Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 72

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 34
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Dean Howley: 10 years old
Cassy Howley: 5 years old

As the 1980’s were coming to a close I took the time to reflect on my current situation. I now had two stores that were successfully selling comic books, sports cards, and other collectibles. With the recent addition of Richard Ortwein and Chris Ball from my newly purchased Fitchburg, Massachusetts store, I felt confident that my group of employees was more than adequate. I now had a bunch of good quality part-time employees, including Mark Dufresne, Rob Leary, Albert Aeed, and occasionally, David Hartwell. Sales were so good that I wasn’t worried about meeting my payroll needs each week. I was paying Richard and Chris more than I thought I could possibly pay them but it was working out fine. I even agreed to pay for their health insurance, which was unusual for someone in the comic book retail industry.

The sports card business was “on fire” and it appeared to many people as if it would be an easy way to make a lot of money. Card collectors and some unscrupulous “flea market” dealers began opening up small card stores in Worcester. They’d rent a small storefront and stock it with new card product and just wait for the money to begin rolling in. At one point in the late 1980’s there were over thirty sports card shops in the city of Worcester. Many of these stores would be out of business within six months. Some hung around longer.

I’m not a big fan of competition. I understand and appreciate the dream of private business ownership, so I don’t criticize people for opening up a store. It’s just that many people try to run a business when they lack the sufficient capital to make it work. Many people just don’t have the “business sense” necessary to take it past a hobby into a real profit-making business. I don’t believe that any business enterprise benefits from having competition. The only thing that I could do to protect our business was to make sure that we did our best to watch our cash flow and be reasonable and fair with our customers. Of course, we didn’t always accomplish this.

One such situation has bothered me for many years. We had a customer named Mike Daley (not his real name). He collected comic books and he’d come into the Worcester store every week on “new comic day.” Mike had a great sense of humor and a deep knowledge of comic books. He’d spend time with our fun group of serious “That’s Entertainment” customers each week (the group that would come in on “new comic day” and hang around for a few hours at a time), talking about comics, laughing at my bad jokes, and having a good time. Mike shopped at my store for quite a few years. One day he called me before he came into the store and asked if I’d be interested in purchasing a 1968 Nolan Ryan rookie card from him. He told me that it was in very good condition and that he wanted eighty dollars for it. If the card had been in perfect condition, it would have been worth about five hundred dollars but in very good condition it probably would sell for one hundred and twenty dollars so I told him that it sounded like a fair price to me. When he brought it into the store later that day, I looked at the card and disagreed on the condition of it. I made him an offer that was lower than eighty dollars. He declined my offer, but he seemed to understand that the card really wasn’t as nice as I was led to believe. But I must have handled the situation wrong somehow. Mike must have felt that I wasn’t being fair to him. Mike cancelled his comic book “reservations” with us and he stopped shopping at my store. I missed his fun personality and for many years I’ve wondered how I could have handled this better.

In December of 1989 a man named Lee came into my Worcester store carrying an old mailing envelope from the mid-1950’s. Inside of it was a comic book published by a company called EC Comics. Lee had received this comic book in the mail in 1954 and he had read it once, placed it back in the shipping envelope and carefully stored it away. The comic book was in near mint condition with beautiful white interior pages but because it had been stored in this mailing envelope for all of these years, there was a slight indentation on the cover where the envelope clasp touched the comic. Lee recognized that this was a significant enough defect to make this otherwise gorgeous comic book actually only be in only very good to fine condition. I offered to pay him fifty percent of the current price guide value of the comic as if it was in fine condition. He accepted my offer and seemed as if he was ready to leave my store when I remembered to ask him this very important question, “Do you have any more comic books?” He told me that he had about four hundred other comic books from this time period.

I went to his home and was thrilled to make him an offer for the entire collection. This collection had over one hundred EC Comics in the original mailing envelopes including The Haunt of Fear, Weird Science-Fantasy, Incredible Science Fiction, Tales From The Crypt, Two-Fisted Tales, Vault of Horror, the original comic book sized Mad Magazine, and many more. Lee also had some of the original form letters that the EC company had sent to the mail-order subscribers to inform them of publication changes and subscription expirations. I bought all of these too! There was also a nice selection of hard-to-find 1950’s DC Comics publications including Superman, Batman, Showcase, The Brave and the Bold, and more. Within a year, all of these comic books were sold to eager collectors.

At home, my son Adam, was doing great. Adam was developing into a unique individual. He was very confident in many of his abilities. He was a voracious reader of books; sometimes he’d read a book each day. He enjoyed comic books, magazines, novels, and history books. His grammar school was located next to a library and one day he came home all excited because the library had thrown out a lot of old books. Adam “rescued” a whole bag of these books from the dumpster including science books and World War II history books about the Nazi death camps. He read them all. Although Mal and I tried not to spoil our kids with lots of toys, we willingly indulged Adam’s desire for books. Adam was also confident in “who he was.” He dressed in nice clothes when the occasion called for it but he had developed, even at this early age, a fashion sense that wasn’t always typical for kids his age. Nothing seemed to embarrass him. The Imago School was having a play rehearsal one day that called for some of the boys to wear kilts, but Adam chose to wear his while he was waiting for our “carpool partners” to pick him up. He had no problem being seen in a kilt as his local town friends rode by on the school bus. I know that I would have been very self-conscious when I was his age. I guess I was too vain.

Next chapter: The big jewelry goof-up. Another one of my huge mistakes!
Pictures: An example of the vintage "EC Comics" and Adam wearing his kilt.

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