My used bookshop: comics & vinyl
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I wrote about the beginnings of Books Do Furnish A Room sometime back.* We'd expanded the store, Siobhan left me and we'd added new comic books.
Many more people bought comics back then. The day the new comics were released was always the busiest day. Still is but no to the same degree. Most of the money came from new comics sales but we sold lots of back-issues. Nowadays we sell about 30 X-Men, down from 150. Increasingly we devote space to books reprinting the better comics than the new issues themselves.
Back issues we never buy. Fewer and fewer people collect. If you've bought comics during the last 30 years you are probably best off donating them to a tax-exempt thrift store for a tax deduction if you don't want to keep them for sentimental value. Older comics from the 30s into the early 70s can still bring money. But you can't always get Overstreet Guide value.
Newspaper accounts of comic book value caused us lots of annoyance. Comics that bring thousands of dollars do because they are rare. That means you probably don't have one. And there are some comics from the 50s that are plentiful. Walt Disney's Comics & Stories was selling about a million and a half copies. So they are worth only a few dollars.
And there were all those people who wanted to tell us they bought first Superman or Batman comic. They weren't nearly old enough. Or their father, uncle, aunt or seventeenth cousin had. If there'd been that many copies even the WWII paper drives wouldn't have made the comics scarce.
Comics brought in the biggest gross income but for a time records were what we gave us the most net profit. Many of the Blockbuster CD stores in malls were originally Record Bars. The chain grew out of a shop in downtown Durham and remained headquartered here.
That meant there were lots of promo copies in town. Employees would sell them to us. Their one-time marketing manager and jazz buyer became customers of ours. They wanted comics and brought in stacks of promo copies to trade for them. Normally not the current crop of hits but jazz, bluegrass, folk - small label records that the chain often wouldn't even carry but were instant cash for us.
They might've been less ready to do this if they'd liked their boss. But the son of the founder had taken it over and was something of a crank. He'd make the employees go to retreats where they were supposed to do things like walk over hot coals.
Once the chain itself called us and invited us to buy their 'deadwall' inventory. These were records they'd given up trying to sell and weren't able to return. Mostly they were specialty records bought by managers whose tastes were too advanced for their local clientele. Many of them imports. Gordon went and made his pick. They sold so rapidly it was almost like Record Bar had given us free money.
Record Bar and its sister chain Licorice Pizza were bought by some conglomerate which was in turn swallowed by Blockbuster. Without them the era of CDs hasn't been as profitable as the records had been.
We still sell records and cassettes. Less as time goes on. We started buying classical on CD only several years ago. Classical music buyers usually have the most money. A local CD store with a membership program tracks their top 100 customers. They all buy mostly classical. Our classical customers went out and spent I can't guess how much money on classical CDs and dumped their vinyl.
There's still a good niche market for some records: country, jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk. The core 60s rock stars: Beatles, Hendrix, Dylan. And the folks who've always attracted collectors like David Bowie. Gordon, whose memory and organizational bent exceeds mine, has a good memory of what sells on vinyl and what doesn't.
Getting good books was the hardest thing about selling them in the early days.
Some colleges build up a local community of former students who like the area and stay. Nearby Chapel Hill is like that. Duke is not. Duke students have tended to treat Durham as an exotic locale as inhospitable as a land with cannibals. Our old store was a block and a-half from Duke's East Campus. Once a Duke student road over on his motorbike. His dorm was on East Campus. He'd been wanting to see our store for a couple of years but hadn't felt like venturing over until he got his bike.
And Duke specializing in the manufacture of accountants, doctors and lawyers. They are more likely to come in to buy comics or records than books. For a long time Chapel Hill's students despite their having a world class used bookshop in town were as important to us economically as the Duke students.
Then Duke spent a huge amount of money to buy what was for a time the most famous English Department in the US. They hired Frederic Jameson the most famous Marxist literary critic in the English-speaking world. That might not sound like much but students will choose a university for a chance to study with people they idolize. I hear Jameson is a nice guy.
More importantly they hired Stanley Fish, the most highly paid English professor in the world. And asked him to build the department. Suddenly Duke had people like Barbara Herrnstein Smith and Michael Moon, respectively world class feminist literary and queer theorists. People who might've gone to Harvard and Yale for their Lit. Ph.D.s came to Duke.
Postmodernism and cultural studies were in full sway. Duke University Press had been awful. They once offered us a bunch of books at 1% of publication price just to be rid of them. I saw a printout of their inventory. My favorite on the list The Politics of Canadian Airport Development hadn't sold 20 copies (I got rid of mine for fifty cents - at a profit). Having Fish, Jameson and Moon choosing the titles revived the press tremendously. I'm always happy when someone brings in their books.
So literary students came to Duke. It surprised me that they were more likely to be reading Raymond Chandler than Proust. Or, in one famous instance mocked by editorial writers the nation over, got to study Louis Lamour for a semester. But they were reading to judge the morals of the authors and the society that made them. Not for pleasure or aesthetic insight. But it did boost the quantity of scholarly books circulating in town. As they left they sold them to us.
Fish eventually left. And most of the better known faculty members left thereafter. Duke's English department was written up by Lingua Franca as the "English Department that Fell to Earth." Frank Lentricchia who suggested that Duke hire Fish is still here. And a few others. But Duke's star rose swiftly and fell suddenly.
I'm not sure if Duke had much of role but Durham has developed a very liberal, for want of a better word, alternative neighborhood. The Ninth Street area that the shop is now near. It also has the crystal power sillies but I know that I probably have to have them if I'm not going to have the Baptists. Most folks just can't look out at the universe and see cool indifference that doesn't even bother to return their glance.
*Guess Iíll have to rewrite it if I never manage to find it.