Friday, January 29, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 42


Running a comic book and collectible store can be a lot of fun. Most of the customers are nice people and they’re usually in a good mood because they are treating themselves to something special. Thankfully, almost all of my customers are quite pleasant. But occasionally we run into shoppers that just irritate us. This chapter is about two such people.

There was a woman in her twenties who would come into my store about once each week to look around. She never bought anything. She just wandered around touching as much merchandise as she could. She did this for about a year. Normally I wouldn’t mind because we encourage browsing, but this woman had a serious problem. She smelled disgusting! She smelled so bad that my regular customers would actually gag and choke when she came into the store. Many customers couldn’t stand her smell, so they’d quickly leave the store. I had a stronger tolerance but it was still a horrible smell. When she would finally leave I’d have to spray an air-freshener to try to cover up her lingering odor.

On one of her visits, when she smelled exceptionally bad, I tried to explain to her that she was upsetting many of my customers and that I didn’t want her to come back into my store unless she got cleaned up. She seemed confused by my request and she refused to leave. I asked her to leave again, but she wouldn’t move. I reached behind my counter and pointed the air-freshener in her direction and gave it a short spray. She jumped back but still refused to leave. I sprayed the air-freshener again and she backed up a little more. As I walked towards her and sprayed she got closer to the door. All of the time I was spraying she remained confused and silent. Finally, with one slightly larger spray, she backed out of the store and she never returned.

There was a young man in his twenties who we believe worked at the local hospital. He would come into my store every weekday at about 4:30 PM and he would stay until about 5:45 PM. We assumed he was just passing the time until someone came to pick him up to bring him home. He would start browsing through our huge stock of record albums beginning with the first box. He would pick out a record and ask us if we would play it for him. We had a policy that we would play any selection that our customers wanted to hear. Every day at 5:45 PM he would suddenly stop looking through the records and he’d leave without saying anything. He never bought anything from us. Ever. The worst thing about this guy is that he had the worst musical taste I’ve ever heard. I know that musical taste is a personal thing but he’d pick out records that just drove us all crazy. One day he handed me a copy of a horrible record compilation by K-Tel Records that started off with Olivia Newton John singing “Have You Ever Been Mellow”. My patience was wearing thin. The next song was Sammy Davis Jr. singing “The Candy Man”. That was more than I could stand. I grabbed the record off of the turntable. I shrieked and snapped the record into tiny pieces that shot all over the store. The guy looked at me but didn’t say anything. He just calmly walked out of the store and he never came back.

I want to explain that I usually try to be a nice guy, especially to my customers. These people just pushed me over the edge.

Next Chapter: Hey, Hey, They’re The Monkees!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 41


My store was located across the street from City Hospital and the Worcester Area Mental Health Center. We would often get people wandering into the store from the Mental Health Center after they had their doctor appointment. We realized that many of these people had serious problems so we tried very hard to be kind and patient to them. One such man came to be known to us as “The Talking Toilet Guy”. He would come into the store twice each week and politely ask us if we had any half-dollar coins. We didn’t get them in normal change but we knew that he’d like it if we had some for him. We made a special effort to get some for him each week when we went to the bank. He’d come in and ask, and we’d exchange his dollar bill for two half-dollar coins. He would get quite excited, he’d giggle, he’d thank us and he’d leave. It seemed like a simple way to give this guy a little happiness in his life. Unfortunately, this only encouraged him to stop in more often. He began visiting the store four days each week. He continued asking for the half-dollars coins but now he added a new request. He would say (with slurred speech), “ Sir, do you have the 1974 Good Housekeeping magazine with the Talking Toilet on the back cover, sir?” We tried to explain to him that we didn’t have any Good Housekeeping magazines in stock but we’d watch for one for him. As the weeks went by he got more and more frantic in his desire for this magazine. He would ask us multiple times on each visit. After a few months of this it became annoying to all of us.

We all thought it would be harmless fun to play a joke on my competition in town. We told “The Talking Toilet Guy” that we had just opened a new store across town. We gave him directions to my competitor’s store. We explained that the Good Housekeeping magazines were in the very back of the store and we told him that the “manager” of this new store would probably claim that he didn’t have any of these magazines in stock. We encouraged him to insist that he wanted to see these magazines. We all had visions of my grumpy competitor trying to convince the Talking Toilet Guy that he really didn’t have the 1974 Good Housekeeping magazine with the talking toilet on the back cover. We thought it was really funny. A few days later, the Talking Toilet Guy came into my store and explained that our “new store” manager was very rude and he wouldn’t let him see the Good Housekeeping magazines. We thought about sending him back again but we didn’t want to upset him again.

He continued coming into my store four or five days a week asking the same question for a couple more months until we couldn’t take it anymore. One day when he came in, I said, “We just got in a collection of Good Housekeeping magazines. Let me see if the issue with the talking toilet is in it.” I bent down in front of him and pretended I was looking through a box of magazines. Keep in mind that there was NOTHING in front of me! He watched intently as I pretended to flip through these non-existent magazines. I finally said, “Sorry, but there are no magazines here from 1974.” The Talking Toilet Guy looked disappointed and asked if he could look through them! He wanted to look through a box of magazines that didn’t exist! I finally had to tell him to leave the store and I asked him not to come back. We never saw him again.

Next chapter: The “Smelly Lady” and the “Candy Man Guy”.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 40


By the mid 1980’s my comic book and collectable store in Worcester, Massachusetts had developed a large and loyal customer base. It was primarily male, mostly between the ages of eight and thirty. We had lots of teenagers. Some customers were as old as sixty-five to seventy, but there weren’t too many.

Our store was located in a “tough” section of the city so most women were afraid to come to shop there. Mothers with young children would also be concerned for the safety of the kids. It always bothered me that I was unable to attract fifty percent of the area population (the females) because of the store location but I thought I couldn’t afford the higher rent in a safer neighborhood. I wanted my store to be a place where whole families could shop. We attempted to keep the store atmosphere as pleasant and “family-friendly” as possible.

In the theme song from the TV show “Cheers” it says that everyone needs a place where someone knows their name. I wanted my store to be that kind of place and for my customers to know that I cared about them as people, not just as customers.

I enjoyed almost all of my customers for a variety of reasons. I certainly appreciated the money that they spent! Knowing they had other places to spend their hobby money and that they chose my store made me feel honored. Getting to know my customers on a personal level was another “plus.” There were a lot of interesting “characters.” Many of them were “gamers.” Gamers are people who usually enjoy role-playing adventure games or war games. Most of them are nice, normal folks, but there are some that are unusual.

One such customer was Conrad. (I’ve changed his name so he won’t be too embarrassed.) Conrad collected comic books and he was a very vocal fan. He had strong opinions about every comic book he read and even had opinions about those he didn’t read! We would spend hours discussing comic books. (I always encouraged my customers to discuss comics and collectibles with me. The only stipulation was that they had to let me continue to work at the same time. Most of my customers understood.) Conrad also had an annoying habit of paying for every purchase with two-dollar bills. He did it because he knew there is no place to put a two-dollar bill in a standard cash register drawer and it drove retailers crazy. He loved to be irritating and odd and he really loved to be contrary. But for some reason I enjoyed his wackiness.

One day Conrad was more agitated than usual and he asked if he could talk to me in private. I brought him into the backroom of the store. He quietly asked if I could somehow find him a gun. I laughed at him. He suddenly looked very serious so I knew that something was wrong. He was actually trembling as he explained that one of the guys with whom he played Dungeons and Dragons had just “killed” his favorite character. Conrad had been role-playing as this character for many years and had developed him over time into a powerful character. Now this favorite character could no longer be part of the game and Conrad was angry. Conrad now wanted to get revenge on his fellow gamer by actually buying a gun and killing his friend! I tried explaining to him that this was only a game and not real life, but he wasn’t accepting this information. I finally had to grab him by his shirt and shake him to “snap” him out this delusion. We talked for about an hour until he realized that he needed to get professional help from a doctor. A few weeks later he thanked me for bringing him back to reality and preventing him from making the biggest mistake of his life.

On “Cheers” there was a regular customer named Norm. As he entered the bar each day, the other regulars would greet him by cheering out his name, “Norm!” He was known and loved by the other regular customers. In my store we had our own “Norm.” He was actually Darryl Hunt.

Darryl was a young man in his early twenties. He collected comic books and was a serious gamer. Darryl knew a lot about all of the major sports and he was quite knowledgeable about popular music. He had strong opinions about almost everything, but he was usually right. Darryl also had a great, sarcastic sense of humor that usually cracked me up. He was also one of the kind of guys who would be willing to help out whenever he was needed. He came into my store almost every weekday from two-thirty until near closing, just to hang out with us. Over the years he has become a true friend.

Next Chapter: The “Talking Toilet Guy”.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 39


In September of 1985 I had one of those exciting experiences that only a parent could understand. My son, Adam, was going off to school. Actually, it was only kindergarten, but he would be riding on the school bus (without me!) and we were allowing strangers to take care of him. He would be taught by teachers that we didn’t know and that worried us a little bit. My wife, Mal, and I had always taught Adam. This was also a beginning of our child’s path to independence. As a parent, I was both excited for him and sad because he was growing up so fast. For Mal it was an emotional time.

I was fortunate that I had a good staff of employees at my comic book store. Their competence allowed me to take time off to see Adam get on the school bus in the morning and be there when he got home on that first day of kindergarten. When that big yellow school bus came to pick Adam up, his family was there to see him off. Of course, his sister Cassandra was only sixteen months old but she knew that something exciting was happening today. As usual, I was busy video taping this important milestone in Adam’s life.

Four hours later, the school bus returned my son to the top of our driveway. Adam was busily saying good-bye to many of his newfound friends as he got off the bus. As the videotape rolled, he gave us the details of his first day of school. He was supplied with a nametag so the teacher could learn who he was and the students were placed at desks, seemingly at random. Adam already knew some of the kids from the playgroups that Mal had arranged and he enjoyed meeting new kids. Adam was never shy around kids or adults. He was a little disappointed that they didn’t do much work that first day. He wanted to learn new things and use the skills he had already developed, but on the first day of school they just colored some pictures. We assured him that he’d do more as the year went by. When we asked Adam what his favorite part of school was, he thought for a moment and replied, “The bus ride.”

After a few months of school had gone by, Adam’s disappointment grew. He once explained to us how frustrating it was that most of the other kids in kindergarten didn’t know how to read. In fact, most of the kids didn’t even know their colors! He felt that he wasn’t learning much new. Although Mal was concerned about this, I wasn’t. I had gone through the public school system and I was doing just fine. Mal had been praying that we would find an alternative school for when Adam went to first grade. She began searching for the surrounding area for a private Christian school and found a relatively new school called The Imago School. Two women, Joodi and Linnie, who had a desire to offer a “classical” education for children, established this school.

When we went for our “informational interview.” I wasn’t really going in with an open mind. I wanted “the best” for my boy. I wanted sports. I wanted large classes filled with different kinds of kids so that Adam would be exposed to lots of what life had to offer. I wanted the large assortment of resources that only a government school could offer, because of their tax filled coffers. The Imago School offered none of these important features. They focused on a serious learning experience for the students. There were no sports or extra-curricular activities. Classes were very small. Some had as few as six students. And to make it worse, they charged about $1800.00 per year for this education! I was already paying thousands of dollars per year for the local school system and I thought it would be okay to send Adam to these public schools. I was against this private school idea but I agreed to pray for guidance before I made my decision.

Now, for some of you, the idea of prayer (and the answer to prayer) is a foreign concept. In my life I’ve prayed for many things and I’ve had many prayers answered. I believe that my relationship with God is personal and real. I know some of you will think I’m nuts. I know some people who have actually “heard” the voice of God, but I haven’t. I do however believe that I have “sensed” His will for my life. In this situation it became clear to me in many ways that I needed to give the Imago School a try. It was important for Mal and I to be in agreement on these serious issues regarding our children. As it turned out, this school would become one of the most important parts of my children’s lives.

Next chapter: Back at the comic book store we meet our “Norm”…Darryl Hunt.

Picture: Adam's first day of school.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 38


I spent a month getting the complete Marvel Comics collection ready for sale and I sent out flyers to the customers on my mailing list alerting them to the “unveiling”. I worked late the night before the collection was to go on sale but I was too tired to finish, so I went home. I planned to come in early the next morning to finish all of the details before the customers came showed up. I got to the store at 6:30AM and worked as fast as I could to finish setting up the displays.

I arranged the hundred boxes of this collection in order on tables in a separate section of the store and put up signs indicating that these were part of this special collection. I put up an interesting assortment of the most valuable comics on the wall display including Amazing Spider-Man #1-14, Journey Into Mystery #83, The Hulk #1, The Fantastic Four #1-12, X-Men #1, Daredevil #1, The Avengers #1, The Silver Surfer #1 and #4, Conan #1, and more.

At 8:00 AM the customers began lining up outside of the store. My wife, Mal, and my son Adam, came to help out just in case we had a larger than expected crowd show up to shop. It was a good thing they came. By the time we opened the store at 10:00AM, there were almost one hundred people waiting in line!

While the customers were waiting in line many were talking about which books they were interested in purchasing and the excitement was building by the time we finally opened. I was getting excited because I could now anticipate a great day of sales. The first customer rushed directly to the big display of the more valuable comics and bought the entire eighteen-issue collection of The Silver Surfer and as I was ringing up the sale he casually said, “Oh, and I’ll also take the Tales To Astonish #27.” This issue was the first appearance of Ant Man and it was priced at $400.00. My store had been open for about three minutes and this customer spent almost one thousand dollars!

The day was filled with exciting purchases. Many customers took this opportunity to fill in large runs of inexpensive back issue comics that they had been looking for, while some other customers bought the very expensive comics. By the end of the day I had sold almost ten thousand dollars worth of comics from this great collection.

I learned that the marketing of a collection was a very important part of the process of selling my inventory. The customers were happy because they had the chance to complete their collections with very high quality merchandise and I was happy because we sold so much of this collection on the very first day it went “on sale.”

Next Chapter: Adam goes to kindergarten.

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 37


In the mid-80’s I acquired a huge collection of Marvel Comics comic books that included almost every comic they had published from 1960-1984, and most of them were in near mint-mint condition. This collection included every issue of Spider-Man, Avengers, Daredevil, X-Men, Thor, Hulk, Sgt.Fury, Strange Tales, The Silver Surfer, and Iron Man. It also had The Defenders, Werewolf By Night, Tomb of Dracula, Warlock, Marvel Team-Up, Iron Fist, and Marvel Tales. The collection included every issue of The Fantastic Four except for issue #5. This collection was most exciting because it also had all of the less popular but very hard to find comics like Millie The Model, Patsy Walker, Night Nurse, Peter The Little Pest, Our Love Story, and many more. Every western, monster, and war comic that Marvel had published was included, even most of the ones published in the 1950’s. All of the Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt, Two Gun Kid, Tales of Suspense, Tales To Astonish, Journey Into Mystery, and more, were there. No kidding, this was a complete Marvel collection, and believe me; these comics were really in beautiful condition!

I realized that I probably would have no problem selling many of these comic books. I could process them all, price them, and sort them, and put them into my stock and they’d eventually sell. But I wanted to make this an exciting event for my customers (and for me). I decided to wait until the entire collection was put in order and priced before I would begin selling any of it. Comic books in “high grade” condition are quite rare and I couldn’t afford to price these cheaply. In general, I priced these comic books at about 150% of the current comic book price guide prices. I was concerned that my customers would resist paying these prices because they were usually accustomed to my lower than guide pricing policy. I began telling my customers to get ready for the opportunity to complete their Marvel collection. I also sent out a flyer to everyone on my mailing list to make them aware of this huge collection. Even though I planned this “event” a full month in advance, I wasn’t finished pricing the collection until the night before the collection was to be unveiled. I had to work long into the night rearranging the store so I’d have the space to display this collection all in one area. Eventually, I was so tired that I decided to go home and finish all of the details the next morning. I didn’t have to have it all ready for sale until 10:00AM so if I got back to the store by 6:00AM I should have been able to get everything done before we opened for business. I have a bad habit of underestimating the amount of time needed to complete major projects.

Next chapter: Okay. The collection is unveiled…but does anybody care?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 36


By 1984, my store was bursting at the seams with comic books, records, toys and trading cards. I was only paying $350.00 per month for rent, but I needed more space. The store retail space and backroom, combined, was only 1500 square feet.

In the mid-1980’s, rents in Worcester had skyrocketed. Real estate investors from Boston had bought up lots of the commercial property with the hopes of transforming Worcester into a new Boston. The average retail space was now renting at an annual rate of $12.00 per square foot. I was only paying about $2.80 per square foot because my landlord lived in another state and he was unaware that Worcester had become a “hot” location. I had offered to buy the building a few times, but each time he told me his “asking price” it was slightly higher than I thought the building was worth. Luckily for me, the landlord was content with the rent he was receiving from me. I had been in this building for four years, with no lease, and he had not raised the rent at all. He must have appreciated that I always paid on time and didn’t bother him with minor problems with the building.

The tenant who rented the store next to me wasn’t as easy. He was frequently late with his rent and when he decided to move out, my landlord asked if I wanted to rent that store also. There was only one problem. There was no door joining the two stores. The landlord said that if I wanted to create a doorway, I’d have to do it myself.

The wall between the two stores was made up of two layers of solid brick and I knew I wasn’t up to the challenge of creating the new opening. I contacted my friend, Jim Stoll, and he began smashing the wall down with a sledgehammer. I rented a dumpster that had wheels on the bottom and had it delivered and placed on the sidewalk as close to the store as possible. The dumpster was quite large and it took up most of the space on the sidewalk. While Jim pounded away at the walls, his son and I loaded the bricks into the dumpster. Within a few hours the majority of the bricks were removed from the wall and they were in the dumpster. Unfortunately, this made the dumpster so heavy that we couldn’t move it. I called the trash company to come and get it, but I had forgotten that it was the beginning of a holiday weekend. They told me they couldn’t come to remove the dumpster for four days. I explained to them that the dumpster location made it dangerous to pass by on the sidewalk. When I explained that it was full of bricks and it was now too heavy to move they laughed. They told me that construction materials like bricks were extremely expensive to dispose of and it would probably cost about $1500.00 to get rid of these. They also insisted that they couldn’t get the dumpster for another four days.

I had to get rid of these bricks and get the dumpster off of the sidewalk. There was only one solution. I had Jim cut a hole in the floor of the store and we unloaded all of those bricks from the dumpster and just dumped them into the basement of the store! The basement was completely empty and there was no other way to get down there, so putting a few tons of bricks wouldn’t hurt anything. Employees and customers would refer this to as “Howley’s Folly” for many years. As usual, I just didn’t think this expansion plan through.

Next chapter: We obtain a complete Marvel Comics collection in gorgeous condition and learn about turning it into an event.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 35


In 1984 I owned two comic book and collectables stores, one in Worcester, and one in Maynard, Massachusetts. Although the Maynard store was profitable, it wasn’t making enough money to keep me excited about the extra work necessary to keep it going. One store is a lot of work and most people think it would be twice as much work to have two stores. I believe it’s much more than that. With more than one store, there’s more effort spent moving merchandise from store to store. There are more employees to hire, train and schedule. Although I had purchased one of my most memorable comic book collections because of the Maynard store, I just wasn’t interested in expending the time and effort to build the store into a high profit location.

After running it for a little over a year, I decided to close the Maynard store. I wrote a letter explaining the situation to all of my customers and I offered a short-term incentive for them to begin shopping at our Worcester store. I knew that some customers would be intimidated by the big city of Worcester so I encouraged them to shop at the comic book store owned by my cousin Steven Higgins in Waltham, Massachusetts. Many of them still shop there almost twenty years later!

My Worcester store was becoming well known for the great inventory of old comic books that we had in stock and the local newspapers would run stories when we located rare and expensive comics like the first Superman or Batman comic book. The extra publicity in these large circulation newspapers would encourage other people in the area to sell us their collections of old comics, toys, records, and trading cards. With a very limited budget for advertising, we were thrilled to get this kind of free publicity. It would have cost us hundreds of dollars for an advertisement and many people would pass right by it, but most people would be interested in reading an article about us, especially if there was a photograph included.

The local newspapers were very cooperative in the mid-1980’s. Comic books and baseball cards were the subject of many large articles and the editors were happy to be able to include us as local interest subjects. We bought new collections almost every day. Not all of them were rare or old collectables, but I’d buy them anyway. I had planned to be in business for many years so I knew that I’d eventually need even these more recent items. Although our sales were very good, I decided to plan an “event” to have some fun with my customers. I sent out flyers to everyone on my mailing list inviting them to an auction at my store. I selected a bunch of comic books and toys specifically for the auction. There was an empty lot behind my store so I decided to have the auction there. There were about 150 people at the store for this auction. I did the auctioning myself and had a fun time joking around with my customers. The customers seemed to enjoy it because we decided to start each item with no minimum bid. Many of the items went cheap, but some items sold for more than we expected. It was a bright sunny day and it was strange to watch my customers getting more sunburned with each passing hour. When the auction was over most of the customers came into the store and spent whatever money they had left on our regular store inventory.

This was so successful that we were now determined to plan other special events for our customers. We didn’t want our store to be just a place for people to spend money, we wanted our store to be remembered as a fun place to come to and hang out in.

Next Chapter: Howley’s Folly

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 34


When legalized gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was started in the late 1970’s, my partner Jay and my wife Mal, and I went for an evening of entertainment. The Resorts Hotel was the only hotel with a casino at that time. As we walked in I was told that I couldn’t get in without a dress jacket and when I told them that I didn’t have one, they had to lend me a jacket. Casino gambling was much more elegant in those days. We played blackjack for almost eight hours and we lost about $30.00. That was a fun and somewhat inexpensive night of entertainment. Over the next six years I learned to play blackjack “by the book” and I’d frequently have winning sessions. Of course, I’d have times where I’d lose some money too. Mal didn’t really enjoy gambling because she hated to lose. If she lost twenty dollars she’d realize that she could have bought a pair of shoes for that same amount of money. She would frequently go to the casino with me but she’d just stand and watch me play. She didn’t seem to mind if I lost money gambling and she’d cheer for me if I won.

Occasionally, my father would come with me to Atlantic City. We would play blackjack together for hours and I always had a great time with him. By the mid 1980’s my father was treated to free airfare to Atlantic City as well as free hotel rooms and food because he had become a frequent “player.” Luckily, my father was usually careful with his money so the gambling trips didn’t become a problem for him. He just enjoyed these trips as fun entertainment and I’d enjoy spending time with him.

On May 8th of 1984, Mal’s doctor told her that she was in the beginning stages of labor and urged her to go to the hospital. Since her labor pains weren’t too horrible yet, we stopped at Jimmy Talbot’s comic book store, Bop City Comics, so I could buy some comic books to read while we were at the hospital. Jimmy and I chatted about comics while Mal’s labor pains increased. When we finally arrived at the hospital they were waiting for us and they told us that they were wondering what took us so long. I’m sure they must have thought I was crazy. Mal was in labor all night but it became evident that she wasn’t actually ready to have the baby so we returned home. This was fine for me because the lady in the room next to us was screaming in pain throughout the whole night!

The next day Mal played cards and Scrabble with our neighbor, Louise Ruth, until the labor pains became so painful that it was apparent that this was the real thing! She called me at the comic store and I quickly drove home and we went to the hospital again. Mal was in labor all night. On May 10th of 1984 my wife gave birth to our second child, Cassandra. We had been hoping for a baby girl so we’d have one of each. So now, with our son, Adam, we were satisfied that this was our family. Adam wouldn’t be an only child. I’d have a son to goof around with and Mal had a girl to enjoy. Our life was going according to our plan.

When we had finally brought Adam home from the hospital after his health problems were resolved, he began to sleep straight through the night after about a month. Cassandra was not so accommodating. She would cry each day from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Actually it was more like screaming than crying. It didn’t matter what we tried to do. We’d walk with her, rock her, sing to her, and we even tried driving her around in our car, but nothing worked. Our doctor said she was just “colicky” and that she’d eventually stop but because of my lack of patience (one of my bad traits) I would stay at my comic book store as long as I could just to avoid Cassy’s screaming. I got a lot of work done at the store but I wasn’t much help for Mal. This continued for almost three months before Cassy finally became a pleasant baby.

Adam was excited about having a baby sister. He didn’t seem to be jealous of all of the attention Cassy was getting. He was enjoying his time at The Power Prep pre-school. Adam loved learning and he loved interacting with the other kids in his school. Mal had always helped organize “play groups” so that Adam could get together with local kids his age. Each week the playgroup would be held at a different house in our neighborhood so that the kids would learn to socialize in different settings. By the time Adam was in pre-school he was very comfortable playing with boys and girls. It was during this year in pre-school that Adam experienced his very first starring role in a theater production of “Caps For Sale”. My mother and father sat in the front row with Mal and I as we proudly watched him act. As usual, my viewing of this event was seen through the viewfinder of a video camera. (Many of the most important events in my children’s lives would be seen that way.)

Next chapter: We consolidate our two stores into one.
Picture: Adam visiting Cassy in the hospital

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 33


At this point in my “story” I’d like to explain a few things. Although this story is about the history of my comic book shop and my life-long interest in comic books, it’s also about people and events that had a major impact on my life in regard to the story that I wanted to tell. This doesn’t mean that if I haven’t mentioned you that you had no impact on my life. I believe that everyone we interact with is important and affects us in some way. It’s just that I actually have a reason for the inclusion of each part of this story. Hopefully it will all become clear by the end. I also know that many of you have little interest in my personal life and many of you have little (or no) interest in my business of selling comic books. I’m considering a change in format in future chapters. I may separate each chapter into a personal section and a business section so that you can skip over the section that you’re not interested in reading. Please feel free to give me your opinion on this change. Now, on with the story.

When my son, Adam, was four years old he was able to read books on his own. Adam learned new things very quickly. He had a very advanced vocabulary and he was almost always well behaved. My wife, Mal, and I spent as much time as possible with him trying to teach him new things and playing games together. We’d play “Go Fish” and “Candyland” quite often. One of my favorite games to play with Adam came to be called “Hey Buddy.” We would set up small roads on a rug in our family room and use Adam’s toy cars and pretend to drive around “the town.” As we would pass each other Adam and I would say, “Hey Buddy.” We would also build small houses using Lincoln Logs so we’d have actual destinations to drive to. Adam loved this little game.

One of my many character flaws is my lack of patience. I saw how one of my friends interacted with his children and I was actually envious of his relationship with his kids. When he was home, he spent most of his time with his wife and children. It seemed as if he actually enjoyed including his kids in almost every activity and his love and patience was most evident when he was doing yard work. He would frequently be cutting the grass with one or more kids sitting with him on his lawn tractor. He never seemed to be irritated or lose his patience with them. I was amazed at his devotion and dedication to his family. I wished that I could be like him.

I later learned another important life lesson. You can’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t make assumptions based on outward appearances. I found out that the man I held in such high esteem wasn’t perfect, after all. I had been unaware that he was having trouble in his marriage. He was still a man who possessed a lot of great qualities but I learned that things are not always as they appear to be.

It was around this time that my main employee, Steve Wentzell, decided that it was time to leave. I wasn’t paying him as much as I should have been and he could make enough money to live on by selling records at a local flea market. Thankfully, I had enough part time employees to keep the store running smoothly and David Lynch was willing to work for me full time.

David Lynch had a great knowledge of comic book history. He also loved movies, music, and old television shows. He was a talented writer. We also got along really well. He was willing to adapt to my way of doing business and he was a good steady worker. When I would leave instructions and projects for him to work on when I wasn’t there, he always worked hard to complete these tasks. In our business, it’s important to make the shopping experience pleasant for our customers and a good personality makes this much easier. Most of our customers liked David.

A customer, David Hartwell, had been recently laid off from his full time job and when I offered him some temporary work, he accepted. David Hartwell was one of the most laid-back, easy-going guys I’d ever met. He wasn’t the fastest worker I had, but he was diligent and he always finished every task he started. He did quality work, not quantity. He would frustrate me at times, but I eventually learned that it was better to get the job done right, as David Hartwell would do, than rush through it. Although David Hartwell only worked as a temporary, part-time employee during 1983, he would eventually come back a few years later as a valuable full time employee.

In 1965 I had created a comic book super-hero called “Insect Man” and I had written and drawn quite a few small comic books that featured his adventures. One of my customers, Peter Fries, asked if I’d be interested in resuming publication of the comic book series. He had created a new super-hero team called “The Defensors” and he wanted to feature them in the new Insect Man comic books. Peter wrote and drew a three-issue story line and we began publishing Insect Man again after a five-year hiatus. We had these offset printed in black and white and we sold about one hundred copies of each issue in my store.

Some of my other customers began to write stories too. Dan Courtney and Chris Coleman wrote a few issues about a new super-hero named Silverlion. I enjoyed publishing these stories but these issues didn’t feature my character of Insect Man. Another customer, Larry Young, wrote and drew a story that would feature the exciting return of Insect Man. He designed a new costume and this issue was an instant hit. We sold out of every issue we had printed. Larry didn’t have time to do any more issues because he was a hard working college student but David Lynch stepped up and began writing the new Insect Man comic books. The local newspapers wrote articles about “Worcester’s own super-hero” and the sales increased on our little Insect Man comic books.

Larry Young eventually worked at my store for a couple of years and he now makes his living writing, drawing, and publishing real comic books!

Next chapter: Atlantic City!

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 32


In 1983 the comic book business was great. Sports cards and records were also selling in huge quantities. My business was becoming very profitable. I was making enough money to live comfortably. (I wasn’t rich, just comfortable) My wife and I were still driving old cars but our house in Bolton was a nice home and we didn’t have huge monthly mortgage payments so we decided that we could probably afford a new car. Mal was now pregnant with our second child so we bought a brand new Dodge Aries station wagon, just to be practical. It wasn’t a very nice car but it was cheap. Since we didn’t want to pay monthly payments, we paid about $9000.00 cash for it. It depleted most of our savings account but we had set a goal of living as close to debt-free as possible.

Our next goal was to pay off the balance of our home mortgage. We started paying an extra $50.00 each month directly on the principal loan amount and it was exciting to see how fast the mortgage amount dropped. We were getting closer to actually owning our house instead of letting the bank own it. I began to use any “extra” money I had at the end of each week to “pay down” the mortgage and within two years we paid off the entire loan. We were free from debt.

“Free from debt” is not what most financial advisors would recommend to their clients back in the 1980’s. My accountant, Jerry Solomon, would try to encourage me to use as little of my own money as possible. He told me to leverage my earning potential by using other people’s money. Borrow money to make investments and to buy inventory. The advice seemed to make sense but it was against what I had learned in a financial seminar I had been to in the early 1970’s called “Design for Successful Living”. The seminar explained that we could easily become “slaves” to the institutions and people we borrow money from. If you owe someone money, your first responsibility is to repay that loan as you’ve promised to do. Also, when you borrow money there is always a “cost”. Sometimes it’s a high interest rate and sometimes it’s the stress of the commitment to repay the loan. I didn’t take Jerry’s advice.

Jerry was a very good accountant and he did give me some guidance in the early years of my store. He told me to always be honest in reporting sales and paying the full taxes that I owed because it would eventually make my business more valuable and legitimate. He assured me that even with the outrageous tax rates in the United States, I would still keep the majority of the money I earned. This was advice that I took to heart.

I received a request for additional information from the Internal Revenue Service and I called Jerry’s office in a panic. I had never dealt with the IRS before and they intimidated me even though I always kept accurate records and paid my taxes. When I couldn’t get through to Jerry at his office I called his home. His wife informed me that Jerry had had a heart attack and he was in intensive care. She recommended that I get another accountant to straighten out the IRS problem while Jerry was recovering. One of my customers, Cindi Dow, was an accountant and she offered to help. Cindi has been my tax accountant for nearly twenty years. Jerry remained a good friend until he died of cancer in the 1990’s.

Next chapter: I learn a lesson: appearances can be deceiving.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 31


I had loaded my car with the huge collection of comic books from the 1950’s and 1960’s that I had just bought when a man who was helping to clean out the deceased collector’s apartment pulled a large trash bag out of a closet. This bag was filled with comic books from the 1940’s! Included were Superman #2-40, Wonder Woman #1, All Star Comics #1-4, Superboy #1, World’s Fair 1939-1940, Batman #1-30, and hundreds more! I spent another couple of hours calculating the value of these comic books and made an offer that was much more than the price I had made on the rest of the huge collection. The mother accepted my offer.

My cousin, Steven, helped me bring the collection to my house in Bolton and we spent some time examining the vintage comic books. There was only one copy of each of the comic books from the 1940’s in this collection, but the collection contained as many as twenty copies each of many of the important comics from the 1950’s and 1960’s including Justice League Of America #1-25, Flash #123, The Atom #1-15, Hawkman #1-15, Fantastic Four #1-50, Spider-Man #1-100, X-Men #1-66, Daredevil #1-20 and many more. These ranged from fair condition to near mint condition. This would fill in many “holes” in my store inventory and it would help to establish my store as one of the most complete comic collector’s stores in New England. The only problem was that it would take me months to get this collection ready to sell if I didn’t get some extra help. Each comic book was inside of two protective plastic bags that were taped shut. The tape had deteriorated over the many years that the comics were stored and it was sticking to other plastic bags making it difficult to separate. I knew I would need to find some people to help me who would be very careful handling these valuable comic books. I invited two of my customers, Paul Dinsdale and Paul Silver, over to my house to help me “process” these comic books. As part of their reward for helping me, I gave them the first pick of the comic books that they wanted for their own collection. With their help, (and lots of help from my wife, Mal) I had the comics ready to sell in my store within a few weeks.

In the meantime, lots of things were happening in my personal life. Mal had found a school for our son, Adam. We signed him up for “Power Prep Preschool”. Adam was only four years old but he was already reading simple books. He seemed to be a very bright kid and his vocabulary seemed quite advanced. We knew he’d do great in school.

We had been attempting to have another child for the past year or so and we were surprised that it was taking so long to conceive. When we had decided to have our first child it seemed so easy and Mal was pregnant within a few weeks. Now that it was taking so long, we realized that we weren’t in complete control of everything. We were thrilled when Mal learned that she was expecting our second child.

Next chapter: We learn to live debt-free!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 30


I had given my business card to a man who had some comic books that he wanted to sell and a few weeks later he was killed in a car accident. His mother found my card in his wallet and called me to see if I wanted to buy the comic books. I explained that I had already seen the comics that he stored in the basement of the music store and I really wasn’t interested in buying them. She said, “Oh, not those. I mean his private collection in his apartment.”

She gave me directions and I drove over there as soon as I could. Her son had been a comic book dealer in the 1970’s and I remembered the great selection of comics he always had at the Boston conventions. I hoped that these would be at his apartment. When I entered his apartment his mother introduced me to her son’s girlfriend and a family friend who was there to help clean out the apartment. She led me to the bedroom and I was surprised to see thousands of comic books on shelves that went almost completely around the room. The comics were carefully stacked in piles on the shelves and they were all “double-bagged” for protection. As I sorted through them I realized that there was at least one copy of every Marvel comic book from 1960-1970 including Fantastic Four #1, The Amazing Spider-Man #1, The Hulk #1, The X-Men #1 and Daredevil #1! There were duplicates of many of these valuable key issues too! It took me over an hour to sort through just the Marvel comics. Then I started on the DC comics.

When this collector had sold comics at the old Boston conventions in the 1970’s, there was very little demand for the DC comics of the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Judging by the enormous quantities of these comics he had at his apartment he wasn’t very successful selling these at the shows. In 1983, however, these comic books were in high demand. DC Comics published Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and those always sold well, but they also published lesser-known titles including Rip Hunter, Sea Devils, Metal Men, The Brave and the Bold, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Justice League of America, Mystery In Space, Strange Adventures and dozens more. This collection had as many as twenty copies of almost every issue! This was going to be an expensive collection!

As I was calculating my offer for this important collection, I could overhear the mother and the girlfriend begin to argue about the comic books. The girlfriend claimed that since she might have eventually married the collector, the comic books would have belonged to her. The mother disagreed and continued arguing. Every so often the mother would say, “Have you come across a Batman #1? I know he had a copy of it.” This made the girlfriend even greedier because she knew that would be a valuable comic book. I was also hoping to find this rare comic book! The girlfriend began to cry. The other friend who was helping to clean out the apartment ignored them and continued working.

I was almost finished with my calculations when I began to worry about leaving the girlfriend around the comics. If, out of greed, she grabbed even a small handful of the comics, it could cost me thousands of dollars. I called my cousin, Steven, quietly explained my problem, and asked him to come over to help me. By the time he arrived, the mother had accepted my offer. This was the most expensive collection I had purchased since I split up with my partner from Sparkle City Comics.

We began to load our cars with the thousands of comics, being careful to always have one of us in the apartment with the remaining collection. When we were finally done with the loading, I went back upstairs to get my price guide and calculator. I assured the mother that if I discovered a copy of Batman #1 mixed in with the rest of the comics, I’d call her to give her more money. As my cousin and I were walking out, the guy who was helping to clean out the apartment reached into a closet and pulled out a huge trash bag and said, “Hey, what’s this?!” The bag was filled with golden-age comic books from the 1940’s!

Next chapter: I renegotiate the deal.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 29


In 1983 my store had a decent staff of employees and I thought it would be a good time to expand our business by opening another store. I chose the small town of Maynard, Massachusetts. I lived about fifteen minutes away in Bolton. I knew that I’d be working there for at least a few months so the commute would be easy. Maynard was the corporate home of Digital Equipment Company, one of the leading manufacturers of computers. Their workforce was primarily made up of professional, well paid, technical people and I hoped that many of the male employees would be interested in comic books, sports cards, and adventure and war games. I rented a small storefront on one of the busiest streets in the town, very close to the main factory building.

My carpenter friend, Jim Stoll, quickly made all of our custom display racks and shelves and we were open for business within a couple of weeks after the decision was made to open the store. Many of my business choices have been impulsive. I tend to make quick decisions but most of them have worked out. This particular business decision worked out, although it was not as I had expected.

Each weekday in the town of Maynard, the downtown was crowded with employees from Digital Equipment during the lunch break. I could see hundreds of potential customers walking up the street towards my new store but they would stop at the corner before they got to my shop. In my rush to open this store, I hadn’t investigated the traffic patterns of Maynard. It just wasn’t customary for people to walk that far. My store was really the last retail building on this street and the people would have to cross the street to visit my shop so I would watch as they turned around and walked away. It was frustrating to me. My other store locations were successful as soon as we opened. This store was going to require more work.

After I had been open for a few months a man came into the store and I recognized him from the Boston comic book conventions in the 1970’s. He apparently didn’t remember me and I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I didn’t mention that I knew him. He told me that he had a large amount of old comic books that he might be interested in selling. I remembered that in the 1970’s he always had a great stock of comic books from the 1940’s and 1950’s but he didn’t sell very many because his prices were too high. He usually charged twice as much as the other dealers. I told him I was very interested in buying all of his comics so we made an appointment for me to appraise his collection. Two days later I found myself in the basement of a local music store, searching through thousands of comics. I spent a few hours digging through the piles but I was disappointed to find that they were all from the 1970’s. I figured that he must have sold all of the great old comics from the 1940’s-1960’s and I told him that I couldn’t offer him very much money for these. I told him that his best alternative would be to take all of these comic books to the monthly Boston comic book conventions and he should price them at fifty cents each. I knew that he’d sell a lot of them at that price. I gave him my business card and offered to help him with this project if he needed me.

Three weeks later this man was tragically killed in a car accident. His mother found my business card in her son’s wallet and called to see if I would be interested in buying her son’s comic book collection. I told her that I had already looked at the comic book collection in the basement of the music store and I really couldn’t make a good offer on it because I didn’t need many comic books from the 1970’s. She said, “Oh, not those. I mean his private collection in his apartment.”

She gave me directions to his apartment and I drove there right away.

Next chapter: I buy one of the most memorable comic book collections of my career!

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 28


In the early 1980’s I went to a local comic book store in Auburn, Massachusetts. As I was looking around this store, I overheard the owner telling a customer to “make an offer” on anything he was interested in buying. The owner casually mentioned that he was thinking of getting out of the business. I waited until the customer made his purchase and then I made an offer on everything that was in this shop. For a couple of thousand dollars, I bought his entire inventory and all of his store fixtures! It was the first of many store buyouts.

One of the customers of the store that I bought out found out that I now owned the whole inventory and he began shopping at my store. Paul Dinsdale was only fifteen years old when he first found my store. He quickly became a store “regular”. Paul would come in almost every week to shop for comic books. We would talk about comics and we’d frequently play chess or the board game of Risk on slow days. Paul was such a serious comic book collector that he was one of the first customers to sign up for our comic book convention bus tour to Boston. My friend, Paul Weatherbee, let us use the old Gospel Bus to bring a group of our customers into Boston for a big comic book convention. It was on this bus trip that Paul Dinsdale became a family friend. He talked with my wife and young son Adam during the bus ride and took the time to get to know us. Years later, “Dins” would vacation with us to Washington and Florida. He would eventually meet and marry his wife because of our store. I’ll tell that story in a future chapter.

1983 was a busy year for us, personally, as well as business. Store sales were up significantly and there were quite a few “events” that made it an important year. Marvel Comics had been publishing a GI Joe comic book for about a year and it was one of the hottest selling comics in the business. The first issue was selling briskly at seven to ten dollars even though it was only a year old. One of my part-time employees, Elliot Weininger, happened to find a few copies of GI Joe #1 at a local department store and they were being sold for only 29 cents each. I sent him back to the department store to buy as many as he could find. Luckily, Elliot was a smart guy. He wasn’t satisfied with the few dozen copies that the store had in stock. He asked to see the manager and then he convinced him to order one thousand more copies for us. The manager made a quick phone call and within a week we had the extra one thousand copies. We were shocked that these were available through a subsidiary of Marvel Comics called Marvel Books. It showed how bad the communication could be in large companies like Marvel. Marvel could have sold hundreds of thousands of these to the comic book stores at a minimum of a dollar each, but I was able to get them for only 29 cents each! I made a few phone calls and sold most of them to a dealer in California for $2.75 each. I used all of the money to have my home driveway installed. Unfortunately, for some reason, we weren’t able to get any more copies.

My father was going to Hong Kong on a business trip in mid-1983. We figured, that if he was going to be that close, he should go to Japan to buy some inventory for my store. Japanese model kits of robots and spaceships were a popular collectable at conventions but not too many comic shops were selling them because they were not available through our distributors. I told my father to look for model kits based on the TV show of Starblazers but I really didn’t know very much about other Japanese properties. My father located an exporter and ordered thousands of model kits. We became partners that day and spent over $20,000.00 on model kits! Three months later, when the kits arrived in the United States, we couldn’t fit them in my store so we had the forty foot long tractor trailer load delivered to my home in Bolton, Massachusetts. The kits filled my entire basement and my garage. We wholesaled these model kits to eager comic book retailers all around the United States. It took us many years to sell out of these model kits but it was still a profitable venture. If we still had these model kits today we could sell them all on Ebay for twenty times the amount we sold them for in the 1980’s!

In April of 1983 we went to Disney World for the first time with our son, Adam. We also wanted to take my wife’s teen-aged sisters, Carol and Madeline, but there wasn’t enough room in my old car to comfortably make such a long trip. I called my old friend, Jay Maybruck, and he offered to let us use his station wagon. We drove the 1400 miles from Massachusetts to Florida and had a great time. Even though Adam was only three years old, he enjoyed riding in cars and was almost always well behaved.

Next chapter: I open our store in Maynard, Massachusetts and end up with one of the most exciting comic book collections of my life.

Friday, January 8, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 27


In 1982, my main competitor was a man who appeared to dislike dealing with the public. He was grumpy to many of his customers and he could frequently be heard saying, “This isn’t a library!” (This wasn’t my philosophy. I assumed that if you encourage the customers to look through the comic books then they’ll probably be interested in buying them.) Oddly enough, this competitor was courteous to me when I would go into his store.

One day that I went into his store he told me that my employee, Steve Wentzell, was no longer allowed to come into his shop. Steve used to play Dungeons and Dragons at this guy’s store on a regular basis but he was now banned because he worked at my store. This certainly didn’t make sense to me. I could understand it if he banned me from his store, but not a paying customer like Steve. When I informed Steve, he convinced me to start to sell role-playing games and war games so that consumers would have another place to buy the games. I called a gaming distributor and within a week I was carrying a large assortment of games and accessories. We decided to offer the local customers a discount as an incentive to begin to shop at my store for all of their gaming needs. We also began to offer a 10% discount on all new comic books purchased by our regular “subscribers”. My competitor responded by offering a 15% discount. I countered with a 25% discount. He went to 30% off. Within three months I was selling our comic books at 60% off of the retail price! I was actually losing money on every comic book I sold. I was determined to get as much of the comic book and game business as possible away from my competitor. By the summer of 1982 my store was selling more new comic books than my competition. I had over 350 regular weekly customers who were actually paying less for their new comic books than I paid. My competition only offered the huge discount to his small group of about fifty customers so it didn’t affect him as much financially as it did me. I was losing money on my new comics every week. Luckily, my store inventory was not just new comic books. I was still selling a lot of sports cards, record albums, and toys, so I could afford to pay for our expenses, but I knew that this big discount on new comics couldn’t continue. I wrote a letter to my customers and I explained that although the “price war” on new comics was over, I would continue to offer the lowest priced back issue inventory in Massachusetts. I also explained that this would enable me to have sufficient funds available to buy large collections of comic books and collectables from my loyal customer base. Most of my customers understood. Many of them thanked me for offering the discount for as long as I had. Within a week my competitor stopped discounting his new comic books as well.

In 1982, an old friend, Steve Geppi, began distributing new comic books under the name of Diamond Comic Distributors. He bought the distributor that I was using in Boston and suddenly he became my comic book source. Steve Geppi’s belief in superior customer service was evident immediately. Our weekly shipments of new comic books were more accurate and they were more carefully packed. The monthly order forms became very professional. The employees in the Boston warehouse were both professional and friendly and they seemed to really care about making it as easy as possible for us. Carol Kalish, the manager of my old distributor, went to work for Marvel Comics as the manager of the direct sales market. Her knowledge of the business and her love of comic books quickly propelled her to a position as a vice president of the company.

Business had been growing at a rate of over 25% per year for the last two years but like many small business owners, I tried to “save” money by cutting back on things like employee salaries and business insurance. Late at night on December 28, 1982 I got a call from my old employee, Tim Shea, who still lived across the street from my store. He said that the store was on fire and the fire department was on their way. I asked him to go over to the store to try to limit the amount of damage that the firemen would do with their water hoses. I jumped into my car and drove the thirty miles to my store. All of the way there I was thinking that I would be ruined financially. I had drastically under-insured my inventory just to save a few hundred dollars each year. If everything were destroyed I’d only be paid a small fraction of the actual value of my inventory. I wouldn’t be able to pay my employees. This was a horrible ride into Worcester.

When I got to the store, the fire was extinguished. The fire had mostly been contained in the store next to mine. Although I sustained no real fire or water damage, my store did fill up with smoke. The smell of the smoke made it difficult to breathe inside my store. By the time the fire department left it was 8:00 in the morning. I was determined to be open for business by 10:00AM so I called a company that specialized in fire clean up. The company sent a man with a tank of cherry smelling fog that they would spray into the store while my customers waited outside. He would spray this stuff into the store every hour and we’d have to ask all of the customers to go outside until it was safe to come back inside to continue their shopping. Surprisingly, I still had a great day of sales. I used this opportunity to call the local newspaper so they’d run another story about us. Any good free publicity was a boost to our business.

Next chapter: I open another store.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 26


One of the most important character traits for a good employee is honesty and loyalty. I’ve been blessed over the years with some of the best friends and employees possible. But in 1981 I wasn’t so fortunate.

When the baseball card collectable market was growing so rapidly, I decided I would organize a baseball card convention of my own. I rented a function room in a hotel in Framingham, Massachusetts, about fifteen miles outside of Boston. The function room would hold forty “dealers tables.” I had been to hundreds of comic book and collectible shows over the past seven or eight years so I thought I knew what was necessary to organize a good show. I decided to run the show and donate all of the proceeds to “The Jimmy Fund”. The Jimmy Fund was a charity that I had seen in action, when my young neighbor was struggling with Leukemia and it was also the official charity of the Boston Red Sox. I sent out dozens of press releases to the local newspapers and radio stations. I knew that the local media would probably pick up on the story because of the charity connection. All I needed now was to somehow sell the forty dealer spaces. I knew lots of people in the comic book business but I didn’t know very many baseball card dealers.

I had a friend who sold baseball cards at a local flea market each weekend so I offered him a fifty percent partnership in my newly established card show business in exchange for his knowledge of baseball cards. I figured that with his expertise, he’d be able to sell the dealer spaces. I’d put up all of the money for the hotel and advertising. I sent out a press release to a large sports publication for a free listing in the national card show calendar directory. Within two or three days after that listing came out we were completely sold out of every dealer space. I could have sold out the entire function room without giving up fifty percent of my new business venture to my friend.

About two weeks before the show a few local radio stations started running free commercials about the show. The day of the show one of the radio station was urging all their listeners to attend. When we were ready to open the doors to the public we had a huge line of people eager to pay the one-dollar admission to shop for sports cards. Our future shows were not going to benefit a charity so we made sure to collect every attendee’s name and address for our mailing list. We would now have an active and valuable list to use to notify them of the place and time of future shows.

This first show was extremely successful. We had about eight hundred people attend and most of them spent money. The dealers were so happy with their sales that most of them paid us that same day for tables at our future shows even though we had no firm date for the next show!

My new partner was pretty happy with our deal. I had misjudged my own ability. I easily could have done this without his help, but I stood by our initial agreement. We would equally share the profits of all of our future baseball card shows. We ran a highly profitable show each month for the next six months.

I saw that the Framingham area was loaded with serious collectors so I decided to consider opening a collectable comic book and card store there. I found a great location in downtown Framingham but the owner was asking too much for the monthly rent. I showed it to my partner. I explained that it had been vacant for a couple of months and that I was going to wait another two months and then I’d offer the owner considerably less with the hope that he’d be more eager to rent it. My partner agreed that that was a good plan. Two days later, my partner betrayed me. He rented the store that I had showed him! He reasoned, “This isn’t personal, it’s business.”

I was very angry at what I considered a personal betrayal. I knew that I could no longer trust him. I didn’t want to continue our baseball card show partnership so I GAVE the business to him. But I couldn’t forgive him for his actions. I rented a different store in Framingham and I was determined to offer him some serious competition. I hired a friend, Jimmy Talbot, to manage this new store. Jimmy was a friendly, talented retailer and with my strong inventory and reputation for reasonable prices, it only took about a year before my former partner closed his store. I’m not particularly proud of this, but after he closed his store, I no longer felt the need to continue operating the Framingham store. I originally wanted a store there but when I felt my partner had betrayed me, I was more concerned with revenge rather than with building a long running business.

I had developed a good customer base in Framingham that I didn’t want to disappoint by closing the store, so I decided to GIVE the store to my buddy Jim Talbot. I allowed him to use my inventory and store name and he would earn a portion of whatever he sold until he could build up his own inventory. This deal wasn’t very smart of me. Jim had a different retail philosophy. He began to raise prices and it began to affect my reputation even though Framingham was about twenty miles away from my store in Worcester. After a year I insisted that Jimmy change the name of his store so that we could both have separate identities and I could rebuild my image as a low priced collectible dealer. Jimmy changed the name of his store to “Bop City Comics” and did a great job of developing into an important retail store in his area. In 1986, for reasons I still don’t understand, Jimmy opened up a store in Worcester and competed directly with me for a few years. He also tried to explain to me that this was business, not personal.

This didn’t make sense to me because I believed that personal relationships were more important than business. Two friends had now betrayed me and I was becoming cynical. I was learning not to trust people. I’d have to be more careful in the future.

My cousin, Steve Higgins, had worked at my store on Sundays for about six months and he was a great addition to the store. Customers enjoyed him and sales were increasing. Steve enjoyed the business so much that he decided he’d like to open his own store. He explained his idea to his wife and she supported him completely. They agreed to use the money they had been saving to buy their first home as start-up capital for their store. Steve found a location about fifteen miles from Boston, in Waltham, Massachusetts and he asked me my opinion of it. I liked Waltham, but I didn’t like the store location because it was on a road that wasn’t heavily traveled. I knew a man who specialized in Japanese science fiction model kits who was renting a building on the busiest street in Waltham but he was actually only using the basement of the store as his warehouse. He had no interest in selling the model kits directly to consumers through a retail storefront. He was willing to rent the retail storefront to Steve at a reasonable monthly rate. Steve liked the location better than the one he had previously picked.

I loaned Steve a beginning inventory of back issue comic books and helped him contact suppliers for new comics and toys. Steve bought a large collection of old movie posters at a convention and with a lot of fast work he was open for business in October of 1983 as “The Outer Limits.” Steven’s skill at retailing made his store an instant success. It didn’t take too long before he had earned enough money to buy his first house. With Steven being actively involved in the same business, I now had access to him as both a friend and as someone to “talk business” with. We would call each other at least five times a day to discuss ideas or the latest funny incident at our stores. Life in the comic book business wouldn’t be as much fun without my Cousin Steve!

Next chapter: Diamond Comic Distributors buys out our distributor.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 25


Business at our comic book store was growing quite rapidly and in late 1981 we decided to buy some land and build a house in the town of Bolton, Massachusetts. I grew up in the town and I knew that the public school system was better than many of the other local towns. My wife, Mal, was still hoping that a private school would open up so that our son, Adam, could be offered a more serious education. We bought a three-acre lot for $37,500.00 and began to build a nice four-bedroom home.

We hired a general contractor who was recommended by a friend. After a few weeks we discovered that many local carpenters refused to work with this contractor because he didn’t have a good reputation for prompt payment. He had also filed bankruptcy; so many suppliers were requiring us to pay for the materials in advance or immediately upon delivery. We began to do more and more of the contractor’s job. We had built a home back in the 1970’s but with my heavy work schedule I knew I couldn’t devote much time to this house. Mal took control of this project. She would bring Adam to the construction site each day to be sure that everything was running as smoothly as possible. She made most of the decisions by herself. My job was to pay for the project!

We listed our house in Sterling with a local realtor and we had an offer of $32,000.00 within the first week. We accepted the offer but ran into trouble when our buyers applied for a mortgage. When their bank ordered a survey of the property, it was discovered that one side of the house was on town property and a corner of the house was on our neighbor’s property. Since we had paid cash for this house, we never thought about getting the property surveyed. We assumed that the house would fit on the land!

Our neighbor offered to sell us a few feet of his land for a few dollars, but he suggested that we work on acquiring the other land from the town first. The town would have to hold a special town meeting to decide whether they would sell us the required amount of land and that could take a few months. Luckily for us, the town agreed to sell us the land for one dollar.

When we went to our neighbor to buy the few feet of land from him we found out why he really wanted us to go to the town first. He had already entered into a deal to sell his property and he knew that the boundary problem could hurt the sale of his house. We now had to deal with the new owners. They agreed to sell us the land, but they now wanted $200.00 plus the cost of the new surveying and the attorney’s fees. We thought this was reasonable so we agreed. We waited about a week for them to write up the agreement but it didn’t come. We called them and they said that they now wanted $500.00 and all of the other fees. We agreed to the new terms. A few days later they demanded $1000.00 plus all of the fees. I argued that the nonsense had to stop. We made our final offer of $750.00 plus all of the legal fees and surveying costs. They accepted our final offer and we finally completed the deal. We used the proceeds from the sale to continue the building of our new house. Our buyers were happy to get into their new home. Two years later the buyers sold the house for $125,000.00!

We knew that we didn’t want to end up with a huge mortgage payment each month so we tried to convince the suppliers and carpenters that we would pay them every Friday for the work they had done that week. I’d get home from work at about 7 PM each Friday and hand the carpenters their paychecks. We were able to pay everyone in the early stages of the building but we were quickly running out of available cash. We had spent most of our savings to buy the land. Sales from our comic book store were really good, but I still needed to keep some cash for the business.

I decided that I needed to sell some of my personal collectables to help finance my new home. I evaluated my collectables and thought that I could get a good price for my extensive trading card collection. I had most of the “non-sports” trading cards that were made from 1957 to 1977, all in excellent to mint condition and had many of the original display boxes and the wax wrappers that the cards came in! I even owned an original painting that was used to produce the rare “Mars Attacks” set. I called a few local dealers and was disappointed at the low offers I was getting from them. I sent a list of what I had to a dealer in Maryland and he offered me 35% of the retail value of the collection. My friend, Jim Stoll, and I drove to Maryland to sell my trading cards. The dealer paid me $4500.00. (About one year later, the trading card business “exploded” and my cards would have sold for at least $15,000.00 to this same dealer!)

This money got us through another week, but we knew we’d have to come up with a better solution. After a short search, a local bank offered to loan us $50,000.00 to finish the project. This loan was a great comfort to us but we still worked hard to not spend it all. By the time we completed the new house we had only used $25,000.00 of the bank’s money. In September of 1982, we moved into our new home.

We decided to have my family’s big Christmas party at our house that year. It was at this party that the lives of two families were changed forever. After we ate and had all exchanged gifts, a bunch of us decided to play cards. We played poker and blackjack for dimes and quarters. While we were playing, my cousin, Steven Higgins, explained to me that he and his wife Donna were saving money to buy a house. They had saved about $5000.00 and were actively searching for a house. When Steven and I were much younger, I would usually beat him when we played cards. Today was no exception. Even though we were only playing for dimes and quarters, Steven now owed me $35.00. I felt bad that I was taking away money that he would need to buy his house. Steven offered to work at my store for two Sundays to pay off his loss. I was thrilled because it was very difficult for me to get employees to work on Sundays.

Steven was perfect for my store. He had loved comic books since that summer of 1970 when he lived with my family for the whole summer. He had a really funny sense of humor and enjoyed “goofing around” with customers. After he worked for the two Sundays to pay his “gambling” debt he asked if I would pay him to continue to work at the store. He would save the extra money to eventually buy his house. It didn’t take long for Steven to learn the comic book business. He had a natural ability as a retailer. He learned how to buy collections of old comic books and toys. He enjoyed himself so much at my store that he wanted to become my permanent Sunday employee.

Next chapter: Cousin Steven leaves the nest!
Pictures: We build our Bolton, Massachusetts home

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 24


In 1981, Richard Howell and Carol Kalish contacted me. They were working for a new comic book distributor near Boston, MA named “Solar Spice.” They guaranteed that I would be able to get the big shipment of new comic books on Friday morning each week. This would help me to compete with the other comic book store in town. Carol also offered me generous credit terms. I accepted their offer and stopped ordering the comic books from “Capital City Distribution” of Wisconsin.

I would go to their small office in Cambridge, MA at about 6 AM each Friday morning to pick up my shipment. I would then drive about an hour to get to my store in Worcester, MA by about 8 AM, unload my car, sort the comic books, and fill the customer’s “subscription list.” Each customer had filled out a list of the comic books that they wanted me to reserve for them and I saved the comic books for them on shelves behind the counter. By the time I opened the store at 10 AM, the new comic subscriptions were all done and the remaining comic books were displayed on the racks. Most Fridays, there were customers waiting outside at 10 AM to get into the store to have the first pick of the comics on the racks.

My customers were very loyal and they seemed to enjoy shopping at my store. They would come into the store, pick out the new comic books, look through the large selection of back issues, and many would hang around the store to talk about comic books with other customers and me. The store had a festive, party atmosphere on Fridays. Stanley Hosmer, David Grilla, Stan Moniak, Charlie St.Pierre, Paul Dinsdale, Bob Forte, Andy Fish and many more would form the core comic book customer base and would eventually become friends of mine, not just customers.

Michael Warshaw came into the store looking mostly for old model kits. I had recently bought a collection of old toys from the 1960’s and I sold him an Aurora model kit of “Spider-Man,” unmade in the original 1967 box, for $27.00. We’ve been friends for over twenty years now!

Kevin Simpson was on the way to my competitor’s store when he came by and discovered my store. He came in looking for the current issue of “Starlog Magazine.” While we were talking he told me that he also collected old trading cards. He mostly collected cards that were based on old TV shows like “Lost In Space,” “Batman,” and “The Green Hornet.” It quickly became apparent that Kevin and I had a lot in common. We both collected bubble-gum cards, loved to play Monopoly, and we both watched too much television.

We even videotaped lots of TV shows and we both had the exact same video tape machine. In the early 1980’s, video tape recorders cost about $1400.00 and a blank video tape cost around $20.00 so I was shocked when Kevin asked me to lend him my video tape recorder! He explained that he needed another VCR to hook up to his so he could make a copy of a tape and he didn’t want to pay the high fee to rent another one. Since I had just met him that day I politely declined. After Kevin had been shopping at my store for about a month it became clear that he was becoming a great friend. He was kind and had a good sense of humor. He didn’t seem to mind that I almost always beat him at Monopoly. He was always willing to help out his friends. It didn’t take long before I was happy to lend him my VCR.

Brian Paquette was looking for old toys from the 1960’s TV show of “The Man From Uncle.” “The Man From Uncle” was one of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid. I used to pretend that I was a spy from the “Uncle” organization when I was ten years old. My parents bought me quite a few of the toys that were sold in the mid-60’s based on the show including the Napoleon Solo gun set and the “Foto-Fantastiks” coloring sets so Brian and I shared a common interest.

Mostly because of Mike Warshaw and Brian Paquette, I became interested in collecting old toys. My parents really spoiled me at Christmas time and now I decided to try to collect many of the toys I had as a kid. I put up signs in my store to let the customers know that I now wanted to buy old toys. I began going to local toy shows to try to find some of the cool toys I wanted. My first “find” was a “Steve Canyon Jet Helmet,” mint condition, still in the original box. (I still have a photo of my brother Jay and I wearing our helmets on Christmas morning!) I was now a serious collector of comic books, movie and TV-related bubblegum cards, records, old model kits, and toys! I was fortunate that the income from the store was growing so I could afford to buy a rare collectible every so often.

David Lynch was the employee who ran the store on Sunday, but he wanted to be able to set up at a local flea market to earn some extra money since I wasn’t able to pay him a decent salary. Luckily, my new friend, Michael Warshaw was willing to help out until I could find a permanent replacement.

Through a strange series of events, I’d discover my best friend in the comic book business: my cousin Steven.

Next chapter: I beat Steven again at cards and he becomes my Sunday employee.
Picture: My brother Jay and I wearing our Steve Canyon Space Helmets on Christmas morning in 1959

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 23


One day in 1981, a customer came into my store. He was friendly and very outgoing. He looked through our stock of vintage baseball cards and spent about $200.00 on cards from the late 1960’s. We showed him our inventory of baseball “star” cards: Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, etc. He told us that he liked some of them but he didn’t want to spend any more money that day. He stayed in the store for about an hour chatting with Steve and I about his 13 years as a teacher and his love of collectibles and then he left. I put the most valuable cards behind our counter for safekeeping.

The next morning I came in about an hour after Steve had opened the store and I noticed that a large pile of the valuable baseball cards was missing. Steve told me that we had only had one customer so far that day, the teacher from the day before. He had asked about some inventory that we had in the back room of the store and while Steve went to get it we figured out that the thief must have grabbed a handful of the most valuable baseball cards.

I called dozens of other collectible stores to make them aware of this thief. A store in Boston recognized my description of the guy and told me that they had caught him stealing old comic books earlier in the year and they believed that he was a professional thief. The guy would spend some money and pretend to be very friendly to gain the store clerk’s confidence. He would later wait for an opportunity to steal. The Boston storeowner gave me the thief’s name but they didn’t know his address. I didn’t need it. He came back into the store the very next week and acted as if nothing had happened!

Steve and I didn’t let the thief know that we were “on” to him. I told Steve that I was going down to the local convenience store for a soda and I asked if he or the “customer” wanted anything. While I was out of the store I called the police and gave them the background story. The customer was still chatting with Steve when the police arrived. The police read him his rights and handcuffed him right in the store! He was arrested and brought to jail. I heard that he later lost his job as a teacher because of his life of crime.

Massachusetts had some out-dated laws known as “The Blue Laws” that attempted to control people’s lives and businesses through legislation. One of the laws prohibited stores from doing business on Sunday. There were some loopholes though. If the business was a restaurant or a store that sold newspapers or pharmaceuticals they could be open. I knew that Sunday could be a great shopping day once we could let our customers know that we’d be open for business. I decided to open our store on Sundays, so we would buy a couple of newspapers from a local store and have them available for sale at my store just to comply with the law.

I wasn’t able to work on Sunday because I wanted to be with my wife, Mal, and my son on at least one weekend day each week. Steve couldn’t work either because he still set up at a local flea market on Sundays. I began to look for another employee to mostly help out on Sundays. That’s when I hired David M. Lynch. There will be more to be said about David in later chapters of this story.

At home, even though our son, Adam, was only one year old, Mal began to think about his future. My father had been involved in a local town government as a school board member and because of his “inside” knowledge of the workings of public education he strongly urged us to consider private school for Adam. Although Mal embraced the idea, I did not. I had been “educated” in the public school system and I didn’t detect any major problems with the system. I also didn’t like the idea of tiny class sizes and limited opportunities for sports programs and the arts. I wanted my child to be able to experience all that life had to offer. I also didn’t want to incur the additional expense of a private school education. I was already paying for his education through the outrageous tax structure in Massachusetts! We began to pray for wisdom and guidance.

Next chapter: My customers become friends.

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