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My name is Mike Sterling, and I sell comic books for a living.
And now it's Christmastime, and as the TV commericals have been telling you since, oh, I don't know, sometime around the end of summer, you need to get out there and shop, shop, shop! Buy lots of stuff, or your loved ones will be terribly, terribly disappointed in you. You know the drill. There's a lot of pressure on you, as good consumers, to participate fully in the commercial aspects of the holiday experience...and there's plenty of pressure on retailers to be able to provide to customers the items they require.
First order of business, though...make the shop all Christmas-y. I try to wait at least until the actual month of December before I start breaking out the decorations and accessories. If you want to see Santas and candy canes in October, try the mall down the street. I don't overdo it if I can help it...I like to have a Christmas-themed painting in the window, even if it's just adding snow and Santa hats to the painting that already existed there. Hey, our regular window painting guy is busy, you know...sometimes all he has time for is throwing a Santa hat on, say, the Batman image that's already there. In the past, I've had a cardboard Santa in the glass of the front door, holding a bundle of comics (actually, colored photocopies of pricey items like Amazing Fantasy #15 wrapped around stuff from the dollar box) under his arm. I would recommend against lining the inside of your glass cases with garland...I can tell you from personal experience that no matter how well you think you've cleaned it up, little bits of tinsel will continue to pop up for years.
Other things we've done in the past: wrapping comic boxes in Christmas paper, slapping bows on anything you think might make a great gift (i.e. that 12" Edward Scissorhands figure that's been sitting around the store for about four years), stringing up Christmas lights in the windows and the glass cases, and dressing whoever happens to be the newest additions to the store's employee roster as elves, making them stand outside and do the "happy elf dance" to attract customers. Okay, I haven't done that last one yet...I'm planning on it for this year. Shhh...don't tell the new guys!
Now, when it comes to the actual shopping experience, I try to make sure our shelves are stocked with the essential items, at least by the beginning of December...all the Vertigo books, plenty of the primary manga titles, the hardcovers and the slipcased items, all of which are likely present material.
However, despite all the lovely potential Christmas items we have on display throughout the shop, we do get this request...common enough during the course of the year in relation to birthdays and such, but the frequency increases as Christmas Day approaches: "My [spouse/child/friend/co-worker] really likes comics...what should I buy him?" If you're lucky, the person making the request might have a vague idea of what the giftee actually likes...but don't count on it. Sometimes you'll get a "my husband wants --" (pulls out list and checks it) "-- Detective Comics #500 for Christmas; do you have it?" That blessed event is, alas, rare, and you're left casting about for a present idea for someone you don't know, and whose tastes are even unknown by the person doing the asking. Friend, that's what gift certificates are for...if I can't get even a reasonable shadow of a sliver of a fraction of a guess of what item would be appropriate for a present, I go straight for the certificate option. Believe me, the customer is sometimes just as relieved as I am say that we have certificates for sale...the customer is relieved because the quest is over, and I'm relieved because I'm no longer spinning my wheels, searching for some theoretical perfect present.
Another symptom of the holidays is the increase in people looking to sell their comic collections, presumably to raise money for gift-buying. Yes, the majority of books are the usual early '90s Image Comics and "Death/Return of Superman" titles that comprise 90% of the collections we see all year...but the sheer number of collections that come in around Christmastime usually means that, sooner or later, we find at least a few things we can actually use. It's worth dealing with the the boxes full of Youngblood and Legacy of Superman to get our hands on the occasional Black Cat Mystery.
On the actual day of Christmas, we close our doors for business...I imagine we could probably pick up some business by being like the one non-grocery store open to customers that day, but our store only closes four days out of the year. Don't begrudge me my day off! However, we only take Christmas off...the owner of our fine comics retail establishment has spoken of a time long ago, prior to my indentured servitude at said store, when he decided to take a few extra days off for a personal Christmas vacation. When he opened for business again on the 28th, he was greeted with several customers letting him know that they had plenty of Christmas money to spend at the shop the day after Christmas. But, since he was closed, that money got spent elsewhere! Oops. So, we make darn sure to be closed for Christmas, and just Christmas, and open the very next day. Sometimes we even open for longer hours, depending on our mood.
The other thing about after Christmas sales is that our shelves are generally depleted from the shopping just prior to C-Day. I'm going to let you in on an evil strategy of ours that takes advantage of the extra cash and/or gift certificates in the possession of our clientele. Though, to be honest, the stratagem involved isn't entirely my doing, as it is sort of a result of Diamond's own reorder turnaround policies. Generally it takes Diamond a couple weeks to process and get reorders out to us, which means that for a short period after Christmas, we're short on, or missing outright, some of the more popular items (and that always happens, no matter how much I try to keep up on restocking). And it is during this time that some customers are most anxious to divest themselves of their excess money and/or gift certificates. Now, I can always sell, say, Ultimate Spider-Man or Watchmen trades year-round. If some of these customers are looking for these books, and can't find them, sometimes they'll try something different, hopefully something that's been sitting on the shelves for a while and we'd be glad to see the last of...and that they'll hopefully like and return to find more.
And perhaps all these commercial concerns are not in the true spirit of Christmas, a time when families and friends should come together and enjoy each other's company and share their love. But, you know, if you come by the shop and spend lots of money, I promise to feel a great deal of warmth for you!
Merry Chistmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa...or whatever your holiday of choice is, I hope it's a good one. See you next time.
* From "A Christmas Carol" by Tom Lehrer
If you have any questions, suggestions, or complaints, please feel free to e-mail me at cbg (at) progressiveruin.com. I loves me the e-mail, so send me some already!