EDITOR'S NOTE: Retailer Brian Kozicki, who owned Buried Under Comics in Manchester, Connecticut, for more than 18 years, passed away Saturday as the result of a heart attack. He was 46. His longtime friend and former co-worker Marc Patten offered this remembrance.
By Marc Patten
We lost a superhero this week, a "Daredevil" with a heart of gold just like his favorite Marvel character. Brian Kozicki, owner of Buried Under Comics, has been my friend for more than 25 years. I laugh and think back to the early days of our odd-couple pairing when we were just a few years out of high school working together at the store under the previous owner Chuck Bruder. Back in 1987 we were both working at Buried Under Books part-time; he had another job and I was a sophomore at the University of Connecticut. In those early days we had a a friendly rivalry: Brian would often show up early on a Saturday to make sure Chuc, put him on the front line at the register, talking and selling to customers. Subsequently, I was forced to stay in the back room, bagging and boarding comics, filing and restocking back issues. He knew this would happen, and used to tease me about it often.
Brian always seemed to have a master plan for taking over that store. Within three years he slowly got more and more hours out of Chuck, especially when the second store opened, until he was nearly full time and could quit his other job. Six years later, he was negotiating the details to buy the original store outright. One of the great things about Buried Under, like many early comics stores, was its selection of back issues. Chuck had a philosophy of buying five to 10 extra copies of most titles for back stock, but when Brian took over, the store exploded in inventory selection -- despite remaining in the same small location for nearly 30 years. It wasn't called Buried Under for nothing!
Brian was a master salesman, and he read and loved all new and old comics with a passion that rivaled my own. I was so proud (and secretly jealous) of him when he finally took over and began to mold the store into the vision that he wanted. When the boom and bust of the 1990s came and went, most stores removed back issues from their product selection, due to space and financial considerations -- there were just too many new comics coming out to adequately display and sell, and customers only had so much money to spend. But Brian refused to give up that category up; he insisted it was the one thing that made his store different. If you missed an issue six months ago, you didn't have to worry that you'd never find it locally. People drove hours to buy back issues at Buried Under.
He never modernized or moved to a larger location, (although he wanted to). The store was old school, perhaps a bit cramped at times (Free Comic Book Day anyone?), but it was a treasure trove. There was always something new to see in the store each week, because Brian bought collections and continued to order extra copies of most titles for back stock.
But most of all, he was better than anyone I know at understanding what his customers wanted, and finding it for them. Comics, toys, statues, you name it: If he didn't have it, he would get it. He was always more concerned about his customers needs and what their families were up to, with their ups and downs than his own.
The store was successful, but he never cared about money. He cared about the people, and making them happy. Whether you brought your wife, kids, of mother with you to the store, he would always try to find a comic series or graphic novel they might like, despite never reading one before. He covered collectors to readers. He was never the type to mark up an issue that became "hot" because of the media, whether it was the "death" of Superman in 1992 or the "death" of Captain America in 2007. He would only mark things up if he had to pay more to restock them.
Through the years, whether I was working in publishing, consulting or freelance writing, I still continued to set up to sell collectibles at shows with Brian after I left the area -- if only to hang out and talk shop, have a beer or gripe about the industry. Local shows in Connecticut, out to Boston and occasionally New York City, where we had many a memorable night on the town at parties and clubs. Before San Diego Comic-Con became the movie-media monster that it is today, we used to have the best times hanging out there. I'd introduce him to comics industry notables, and he'd introduce me to actual customers whose opinions really mattered. A few weeks ago, I drove up to Hartford to hang to with him for the afternoon at a show he set up at called ConnectiCon. That night he was tired but I twisted his arm to go grab a bite to eat and catch up, which I will treasure.
Whenever I wrote an article for a comics trade magazine that had a retailer focus or I needed a quote, Bri was the first one I'd call. He didn't always have the answer I was looking for, but he always gave me information and a perspective that was unique.
Brian had big ideas and high hopes for his business. Especially the superstore where he would one day be able to display for sale the hundreds of thousands of comics that were in their vast inventory. He never got bogged down with the hot product of the month. He was more interested in creating long time ongoing customers who read their weekly or monthly goodies. He was all about creating a relationship with his customers and forming new bonds of friendship than he was at making a quick sale. Buried Under Comics won the coveted Hartford Advocate's "Best Comic Book Store in Connecticut" award two years in a row in 2010 and 2011, all through Brian's tireless efforts and the amazing staff he trained.
He had a heart of gold that was bigger than his inventory, and I'm just gut-wrenchingly heartbroken at his sudden passing. I don't think he ever knew how many lives he affected in such positive ways. There are hundreds of people who've met him whose lives he's changed for the better. And that is the greatest legacy anyone could ever ask for. Rest in peace, big guy, you'll never be forgotten.
For those of you who wish to pay your respects, calling hours for Brian will be held at today from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Holmes Funeral Home in Manchester.