Welcome to Store Tour, ROBOT 6's new weekly exploration of comics shops, and the people who run them. Think of it as the retailer version of Shelf Porn. Each Sunday we'll feature a different store, and also get to know the person behind the register.
Today's store is Escape Pod Comics, located at 302 Main St. in Huntington Village, New York, on the north shore of Long Island. We spoke with co-owner Menachem Luchins.
Robot 6: Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work that out?
Escape Pod Comics: Well, the big plan was to always be shifting; a changing, evolving layout. I had a lot of ideas when I started that I knew weren’t ALL going to work, so I tried to leave myself space and room to play with things while still keeping the general sense of permanence. For example: Since we opened, our new comics have been on the right wall at the far end of the main room, before the kids’ section. How close to the kids’ section, what was considered “new,” how much weekly stock we get -- all sorts of things have changed over the two years of business but the new books are still on the right wall at the far end.
We’ve also got a honking huge antique pool table base dead center in the main room, which has dictated a lot, acting as an anchor to the main room. The base has served as: a table housing thousands of $1 back issues, a display for holiday items, a sale table, a “recommended section” and more.
What's your store's secret origin? How did it come to be? How did you decide on its name?
Where does a secret origin begin? When a comic shop opened up two blocks from the house of a kid who was already inhaling the stuff from newsstands and treks of a mile to local stores, a kid who got suspended a lot, and needed a local safe place to be when he was out? Maybe when I first walked into Rocketship comics in Brooklyn, coming, with my wife, from Rockland County all the way to check out this shop we had heard so much about? Or on my second reading of Dave Sim’s Cerebus where I vowed to read all the letters columns and back matter and came across Mark Simpson and Stephen L. Holland’s manifesto for their new store Page 45 in Nottingham, England. Or when I saw a tweet that Golden Apple in LA was up for sale and I spent weeks with an accountant doing the math on if I could buy it. ... It’s probably much simpler than that, or more complex … or something.
The name is directly inspired by Rocketship. When they closed I bought a few of their fixtures for my personal use. When I opened I viewed myself as a refugee from there, traveling in my Escape Pod.
Why did you decide to get into comics retailing? Why comics specifically? What in your background do you think made you particularly suited for it?
At every point in my life comics, and comic shops, have been there in some capacity. Even if that capacity was an absence. I would go years without going into a shop because of the attitudes of the employees or the disorganization of the stock.
I knew what I felt was the most basic knowledge of ordering and reserving comics and was often met by staff who couldn’t be bothered or store policies that made little sense.
Rocketship and Page 45 certainly changed that for me. Add a crippling depression brought on by burning out as a High School English teacher and it happened. Comics are the medium I love the most -- it’s the medium I “get” the most. They say do what you love, so I threw myself into this.
As for what makes me suited? I have no idea. I play this game by the seat of my pants, trying to stick to MY GOALS and MY VISION while staying afloat without “selling out.” That’s all I’ve really got, but people seem to like it.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing? Has that evolved from when you first started? If so, what caused that change?
My strategy has always been that buying a comic should be as easy, if not easier, than any other purchase you make. If you go into a store looking for something, but you’re not sure what -- they should be able to help you. If someone else goes into that same store and they know exactly what they want, down to very specific details- the store should be able to help them too.
A comic store is a STORE, it’s a service! I can’t afford to give huge discounts to hold customers but I do my damnedest to make sure they have the books they want and have access to books they don’t know they want yet.
I guess it’s basically treating comic sales like food service (a field I spent some time in before and during teaching): you treat everyone nicely, because that’s good business and you treat regulars extra nicely and give them reasons to stay regulars and to bring friends.
The only major changes we’ve gone through have been in response to the above. I try to stay true to certain principles, but very few are set in stone. If you would have told me we’d be displaying thousands of dollars in Bowen statues a year ago I would have laughed at you (they’re on consignment by a customer who moved to the west coast with limited space). But if you would have told me, at the same time, that This One Summer and Sisters were my bestsellers of the summer I would have wept for the joyous prophecy of my desires. So it balances out.
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better at your store?
My bestseller, at the time of writing, hands down, is The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. It might be my bestseller ever, in terms of units sold in months. I ordered heavily on this book and then, three weeks before the drop date, read the digital preview provided by First Second. I doubled down right then and, before the book shipped, added another bunch of copies to the order. I cajoled customers about it, set up a display in advance of the release date and donated damaged copies to local libraries and institutions. And you know what? Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t “finally read it” or “finish savoring it, chapter by chapter” and come to tell me how amazing it was and how much they loved it.