I was never 100% out of comics as a habit, but from 2004 until 2010, I wasn’t buying them regularly. Family issues, then college, all during an extended period of time of being pretty much stone cold broke and comics were not a priority. Once I got a full-time job that put financial ground under my feet again, I got back into the habit.
The “jump on” for me was Marvel’s Fear Itself cross-over and the Heroic Age initiative that followed. Capstone Comics was a comic shop within a block of my apartment, and they offered good discounts on subscriptions, so I took up comic collecting again. They were in a small, narrow store in a strip mall, sandwiched between a liquor store and a pawn shop, and more than any other comic shop in Austin, they reminded me of the stores of my youth.
Austin Books is an incredible, impressive comic shop, but it’s nothing like the ones I grew up with. The shops I grew up with were for comic fans and rather baffling to anyone else. Austin Books has enough welcoming geek culture whiz-bang to accommodate both the hardcore comic fans and somebody wandering in who maybe only likes The Walking Dead on TV. They’re also big enough to not be concerned about maintaining regular subscription boxes at all. At the time I jumped back in, Dragon’s Lair’s focus was on games, and though they did subscriptions, comics felt a bit like an afterthought on the showroom floor. That’s changed quite a bit, and now Dragon’s Lair is a massive shop with half of its huge floor space dedicated to comics.
I chose Capstone as my LCBS (a popular acronym for “local comic book shop”). After a time, they moved across town to West Anderson Lane, in a larger, brighter space, with enough room to contain a store-within-a-store called Monsters Universe, which specialized in Universal Monsters merchandise. As I expanded my comics buying, I would lean on Austin Books, Dragon’s Lair, and Comixology to supplement my addiction, but Capstone remained my home store. For six years, I’d get my pulls on a once-a-month basis, dropping in when I could to talk monsters and comic book movies with the owner and staff.
Today, I was told I should look for someone else to handle my subscription box. Capstone Comics would be closing in October. As sudden and shocking as it was to me, I can’t fathom how swift and sad it’s been for owner John Mitchell. This is not a store going out of business out of financial doom, so much as it is another store being unceremoniously thumped off the Austin landscape because someone wants to do something else with the building.
I think of long-time Austin fixture Toy Joy and how they were squeezed out of their lease to accommodate a more upscale shop that lasted a year before closing. Every time I drive past the empty corner store that used to be Toy Joy, I wonder if if the property owner regrets trading regular, smaller lease payments for that single year of bigger payments from a clothing business that would have never in a million years been the Austin destination spot that Toy Joy was. Toy Joy found a last-minute financial savior and moved, and while it survives, it’s not the same kind of place I would once drag out-of-town visitors to.
I worked for an independent video game store called Gamefellas. After a couple of temporary mall storefronts, we got a “permanent” spot in a hall next to a closed anchor store. When Nordstrom’s claimed the hallway later, they got to pick their neighbors. Gamefellas got the boot, and we bounced around temporary spots in, and then out of, the mall, until the store closed. We went from a store that could do seven figures a year and win awards from the Austin Chronicle, to a store that was lucky to see more than a half-dozen customers a day. It felt like we divided our customer base in half with every move, until we were left with nothing.
Having just gone through a move, Capstone isn’t optimistic about doing that again, nor do they have time on their side. They’ll have to pack up and leave ASAP, and then what? Sell off everything? Let it sit in storage? Pray for a last minute miracle? The sting is so new, even they don’t know.