Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What I Miss - A Decent Comic Book Store

** The names have been changed since I don't want to remember them. **
** Plus, I don't want to give them any business based on my actions. **

As far as retail buying goes, the days of the local Mom & Pop stores are going the way of the cassette tape. It's a slow death and we, the consumers, are paying for it. Most of the times, it's not in the wallet that we get hit but in human terms. Those small stores were a part of the community where the owner never screwed over his customers for fear of retribution since everyone knew where he lived. Neighborhood shops were a great anchor for the community to gather around.

Now, big business has a toehold in most neighborhoods with their grocery stores, CD outlets and even pharmacies. And it's not just brick-and-mortar stores either. The escalating use of the Internet for shopping is changing where people shop. The sense of community as a purchasing identity has been replaced by individual households going towards the smell of saving the almighty dollar, and if you've looked at gas prices recently, that mindset is very understandable.

But the place where this spirit of community still thrives is in your local comic book store. The majority of them are small business owners and they have a vested interest in not only the products that they are selling but also in the reading habits of people who come into their store. A good experience in a comic book store will almost guarantee a return visit with the likelihood of a good size purchase. But what does a bad or even so-so experience return? Here's what happened to me in the past month.

A couple of months ago, I moved away from my neighborhood comic book store. I do not hide the fact that I am rather biased towards Big Planet Comics since I did work some weekends there for the past eight years. But I thought that there would be something equivalent in my new town.

So, after settling into my new house and job, I took a trip to one of the three local stores in the area, which I'll call "Android's Dungeon". As I walked into the store, I noticed that comics we lined up in bookshelves along the perimeter of the store space. They had a decent inventory of all forms of comics from manga to superhero hardcover collections. There was also a good selection of longboxes full of back issues. And there were small pockets of action figures interspersed between the trades. Not bad, so far.

Here's where it turns brutal. The back issues were located under these tables that were being used by customers who were sitting on the attached benches and were either painting their models or playing a card game like Magic: The Gathering while listening to the soft hits of the 70s, 80s, 90s and today.

I was confused. How did the owner expect someone (more than likely a new customer) to go through those longboxes looking to complete a series with a row of smelly kicks in their face? And plus, who would want those books after seeing the condition of those shoes other than someone with a very strong foot fetish? Also, it was almost impossible to browse the trades that were lined along the walls without knocking over the people sitting in these tables and benches based on the space that they took up.

This wasn't a comic book store; it was a gaming store in comic book store's clothing. Obviously, this was a bad trip and I didn't drop a dime on anything. So, after seeing what it actually was, I immediately decided that a return trip to "Android's Dungeon" was not in the cards, so to speak.

To wash that bad taste in my mouth, I decided to make a trip to one of the other two comic book store, which I will call "Three-D Comics".This store was packed with comic books. In fact, the store was setup with rows and rows of back issues with floor-to-ceiling bookcases of hardcovers, trades, and manga digests along the wall. There were even a couple rows for action figures. The selection for all of them was splendid. I was thinking that this may be the one. Then, I delved a little further. If it was going to win my cash for comic book purchases, it had to be a perfect fit.

First, the store is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11-7. Not too bad but what if I get a jones for a new trade on Monday? I've gotta wait until Thursday? Based on my impulse shopping habits, that's not going to happen. Then, I looked at the prices of the back issues. They were jacked up even higher than the Wizard pricing guide, which say all sorts of things that I do not even want to know about.

Finally, I talked to the fifty-ish woman who was jockeying the counter. I came to find out that she was the wife of the owner and she was not at all knowledgeable about comics at all. Not even a cursory interest. Huh? How can she recommend anything without even a smidge of comic book insight? As another customer tried to pay for something, she informed him that they only accepted cash and checks not plastic. What? Is this the 50's? How can anyone do business without accepting credit cards; especially when the items can get quite pricey? I just couldn't wrap my brain around that last one. So, another one bites the dust.

Based on these two stores, I'm not even going to that last store. Call it being gun-shy, if you will. I'm just no in the mood to have my heart broken again. Recently, I heard Tom Keifer sing so painfully that "You don't know what'cha got 'til it's gone." After going to these last two comic book stores, I finally came to the realization that I didn't know how good I really had it.

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