Last night, I was unfaithful.
I didn't set out to stray. As the cliché goes, it just happened. And like most cheaters I felt dirty and wrong from the beginning, finding myself in a strange place that felt foreign and unnatural. Worse — and predictably — I ended up unsatisfied, regretting my poor decision and realizing I already had everything I needed.
This morning, I still can't believe I went to a different comic shop.
There really isn't any excuse; it was late, my shop had already closed for the night, and I thought I could just duck into this other shop to grab what I needed. I didn't have anything exotic in mind this week, just a little mainstream stuff. It would be a quickie.
I should have known better. I've mentioned before how much I like my regular store, and every week I'm reminded that Austin Books & Comics is probably the best comic shop in the city (it's certainly the most complete, and the staff is incredibly friendly and helpful). But sometimes circumstance and my impatience are a bad combination.
My wife wasn't feeling well last night, and since it was already getting late I decided we should stick close to home. Austin Books is about three or four miles from my apartment; the Shop That Shall Not Be Named is about three or four blocks. I figured we could swing by, I'd pick up the three books I was planning to get and we'd be on our way. Normally I don't go to this shop, both out of a sense of loyalty to my shop and because the Unnamed Shop's selection sucks. It's really more of a gaming store, with just one small wall for comics; it's great when I need dice, crappy if I would ever want a book that wasn't from DC or Marvel.
In this case, I thought I'd be able to get my books pretty easily since they were all mainstream titles from the Big Two. Instead, I found one. So like a cheating spouse who realizes how good he's got it at home, I'll go slinking back to my usual shop tonight, feeling guilty and begging for forgiveness.
It's a question that gets tossed around, but I'll ask it again: What makes a comic shop a good comic shop? And why does it seem to be something that's so hard to achieve? Why does finding a good shop have to be like trying to find a retail version of a unicorn?
I know I'm lucky to have an excellent shop in my city (my old hometown doesn't have a single decent shop). And if I wasn't going to Austin Books I'd be going to Rogues Gallery, another very good shop with a superior staff that's just a little too far out to be convenient for me (still, it'd be worth the extra drive time). Rogues Gallery used to be part of the local chain of shops I once worked for, and the guys who now own the shop really knows their stuff. (They used to be fellow employees, so yeah, they're living the dream.)
But again, there's that other side of the coin to deal with. Of course I used to go to the shop I worked for, but for a variety of reasons I don't anymore (which is a shame, because I used to love that place). And there was another local string of shops that, one day and without warning, apparently just closed. The scuttlebutt is that customers weren't told in advance, and there was no explanation afterward — from one day to the next all the shops were closed except one, and the only thing customers could do was peer in through darkened windows and wonder what the hell happened.
Often, it seems so easy to point at something and say, "Well, that's not good." I don't claim to know much about the business side of things beyond what I picked up while working at a shop that was fairly large, well-stocked, well-organized and successful in a competitive market. I do know, however, what I look for as a customer.
So why did I stray, especially knowing it wouldn't be what I was looking for? Laziness, circumstance and the illusion of convenience all combined to lead me to a brief tryst with another comic shop. Regret will keep me from going back.
Photo swiped from Justin Davis' Flickr site
Note: The photo is about two years old, and shows about a quarter of the shop; Austin Books is currently in the middle of a renovation, so the layout is likely to change.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Last night, I was unfaithful.