Friday, January 1, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 22


Our comic book store was open Monday through Saturday, from 10 AM to 6 PM and since I was the only employee, I was working a lot of hours. My typical workweek was at least sixty hours, sometimes as much as one hundred hours.

My wife, Mal, wanted us to be able to get together with our friends like “normal” people. I was not willing to give up working on Saturdays because it was the busiest sales day of the week but I knew I could probably give up working on Monday or Tuesday. These were the slowest days of the week because most people would have spent all of their “extra” spending money during the weekend. Many customers got paid on Thursday and they would buy all of their comic books and other collectables on Friday because that’s the day the new comic books arrived. If they couldn’t take time off of work to get to our store on Friday (because we closed at 6:00 PM), they’d be at our store first thing on Saturday morning. I had decided to close the store each day by 6:00 PM because the store was located at the edge of a potentially dangerous neighborhood. It was okay during the day but at night it could be pretty scary. I didn’t want to risk the safety of any of my customers by being open for business after dark.

I hired my first part time employee. Tim Shea wasn’t very fast at putting the comic books into plastic bags or arranging them into alphabetical order but he was very dependable and he was always on time. He lived directly across the street from the store.

I had hoped that Tim could be trained to run the store so I could occasionally take some time off to be with Mal and our son, Adam. I soon realized that Tim didn’t have the knowledge of comic books or the skill needed to be able to buy collections from customers.

I knew that I wanted my store to have a “buyer” on hand at all times so that we’d never miss out on a great collection. Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to find Steve Wentzell . Steve came into the store one day to look for old records. Steve was a large guy with a long beard. He looked threatening to some people at first, but he was actually a really nice, friendly, laid-back guy. He knew a lot about comic books and baseball cards but his passion was records. He had experience buying and selling because he set up at a local flea market on weekends. He wasn’t really looking for a regular job but I offered him a “whopping” $100.00 a week to help out and for some reason he accepted!

I bought a small collection of about 200 record albums from the 1960’s from a customer and with Steve’s help; we priced them and just placed them on a table in the store. Within a few days we sold about a dozen of them. One day the owner of a local used record store, Al Bums, came in and bought over 100 of the remaining record albums. I knew, at that point, that used record albums would be an ongoing part of our store’s inventory. We placed a few cheap advertisements in the local newspaper to let the city know that we were now buying used records. Within a few weeks we had thousands of records in stock. We now devoted almost one quarter of our store’s space to used and collectable vinyl records.

Steve had a good friend, Jim Stoll, who had some skills as a carpenter. Jim worked really cheap so I had him design and build a bunch of custom display racks for the new comic books. This allowed us to fully display 280 different comic book issues. In 1980, there were only a few significant comic book publishers. The biggest publisher, “Marvel Comics”, published only about 30 comics each month, so we had plenty of space to display the full covers of each new issue. This made it easier for our customers to choose the new comic books that caught their interest.

One day, before Steve arrived for work, two burly men came into the store. They “suggested” that it would be smart for me to allow them to put coin operated video games in the store. They would get 70% of the money and I’d get the remaining 30%. They explained how I should rearrange my inventory to give the best space in the store for their machines. I guessed that these guys were part of the local “Mob” and I didn’t think they’d take “No” for an answer. Steve walked in while I was figuring out what to say. I told them I would discuss it with my “partner” Steve, but I didn’t think he’d like the idea. As I mentioned earlier, Steve looked intimidating. The thugs left and never came back.

After a short period of training, I knew Steve was able to run the store for some short periods without me. Steve quickly learned many aspects of the comic book business. Most importantly, I learned to trust him. I started to either come in a little later in the mornings or leave a little early in the evenings so I could be home with Mal and Adam more. It wasn’t long before I felt comfortable leaving Steve by himself for whole days.

While I was working, Mal still spent a lot of time with her mother. Because her mother didn’t drive, Mal would drive thirty minutes each way, just so they could grocery shop together. “Grammy” loved to be with Mal and Adam. Family was very important to Grammy. Many weekends were spent playing cards, eating dinner, and visiting her children. When we had our small comic book store in the mid-70’s she used to help Mal pick out the new comic books each week at the big city magazine distributor. But now that we had all of the new comic books shipped directly to us from Wisconsin, there was no need for her to help us with the business.

Now that I had occasional days off, Mal wanted us to be together. This meant, of course, that she had a little less time to spend with her mother.

Mal and I would take Adam almost everywhere we went. We knew that kids are very adaptable and Adam loved the attention he got when we went to our weekly Bible study and the Sunday night meeting at The Freedom Farm. When it was time for him to sleep, we’d just spread out a blanket and he’d curl up and fall asleep, even at concerts!

We began to form a much closer relationship with my friend, Allan Traylor, and his wife Debbie. Allan had been a friend since fifth grade and Debbie was very easy to get along with. We all got along so well that we began vacationing together. We’d rent a cottage in Martha’s Vineyard or go to Disney World or stay at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and there was never any problem. Allan had a great sense of humor and Debbie loved doing fun things. It’s difficult to find two couples that fit together, but this friendship really worked. Debbie became one of Mal’s best friends.

Next chapter: Our store is “scammed” by a professional thief.
Picture: Paul with his son Adam in 1980

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