New Comic Day once again, so naturally I'm down at my LCS picking up new books. I've been given everything in my file, I've snagged a couple other interesting things off the wall, and I'm debating with myself whether or not I should pick up the Luther Arkwright series that the owner has conveniently bagged together with a single price tag and I recently discovered. In walks another customer -- maybe in his mid-to-late 40s, greying, noticeably (but not grossly) over-weight -- looking a bit down, which was not at all surprising given the drizzle that's been coming down since late the night before.
The owner, having just sat down for a break from the regular hustle of New Comic Day, greets the customer with a sincere, "Mark! How's it goin'? You're in early today." The manager/owner's wife also gives a familiar, "Hey, Mark!" Mark then begins to relay a story about having been fired not more than a few hours earlier and he'll need to trim down his pull list accordingly.
Now I certainly wasn't trying to pry into this man's life -- I don't know him from Adam -- but it's not a large store and the idea of sticking fingers in my ears and singing "I can't hear you" over and over seemed a bit crude. Evidently he was in sales in some capacity on a contractual basis, and had at least a few more weeks on his contract. His story (and I'm not doubting its authenticity, mind you, simply making a point of saying that I by no means have all the details and have no intention of passing judgement on him or his employers; I'm just relaying what he said in the store) was that they recently changed some of their formal sales processes, and he had been told that everyone would have some amount of time to adjust accordingly. He had actually switched over to this new process fully soon after it was shown to him, but some management person suddenly decided last night that he should be let go.
And, on top of that, he found out yesterday that he's diabetic and he had to make some significant lifestyle changes, and things would be extremely difficult without be able to use his former company's insurance. As he put it, he got a "one-two punch in the span of just over 24 hours."
Clearly, the man is NOT having a good week.
The owner seemed sypathetic, and was asking questions about the situation based on whatever information he had gotten previously. (He seemed to know something about this contract, for example.) The manager gave him a hug and listened in a very motherly fashion, while printing the customer's file information. (These folks, BTW, have their pull list system in an electronic database. Kudos to them for utilizing the tools at their disposal to run the business more efficiently. Sounds obvious to me, but how many shops still use handwritten notes as their long-term filing system?)
Now, all this is to say that this LCS was acting as this guy's home away from home. They were an extended family of sorts, listening to his problems and concerns and providing some means to escape from those problems for even a short period. It felt strangely like an episode of Cheers. Just instead of Norm drowning his sorrows in beer, Mark was burying his sorrows in comics.
That leads me to reflect on a notion I talked about some time ago, namely creating a comic shop with a comfortable, lounge-type atmosphere. Folks like Mark come in to relax and shoot the breeze and unload their stress and... It's as much a social occassion for them as it is a consumer one. It still baffles me that we haven't seen more experiments with that social aspect of a comics shop being exploited in some fashion.
I'm sure it'd be exceedingly difficult to get the legal authority to be able to serve alcohol or prepare food, but I for one want to see a comic shop where the entire place lights up and shouts "Norm!" when Norman enters and sits down to read his favorite comic book.