Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 22, 2011

Industry Shudders On Word Of Atomic Comics Chain Closure

Twitter, Facebook and texting have driven a story about the apparent and sudden closure of the four-store Atomic Comics chain, a major Diamond account and one of a dozen or so Face Of Comics retailers in the entire North American Direct Market of hobby shops and comic stores.

There were four stores operating in the greater Phoenix area: Phoenix itself, Mesa, Chandler and Paradise Valley. The first location opened in 1988. The stores were known for their bright, open, customer- and "civilian"-friendly feel -- they seemed like model strip-mall stores -- and for their ability to pull in major comic book creators for various signings and special events. My memory is that they were largely mainstream comics-focused stores, although that could be a faulty recollection and is based solely on intermittent visits to two of their locations.

I was in Phoenix about a year ago and spoke at length with one of the area's retailers about the Phoenix market in general. While he remained sunny about its long-term positives, I've never talked to anyone in comics so absolutely dead certain that the economic turmoil of the last three years had specifically hit at the heart of his region's comics business.

According to his general theory, Phoenix had long ago lost its traditional industries and the infrastructure (local banks, support businesses) that had developed with them, had in more recent years seen its tech business dry up or lost to states with a greater proclivity towards working government/private sector partnerships, and starting in the second half of the 2000s began to quietly shed a lot of excess retail -- all of them together the kinds of places that offered jobs that employed the kind of people that would then tend to have extra money on a regular basis to spend on comics, toys and games. I don't know how much of that is true, or how much any of it would directly apply if at all to Atomic Comics, but if you partner a broad customer burn-off with more focused declines in comics readership one would suspect that a series of substantial, heavy-inventory stores would have greater problems negotiating the current landscape, not fewer ones.

The timing of the closure is also intriguing because of DC's forthcoming relaunch and what I'm assuming was to be the chain's participation in that event. It would be more common in a conventional-wisdom sense for a retailer to wait out a potential current fallow period to get to that heavily-promoted event cycle before making a decision to shut down. Ditto that there are four stores that are to close all at once rather than a reduction in locations followed by a single-store closure.

A number of creators with connections to the chain, such as cartoonist and author James Owen, are today expressing their best wishes to those feeling the impact of the closure.

I'll try to jump back on here when there's official confirmation, which I assume will come today. My sympathies to the region's comics readers and to the employees, managers and owner Mike Malve.

Update: Mike Malve sent out a letter today; Robot 6 is running the text in full. It's pretty heartbreaking. He cites the economy, but also as a kind of momentum-breaking event the 2006 accident where someone drove into the Mesa location. Malve mentions that once the routine of many of those that used to go to the Mesa store was broken, they never came back, a reminder of the fragility inherent in an industry largely devoted to high-volume, recurring sales to a hardcore customer base.
posted 5:00 am PST | Permalink

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