Monday, June 03, 2013

A Visit To Atlas Comics

As you may have heard, Atlas Comics recently announced that it is going out of business. It's a terrible shame when any comic shop is forced to close, and you don't need me to tell you that.

As it happened, I had to go to O'Hare Airport today, which is about 15 minutes from Atlas, so a brief layover there seemed impossible to avoid. Even after only two days of his close-out sale, it looked like a HUGE collection of his stock had already been sold and the owner spent any time that wasn't directly interacting with a customer trying to restock shelves and long boxes with material from his overflow inventory. But he still had a lot of good material at some super-cheap prices. I picked up the first two (still shrink-wrapped) Spirit Archives for $20 each, the hardcover Curt Swan biography for about the price of a used paperback version and a smattering of Namor comics from the 1990s for a buck each. I probably could've spent another $100 without trying if my bank account let me.

While I was there, a friend of the owner called and, apparently having just heard the news, seemed to offer his sympathies. He then asked what had happened, and the owner went through a much longer, more detailed description of the whole sequence of events that have led to here. I don't know that I can recite all the specifics and I obviously am only hearing the version of events as detailed through the aggrieved party, but it really did sound like the landlord was being a jerk. The owner didn't seem hostile or angry, mind you -- from what I gathered, he was trying to set things up so that someone else could take over the store in another year or two anyway. But the landlord was refusing to work with either him or the potential new owner, and had a very my-way-or-the-highway approach to negotiating. The shop owner was prescient enough to see the owner's tactics for what they were, and had begun preparing for a big close-out sale reasonably well in advance of the actual announcement, which didn't come until the "negotiations"* broke down entirely.

Now, I'm explaining all of this for two reasons. First, to highlight that there are some really great deals at Atlas right now and I highly encourage anyone who's able to get out there before too long. It looks like a lot of great stuff has already been snatched up, and there were a good number of people in the place today when I stopped by. (Middle of the afternoon on a Monday. Historically, not a big day for comic shop purchases.)

Second, and more significantly, it sounds like the guy running Atlas had a pretty good head on his shoulders. We're talking about a comic shop that's been in business for a quarter century, through some terrible economic times, and seemed to come out okay. More immediately, he had enough business savvy to see how the landlord was operating here, and he didn't seem to be under any illusions about this guy even acting in good faith. He had an agenda, and was going to foist it on Atlas regardless of how the current owner felt, or what he did to circumvent those plans.

And the reason why that's significant is this: in any business -- in comics particularly -- there are factors beyond your control. You can try to mitigate them as best as you can, but sometimes there are actors present who simply want you removed. And if they have any sort of power or leverage over you, they could use it against you.

Could Atlas relocate instead? Sure. But, like I said, it sounded like this guy was planning on getting out in a year or two anyway; he's not going to spend a huge amount of effort schlepping his business across town if he's going to get out soon anyway. My point is that, regardless of your intentions, things may not always go to plan. Even your Plan B may not be viable. But if you can hold your head up, like this owner did and say, "I did everything I could"... well, that's still something to be proud of.

* Of course, I'm using the term "negotiations" here loosely. The account of events I heard included the landlord flat out refusing to make any contact at all for long periods of time.

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