They weren't the ONLY Comic store that dealt in second-hand books, but they were the most visible. The other choice being Infinity Comix, located in the Pointe-Claire shopping Center. When that side business dried up, Infinity Comix relocated to the nearby pharmacy, where it continued to be lucrative, but eventually was driven to an increasingly smaller section that is now a pale imitation of what it once used to be. They also gave away copies of the current month’s Previews Catalogue, which was close to 500 pages of upcoming comics, and a snapshot of what the current Comic Culture was like at the time. There’s a vast gulf of difference between then and now. For starters, the Manga entries can be counted on the palm of your hand. There’s barely any titles that would appeal to a wider audience. Lots of near-pornographic images for attention getting, which certainly got mine, but not enough to actually make orders for what’d amount to five-minute flipthroughs. And more pages devoted to merchandise than comics. Okay, so Previews hasn't changed that much.
While disappointing, I hoped that AstroLib would be able to put off the inevitable. The owners had been running the store for years, and even the influx of younger staff helping out wasn't enough to deter the impending demise. An article about charitable donation showed just how much trouble the owners were in:
Betty walks with two canes, but still comes in daily. Paul got past a bout of flesh-eating disease several years ago, then suffered a stroke about (five) years back that left him partially paralyzed. He still comes in for a few hours a day, and works from home.
“If this store closes, he would turn into a vegetable,” Betty says. “So will I. I’m not looking for that.”The death knell came from... well, the blurb on their front webpage says it all:
It seems our *pfui* old landlord sold the building in October of 2017, and didn't even have the courtesy to let us know. We made contact with the new owners in January, but were unable to come to any mutually acceptable terms, so we have to be out (which means the place has to be empty) by July 1st., which is exactly 31 years since the day we started setting up here.
Whoops- looks like the new landlord jumped the gun a bit and put up a really nifty "For Rent" sign on the Ides of March. I had planned to make the announcement at the end of the month, with the new (and final) Astronotes.That's right - the new landlord raised their rent rates without telling them. How much? Well, the new owner went by market value, which means that it went from a reasonable $3,500 a month to $9,000. When no one was looking, the landlord raised to $9,000 a month. That's more than twice as much. And that's terrible. Even with Kickstarter charity donations, that's still too rich for their wallets.
For those not in the know, Astronotes are those blurbs they give to Previews Comics. A sort of mini-Progressive Ruin's End of Civilization. The earliest entries go as far back as #206 up to #272. I've been going through their online backlog looking up quality commentary worth saving, which I'll share further down.
It's been a lot of fun (and a lot of work), but frankly neither Mary, Betty, Mark, nor I, at ages 67, 72, 74 and 68 are in the kind of shape needed to start over with a new location.I was assured that the excess money I put as a down payment for future comics would be refunded after the last of my orders came through.
AND DON'T WORRY about your list: We've got it covered until (and including) whatever ships June 20.
Interestingly enough, there was constant confusion between the two elderly female members of staff, Mary and Betty. People would constantly confuse the nice woman with the cranky woman all the time, even though they didn’t look much alike. I suppose when you don’t deal with women much, facial blindness ensues. Despite her jowly looks, Betty Stock (apt name) Handleman is the friendly one.
I don't have an available photo of Mary, but she looked far more cheerful with fritzy hair, yet was the cranky one.
So you have plenty of time to move your list to another store. I'd particularly recommend Marc Parenteau's "Comic Hunter" up at 9675 Papineau.
One of the few stores to predate us, Komico, is still on Decarie near Queen Mary, and Cosmix continues on Decarie in Ville St.Laurent. I'm sure any of these guys will be more than happy to take care of you. Oh, and lest I forget, I'm told (by Mary and a few customers) that Charlie, the new owner of Capitaine Quebec (just across the street from us) is a nice guy, and you shouldn't have any problem finding that place!
BUT PLEASE- WHEREVER YOU'RE GOING TELL THEM TO START PULLING FOR YOU JUNE 27 AND NOT BEFORE! We need every last nickel we can get from you folks, so play nice, okay?They recommended these stores, but I decided to go with Crossover Comics, since it’s closer to public transit, and the interiors don’t make me feel claustrophobic, and I can talk to the staff with ease. Not to mention the reservoir of available comics is closer to my demographic compared to the other stores which are more closely designed to appeal to the typical Old-School Comic buyer audience, which isn’t my taste. Another plus is that they have a preview of what’s coming out this week, which the other stores don’t have. Granted, it’s not divided between pamphlets and Trades, but there are covers shown, so I gain something and lose something.
Their ordering system is slightly different, which confused me at first. Normally at Astrolib, I made a down payment of cash up front for multiple books in advance. Helpfully, at reasonable American prices, not the higher Canadian prices, made fluid by what the exchange rate at the time was. At Crossover, I pay a $5 fee for each individual book I want that I'll get back to pay for the book in full at a 20% discount when it comes in. It'll take me some getting used to.
Or maybe if someone wants to buy us out, we'd be more than happy to talk, and you won't have to decide on a new place> We'll try to engineer it so you can just continue here. For obvious reasons, if buying Astro appeals to you, it's best to get it done ASAP, because the sooner it's done the better your chances of customer retention.
You know, I've always disliked those "Being called home to Jesus" sales that are so rife in this business (Buy our books or we'll die). Well, we've been called home,so we're gonna have a sale. Call it a "Turn off the lights sale!"
MOLON LABE and SAVE!Talking of sales, Astrolib would go through the extensive amount of comics in an interesting way. Every September, it would undergo it’s annual 9-9-9 Dump the Clunk massive clearance sale, where the mass backlog of comics in their longbox display would be available at incremental discounts. 10% off on the 1st day of September, 20% on the second and so on up to the ninth, where everything would be 90% off. I never participated in these deals, but imagine it must’ve been extremely tempting for casual customers to decide whether to make an impulse purchase for an issue or hold off until later on the off chance it’d still be available then.
Then, after numerous articles were made about the store's imminent demise, this disclaimer showed up on the webpage later:
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE RENT We've gotten a substantial amount of press since we announced the store's closing, Unfortunately, they've all focused on a rent increase s the reason. While we couldn't handle a jump to the new landlord's asking of $9500 a month, we had made the decision to shut down well before that number came up. In fact the number came as a result of a prospective store buyer making the call to the rental agent. It's probably true, but it makes no difference to us. We're finished any way you look at it. The actual reason is that neither Mark, Betty, Mary nor I are physically capable of putting in the kind of effort needed to get the place flying again. To everything there is a season, and this happens to be the winter of our working lives.One thing that I feel particularly guilty of is that the store still has volumes 2-3 of Oyayubihime Infinity, after I ordered the series when CMX was going out of the Manga business, and I was collecting whatever worthy Mangas in their stock was still available. There was some conflicting information between Mary and Betty, which resulted in double orders, and no other customers bothered to pick those volumes up. That always bothered me. For the record, apart from From Eroica With Love, I haven’t really reread any of the CMX Mangas - that’s probably another failing of the company line.
Also, Astrolib was remarkably progressive. In addition to stocking Manga, it had a wheelchair ramp allowing for easy access. How many Comic shops are Handicap Accessible? Go ahead, I’ll wait. The closest would be Carsley's Comic in a building via elevator. But the restrictive open hours and narrow entrance doorframe would work against that.
Amazingly enough, as progressive as they were in supporting other forms of comics including
Manga when it was only available in pamphlet form, they never updated their computer system, stubbornly using the same DOS program for YEARS. To get an idea of how ancient their system was, the computer monitor displaying the latest arrivals was in Black and White. It was THAT old.
If you look closely at Paul's monitor, you can see it's a blue spreadsheet with a typewriter keyboard, similar to the familiar model I'm used to. Once the store closes for good, I hope they find something to do and keep themselves far away from lethargy and boredom.
As promised, I picked out some of the most noteable Astronotes entries. Keep in mind that this is only a small sample, from 206-210 and a quick look at 272. I had to stop because it was extremely time-consuming. More behind the cut.