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Comic Book Store Blues

Comic Book Store Blues: The Lounge Act

Article at Bleeding Cool by a comic shop owner:

"I have learned over the years there is going to be up and downs. Often many of the ups and downs are out of a store’s hands. The publishers will at times lose touch with what readership would like. The market is heavily pumped up on variants. Marvel currently seems to want a store’s money and no input from the stores that sell their product. Even after Axel Alonso was replaced by C.B. Cebulski, Marvel is staying the course and not changing. That scares me."

How to lose a comic book buying customer

The article describes how some competing comic book stores have staff which are annoyed by the presence of customers, exhibiting a huffy attitude for being interrupted while they are busy playing games, emphasis is given in the article on this matter of playing games while running a retail business. [1]

But I think there's more to this issue than attitude: a certain shop I'd frequented for 13 years went under new ownership. The previous owners (older folks going into their senior years and retirement) weren't cheerful but they were effective. If you asked them for something they would either find it or exhaust every possible avenue in trying to obtain it. This shop wasn't my "main" shop where I had my subscription list, but despite it being much further from my home than other shops, it was my "#2" shop and the one where I usually bought higher-cost books.

When the new owners came in, considerably younger people with cheerful smiles, customer service suddenly warped. Though making sure to greet every customer coming through the door, they were otherwise concerned chiefly with their board and card games from where in a corner of the store they had set up a kind of open-air lounge for themselves, removing several racks and bookcases from the old layout of the store.

The atmosphere of being in a quasi-store-cum-dining-room quickly killed my ability to verbally ask them for help (who wants to interrupt someone in their dining room?), and after four visits with the new owners (versus the dozens and dozens of visits from before) I gave up on the place. In the instances where I did interact with the new owners, they were smiling and exuding the kind of genial attitude I come across in hundreds of other retail establishments. That's all to the good and is the mark of some kind of professionalism, at least in style, though I have no illusion that this is a true interaction with a cheerful person, but rather a person practising good customer interaction skills.

But in the case of this new management, the difference was that, besides the act of running their store from their card-table, they wouldn't actually do more than make a cursory look for the items I would ask about, and then leave me empty-handed as they retired quickly back to their gaming. Could they order the item? Was the item even available from any distributer? This wasn't offered, they too quickly ejected from this customer to return to their lounge.

It's been five years since my last effort to utilize this shop. Sometimes I think I'll drop back in to see if they've changed their ways, but as yet I've not had the spark of initiative to try again, even though I've driven directly by their shop many times to park close by as I go into a totally different store (to get donuts. They're not cheerful - or uncheerful - in the donut place but instead are focused on getting fresh donuts into the hands of customers as fast as possible).

The experience of poor, off-putting service is a category all it's own, since many comic book shops are run by curmudgeonly personality types who nonetheless are capable of serving the paying customer with efficiency. But only in desperation would a customer acclimate to a polite, friendly but time-wasting and ineffective staff who can't produce results. I'd far rather wander though the traditional comic book store maze, clogged with neglected racks, shelves, stacked-boxes and odds and ends, but run by someone who knows, at least generally, what's in the labyrinth.

Ultimately, for my former "#2" shop, the real issue wasn't the "lounge," [2] or the not being able to find the thing I was looking for. Comic book collectors are inclined toward loyalty and do not adhere or avoid shops lightly, and if anything defines the collector mentality, it is determination. But somehow this shop, with all the things combined together, was cheerfully rebuffing me and wasting my time.


1. This is probably an experience the comic book buyer who frequents a variety of shops has had happen to them - it certainly has to me. When I travel I make it a point to go into comic shops across the country and soak up the atmosphere, gauge the selection, buy old back issues, so my experiences are not just regional.

2. Now it has been years since I was even near the shop and wonder if they're even still in operation. (Other comic book buyers have told me the shop is actually financed by a third party, a parent, who is keeping the business running for the benefit of their child operating it. I don't know if this is true but it would explain a few things.)

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Original Page October 2019 | Updated last on July 5, 2021