Monday, August 29, 2011

Thank You, Comic Shops

As this Wednesday (8/31/11) will mark my final trip out for weekly comic books, I thought I would take a few minutes to fondly remember and publicly say thank you to the various places I purchased comic books over my thirty five plus years of collecting.

The Early Years

I grew up in the small town of Dunkirk, NY, in the 1970's. This was before the advent of places called comic book shops. Back then, if you did not subscribe through the mail (which I did in the late 70's and early 80's on a few titles) you had to rely upon the uneven distribution methods of local newsstands and drug stores to get your comic book fix. Just because a place carried a book one month did not always guarantee you'd see that same book again next month. It really was hit-or-miss when it came to buying books that way. You never knew what you would find as you rotated that old spinner rack. Often you had to look through each section, thumbing through each book, and make sure nothing you were interested in got buried behind something else.

In some ways, that is how I discovered new titles. If something I was usually looking for was not there, I’d pick up something else that looked interesting - especially if I could find two issues of the title to buy at that one time. I never liked walking out of a store without getting something, but it happened a lot more than I would preferred.

Winter months were the worst as I had to rely upon my father to drive me around. Often I would go with him on his run to get lottery tickets or cigarettes as that allowed me a chance to go on the hunt. Spring, summer and fall were much better as I could take my bike and hit up all the places in a big circuit. I would hit Brooks Drugs in the plaza first, and then shoot down Central Avenue to stop at Pete's Newsstand, cut over to US News, jump one block over to Matt's News, swing back up Main Street and stop by Mary's before heading home. Luckily there was little overlap in what books each carried so I could usually get a decent haul every week.

As I entered my high school years, a book store in Fredonia (the neighboring college town) started to carry comic books in the room in the basement. I remember how we would arrive there and see the latest titles arrayed in the front window, calling us to come in. What was nice about that was if there were certain titles that I or my best friend John were interested in then the guy who ran that area would put them on order. It was really my first taste of a true "shop-like" experience. That lasted a couple years (1981 to 1983).

The College Years

When I went to college in the fall of 1983 in Rochester, NY, I already knew where I would be getting my comic book fix. A few years prior, on trips to visit my father's family every two months, I convinced him to make a brief stop at a place called Empire Comics on Stone Road. This shop was like a Mecca for me. It carried everything - new issues, back issues, other related things like games, cards, T-shirts, etc. It was amazing! Empire was the first place I remember seeing rare Mego action figures from the 70's like Kid Flash and Wonder Girl (which were going for an arm and a leg even back then). I would save up my money for two months and blow a ton on a huge pile of books every time. The problem was figuring out which I would get (often I had to put a lot back, or bargain for an advance on my allowance).

Anyway, once I went to college and had access to a car, I would take the group of guys I played Dungeons and Dragons with me on weekly comic runs. This time we hit the Empire Comics location on Mount Hope Road. This was the time period when things like Frank Miller's Batman: the Dark Knight and Mike Grell's Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters were redefining comic graphic novels. Empire was really good to us college students, especially if we subscribed by having a pull-list which entitled us to a discount. Saving money on comics was always a good thing, especially for students on fixed budgets. I would be loyal to this shop for my entire four plus years of school.

(for the link to the Empire Comics website, click here)

The Raleigh Years

Post-college in 1988, I got a job working for IBM in Raleigh, NC. That meant moving me and my collection across a number of state lines. Luckily, there were a number of comic shops near the NC State College campus to choose from. My choice was made when I went to Capital Comics. Owned and operated by Ken Pleasant, Capital Comics and I developed a seventeen and a half year relationship that was truly wonderful. Ken and his shop manager Russ made sure to order whatever titles I was interested in, but they also went that extra mile to get to know their customers. They would spend a few minutes to talk to you about life while they rang up your order, and they knew what to recommend to their regulars based on past sales purchases.

After I got married and we had our son, Ken opened a second shop that was a little closer to where I lived and worked. I transferred my subscription over there and mostly dealt directly with him at that shop. He always treated my son well also, getting to know him and inquire about his health, schooling and such. When I needed to unload a portion of my collection to make room in our small house for our son, Ken was more than willing to give me a fair price in store credit in exchange for the books I no longer planned to keep. I was very sad to say goodbye to the shop when I left the Raleigh area in 2005. I try to stop in and say hello when we spend time there which, sadly, isn't often enough.

The Hickory Years

In 2005, we relocated across state to Hickory, NC. In coming to a new town, I often scoped out the local comic buying options and it was no different when I came here for my job interview. Eddie Price, the store manager of Time Tunnel Comics, was more than happy to have a new customer. I let him know when I would be starting my new job and what titles I regularly subscribed to. On that first week of work, I was able to pick up new books and basically go uninterrupted on my collecting after leaving Capital Comics the week before. That was really nice and set the tone for a good relationship for the last six years.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. With the change in direction of the DC Comics titles (which is the bulk of what I was buying in these last years), I decided it was time to say goodbye to my weekly “habit”. Eddie totally understood when I gave him my advance notice for ending my subscription. He thanked me for so many years of patronage.

(for the link to the Time Tunnel Comics website, click here)

So, there you have it really. When you have good shops like Empire Comics, Capital Comics and Time Tunnel Comics, it is really easy to remain a faithful, loyal customer. I send them all continued best wishes. I know the comic book landscape has gone through ups and down over the past three decades but these shops all continue to deliver that wonderful customer service that helps them to keep going year after year. Thanks all!

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