Husband #1 and I were married in 1984, which is about the time that he started collecting comic books. There wasn’t a lot of comic reading going on at that time in our house, but the stacks of coffin-shaped comic book boxes kept growing, as did the amount we spent on them. #1 did most of his comic shopping at a small used book store that was filled to the rafters with dusty copies of Louis L’Amour and trashy romance novels. The shop owner got in new comics every week, and like a lot of other collectors at that time, #1 was buying multiple copies of new releases in hopes that they would go up in value. We spent many, many hours putting brand new comic books in poly bags.
He must have spent even more than I realized in that shop, because the owner (a sweet lady in her 60’s) eventually offered to sell the store to us. She must have been really sick of the stacks of dusty Harlequin romances, because she even offered to take payments! Well, #1’s entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t say no to that…with a loan from his father and a lot of hope, we became bookstore owners.
My hubby jumped into the task of sorting through thousands of used books, crappy comics, good comics, dirt, old grocery bags and tons of just plain junk. It took a lot of work to unearth a real store, but he was a man on a mission! He was frequently interrupted by an assortment of middle-aged women toting wrinkled grocery bags filled with dog-eared Harlequin and Barbara Cartland romances, fully expecting to trade them in for another sack of high-class reading material. He had the unhappy job of telling them that the store had changed hands and book trading was no longer part of the plan. There weren’t any granny riots, but there were some pretty animated discussions about the changes to their beloved ‘library’. The Louis L’Amour guys were ‘right peaceable’…they usually just shrugged and left. The ‘love ladies’ though, did NOT want to let go of their basically free stash of reading material. (If Fabio had walked in there when any of these big readers was there, we would have had a riot for REAL!)
I kept my day job at a screen printing company for a while, jealously wishing that I could work with #1 at the comic shop. I was tired of having to answer to a boss, naturally, but mostly I wanted to be a contributor in our own little business…to be a part of creating our dream. Within about a year, I got my wish, and I became the ‘nice lady behind the counter’ at what I lovingly referred to as our ‘funny book store’.
We quickly built a reputation for having a great selection of old and new comics, and we had shelves full of classic and new science fiction and fantasy novels, collectible toys, a variety of model kits, Dungeons & Dragons paraphernalia, fantasy jewelry, t-shirts and anything else that made sense in our little world of make-believe. #1 believed in giving people plenty of bizarre stuff to look at…and we did that with a vengeance.
The only comics I’d ever read as a kid were Archie, Casper and Richie Rich, with a few assorted horror stories thrown in. Suddenly I was immersed in a completely new and different world. It was exciting and a bit scary, but before long I was reading a variety of titles (my favorites were Swamp Thing and Batman) and soon I was the ‘lady behind the counter who could talk Wolverine and the Green Lantern with the best of em’!
The most interesting thing about the business was, by far, the customers. They ranged from tiny little kids (brought in by their parents), to preteen boys with allowance or birthday money, to grown up (mostly) men who sometimes left work early on Fridays, when the new comic shipment arrived. Some just loved comic books, but it was the mid 1980’s and many were comic ‘speculators’ who bought multiple copies of the new books that they thought would be worth more later. I liked the genuine comic lovers better…there’s something to be said for having a passion for something you love, and they really loved their comics. I learned quickly that I had a gift…a talent for bringing these guys out of their shells and into the world of conversation with a FEMALE. Yes…I was the Geek Whisperer! I could make even the shyest of our customers feel right at home, and they got to brush up on their ‘talking to girls’ skills. I also provided a diversion if they brought along a wife or girlfriend…she could visit with me while they plotted out how to spend more than she realized…it was a win-win situation!
Working at the store was fun (most of the time), and I became a fount (or font if you prefer) of knowledge on the finer points of Star Trek being supremely superior to Star Wars, Batman and the world of Gotham, all things Spidey, and whatever was going on in the Marvel or DC universe at the time. I became an avid reader of Swamp Thing and a few other esoteric comics, and I fell in retail love with our customers.
There was the 10-year-old Chinese boy who worked as a waiter in his family’s restaurant–he made enormous tips because of his ability to take orders for a table of ten or twelve people and never write anything down. He was one of our best customers and we’d get excited just seeing him ride up on his bike.
We had two friend/customers who always came in together for their weekly ‘fix’. They were artists for a local company that made costumes–the type you see at theme parks or in the Ice Capades. They were hilariously sarcastic and incredibly talented, and loved educating us on the ins and outs of movie special effects, model painting, and the like. They even built a fake stone ‘dungeon door’ for us when we expanded the store into an adjoining space. It was amazing, but the best part was the phrase (in code) above the opening: Abandon all budget, ye who enter here.
Then there was a guy who became a fixture in the store. He rarely worked and usually just spent his days hanging out with us, helping us by running errands, bagging comics and doing whatever was needed. Definitely a unique individual, our buddy lived in a bit of a fantasy world, often speaking fondly of his grandfather ‘the Grand Wizard’ of KKK fame, telling us about the time he made a ‘molotail’ (aka molotov cocktail) or dropping not-so-subtle references to ‘spy information’. Let’s just say that characters were plentiful in our little world.
We worked hard, and rarely took a day off. It was exhausting, but I was happy. I didn’t even get miffed when, periodically, one of the grocery bag ladies would show up. It happened less and less, but when they did visit, they invariably didn’t even realize that the store was different… now clean and bright, with no mention of the word “LOVE” anywhere…until they reached the counter. I would smile and sweetly explain that the old store didn’t exist any more. Then I would dodge the major eye daggers that were usually thrown my way and continue smiling as the (obviously jonesing for Fabio) woman left the store, cursing.
After about six years we sold the store and moved on to our cross-country ‘where do we want to live‘ adventure that landed us in Oregon. We left partly because we were burned out, and partly because #1 finally realized that we were becoming successful…and that just wouldn’t do. He wasn’t ready, and his demons grabbed and shook him hard. But that’s another story now, isn’t it?