Thursday, January 15, 2009

More on the LCS

Yesterday's post on my attempt to get the Obama/Spider-Man comic at the LCS has generated a lot of attention, including links from prominent comics bloggers like Mike Sterling, Kevin Church, and Tom Spurgeon. It's also started to make the rounds of some comics news sites.

Many of the comments--which I appreciate, by the way--have talked about further steps that might be taken with this situation. And, as a kind of collective response, I'd like to address them by giving some background about my experiences with this store in general.

When I first moved to the area eight years ago, I opened up the local phone book to see if I could find a nearby comic shop in this small city. After looking for the various Yellow Pages categories--Comics, Collectibles, Hobbies, Toys and Games--I couldn't find anything that resembled a comic shop. I even asked at the chain bookstores in the mall, and no one knew if the city had one.

I spent some time during those first weeks here driving around and exploring the city. One day, I drove past a store that did have the word "Comics" in its name. However, the store windows were covered with old and faded posters, and where I could see through, the place looked dark inside. The paint on the logo and mural outside the building was peeling, and tall weeds grew out of cracks in the sidewalk leading up to the door. I wasn't hopeful.

However, I pulled on the handle, and the door opened. Inside, behind the counter of statues and busts, was the same clerk I discussed yesterday. Displayed prominently behind the counter were autographed pictures of Rush Limbaugh and Southern morning show stars John Boy and Billy. The back wall was lined with higher-priced Marvels, and the middle of the sales floor was an island of back issue bins. New comics were arranged by Marvels and DCs in the opposite wall.

I asked the clerk if I could start up a sub. He said, "Sure," and took out a piece of paper to write down what I wanted. First, I had some questions to ask about their policies. For one, the store had the policy that if you subscribed to a particular title, they would also automatically order the annual and any related miniseries, crossovers or spinoffs. So I asked,

"I want to order Justice League, but I don't usually get the related miniseries and spin-offs unless I really want them. Can I just subscribe to the main JLA series without also automatically getting the other stuff?"

While this was certainly possible, the clerk also made clear that this was not the normal policy, and his demeanor indicated that I was perilously close to maximizing the amount of work he was going to do to get my business.

So, I put together a minimal list with some specific instructions like the above for keeping stuff I didn't want out of my pull box (Like "Batman--main title only"). He then explained that he would see what he could do about my special requests. It became clear to me that the store may have had exactly as many regular customers as it needed or wanted, and they especially didn't need or want a high maintenance customer like myself.

I then grabbed some stuff off the rack to buy. I paid cash, and the clerk recorded the transaction by hand on a 3x5 notecard.

Over the next few years, the store reinforced my earlier impression that they weren't really interested in gaining any new customers. After all, a Yellow Pages ad seems like a no-brainer for any retail business, but the store steadfastly avoided even that basic marketing strategy. On one occasion, I listened to the same clerk and his buddy loudly describe wrestler Chris Benoit's murder of his wife and son, oblivious to the father who was quickly hustling his own son and daughter out the door.

The few times I was in there when the owner was running the place, he would have conservative talk radio on. This didn't bother me personally, though I would have preferred something a little more neutral--something that didn't feel like he was ignoring the fact that many customers might not want to listen to this. It now seems ironic, in retrospect, that the clerk would have such a strong negative reaction to the presence of an image of someone who represents a different political view in the store. (To be fair, though, the times I have engaged the owner in political discussions have been pleasant and respectful.)

There are other stories I could tell, like the Free Comic Book Day where the owner gave away random issues of Mark Millar's Trouble miniseries--a decision that was a mistake on many levels. In general, though, the store is a dinosaur--a throwback to the heyday of the 90s where the sheer popularity of comics as investments made it easy for stores like this to get by on bad business practices and terrible customer service. This store continues in that mode primarily because it is the only comic store in a 75-mile radius and really has no reason to change.

So, I say all this to give something of a picture of my experience with the store, and as a response to those commenters who mentioned contacting the owner about the clerk's tirade. Basically, I don't think it would change much. The store is what it is--an unpleasant stereotype of the bad reputation comic stores get--and it seems to get by on a base of loyal, regular customers. It's open for a few hours in the afternoons on Wednesdays thru Sundays, giving those customers just enough time to get in and get their subs. The reality is this: the owner is free to run the store any way he wants, and to attract, discourage, or keep customers using whatever method he sees fit. I've long since stopped shopping there regularly, only going there on occasions like yesterday, when something particularly special or noteworthy comes out. The meager few dollars I spent there on such occasions will be no great loss, but refusing to give them even that is the most reasonable response to the experience I had yesterday.


Unknown said...

I commented earlier about this clerk's tirade. I understand the frustration with having to deal with people who give you a hard time about the variant covers and the book selling out quickly -- your hands are pretty much tied at that point. But what you just described now is clearly not where the clerk is coming from. I'm lucky - I work at a mom & pop comic shop in NYC and I'm a minority who voted for Obama. We do not go foisting our political views on people and we keep things appropriate when the kiddie crew comes in. I'm sorry to hear that your comic buying experience is so stressful. Our policy is to provide the best service and discounts possible. Is it that hard to pull no Secret Invasion crossovers or all Secret Invasion crossovers? And why alienate possible customer bases? Especially in this economy! You know what? Sign up with Gotham City Comics in NYC, we'll pull whatever you want and ship it wherever you want it to go. Don't give those fools any more of your money.

Jim McClain said...

I had a similar experience with loud comic shop owners who don't pay attention to what they are saying and in front of whom. My niece was there in the comic store shopping with me when the pair (Heckyl and Jeckyl, as I named them) started bantering about Social Security and how it was unnecessary, etc. My niece is entitled to Social Security payments because of her mother's complete disability, and I told them so. It didn't stop them from continuing their blather. They're out of business now, and it couldn't have happened to two more deserving people.

Anonymous said...

What's sad is that it really isn't a rare occasion to see store clerks discussing something that would most certainly not be acceptable in polite society. I've been to stores where the workers will just throw around homophobic slurs while discussing things in extremely crude manners to show off their musculinity, not unlike the Chris Benoit situation you described, Dr. K. What's really disheartening is that most people don't even try to disprove the misconception that most comic book fans are socially inept but rather reinforce it, whether knowingly or not.

Steven Rowe said...

I know what store this is - and for what it's worth, I know from personal experience that the owner does actually fire and reprimand employees for bad customer service so it is worth complaining about.

rassmguy said...

I definitely think you should complain to the owner of the shop. Don't let this sort of thing go without comment.

Dane said...

Jesus, man, I had to comment because I had the same experience a few years ago. The store didn't have carpeting or running water, and the owner couldn't have run his store worse. Conservative radio ran loudly all the time, and as the son of a restaurant owner, this amazed me. The man would also tried to get me to buy comics I had no interest in, which would have been fine, except he would offer the same kinds again and again upon entering.

I didn't even have the ability to get a subscription from him, because he couldn't pay Diamond up front. His inability to manage money was his undoing. I knew the landlord had given him three months of free rent, but he fell five months behind in a year. No joking, the owner tried to get me to co-sign a loan for him, and I was some 18-year old college student at the time! On top of that, he tried to sell me the store the next time I came in.

He was smarmy in more ways than I can describe in this comment box and full of empty promises, and I can't say I'm sorry his store was shut down. He's in prison due to check fraud now. The problem with his store was that it was the third in my area that I experienced. It makes me want to try to open a store myself, because the customers deserved better treatment.