them, or be surprised by their presence (or lack of presence) on the shelves. On the other hand, I'd have more money if I wasn't buying new comics every month.

The only thing that makes me want to set up a pull list at a new comics shop, and go through the hassle of setting one up and getting to know this new shop's ways, is my enjoyment of certain new releases. Some people go to the movies every weekend; I buy a new comic. And when I look at it that way, the comics spending doesn't seem as expensive.

I'm not looking forward to this change. I just hope this new comics shop stays in business for awhile so that I don't have to go through all this again, say, a year from now. But the way things are going with the economy (and since comics shops have rarely lasted long around here regardless), I'm not optimistic.