Requiem for a Comic Shop

Categories:  Features

Business is brisk today.  The store is full, but not uncomfortably so. Most of the customers leave with stacks of books beneath their arms. One man browsing through a shelf of trade paperback with a friend has a t-shirt draped across his back on a wooden hanger suspended from his own collar, freeing up extra arm space for books.

There’s a sign on the front door, a small white piece of paper, with “EVERYTHING ON SALE!” written hastily in bold black sharpie. All caps, underlined. “Books, Posters, Frames, Furniture, Fixtures,” it continues, “30% to 75% off!”

Everyone who leaves the store, be it empty-handed or with a small library of books asks store owner Alex Cox variations on the same question, “are you leaving?” Some ask if he’s moving locations. Others ask when he’ll open back up. Rocketship’s bespectacled owner answers, “no,” and, “never.”

After half a decade in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, the store is closing shop. Everything must go.

Save for some last minute advertising for his going out of business sale (a process that took less than one full week, all things told), Cox hasn’t exactly been vocal about the closing of one of the most beloved comic shops in a city with more than its share. There was item on The Beat the Thursday before. Five paragraphs long, with a couple of quick quotes from Cox.

Beyond that, most of the items have been largely speculation, a good deal of it fairly hyperbolic in nature. Cox seems generally amused by those online pundits who blame the closing on the success of online comics or the death of the direct market. The real answer is a lot simpler—if, perhaps, slightly less romantic.

“Our lease came up,” Cox tells me, “and we realized that we were either going to do this another five to 10 years, at which point it becomes a CAREER, in big letters, or not sign on again and do something different. That’s basically it. Of course, there are a thousand variables in there, all of which would be very boring and involved. In the end, the store was great to do for five years, but not something we wanted to be doing until we retired. So it was time to move on.”

The store went dark for a few weeks, as its owners attempted to decide its fate—either renew the lease and devote the next five years of his life to the front counter of an independent comics shop or liquidate the thing entirely. On the 15th, the news got out.

Five days later, Cox posted a cryptic apology on the Rocketship Website, “Rocketship is currently open again for business. We apologize for any inconvenience over the past few weeks…More information in the days to come…” Two days later, he added, “Everything in the store 30-70% off! Huge bargains! Bulk Discounts! Now is the time to do your shopping!!” Rocketship would close for good on the 28th.

“We are closing it up as quickly as possible, and hopefully can enjoy a little bit of the summer,” he tells, earlier this week. “The final day is this Wednesday, which is extremely fast, but we’re doing this like ripping off a band-aid, I guess. As for leftover stock, there won’t be any. Everything will be gone.”

Fixtures, furniture—everything. What can’t be sold to customers will be offloaded on the cheap to other local comic shops. On Thursday, when Comic Con showgoers were finally ready to emerge from their post-San Diego slumber, Rocketship would be just another empty storefront on Smith street.

After five years, Cox is a little sentimental. “I’ll most miss seeing on a regular basis the friends that I made,” he says. “I’m sure I’ll still see everyone, but not every week.  I’ll miss the neighborhood kids and the folks that work on the block around the store. I’ll miss being a part of the Smith Street community.”

Of course, it’s still a bit too early to be overly whimsical. “The things I’ll miss least are the normal, predictable complaints about working retail, with the weirdness of the Direct Market and comic fandom tossed in for good measure,” he tells me. “Retail is a harsh mistress, and adding comics to the mix takes it to a whole other level.”

Cox isn’t entirely sure about what he’s going to do with himself after Rocketship shuts off the lights for a final time, but given the place he’s carved out for himself in the New York scene over the past decade, he’ll no doubt land on his feet. In the meantime, however, he intends to take that promise of enjoying the rest of his summer very seriously.

–Brian Heater

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