Thursday, April 05, 2007

Nostalgia & Comics & Me part 17
Shopfloor tales

After a long time in the relative obscurity of the basement, I obviously decided it was time to flex my creative wings and take over the shopfloor as well. Okay, maybe that's not precisely how it went, but you get the idea.

In truth, although I was hired by the owner to sort out the basement I'd always been involved in working on the shopfloor.

Even if sometimes the owners idea of what that entailed was hours at a time of standing on the stairs. Or even worse - by the doors. Mid-winter, it's freezing cold and the doors are wide open because he doesn't believe people will come in if they have to open a fucking door.
And what were we doing on the stairs or by the door?
Playing shoplifter spotter.

Unfortunately for us the owner's idea of what a shop-lifter was could be easily summed up as anyone under 18 years old. In fact the venom he saved for kids is quite ironic seeing the line of business he was in. It was always a horrible moment when he decided to spring into action. He usually didn't wait till they left the shop. In fact, thinking back, he didn't actually wait till they tried to nick anything. Just leaning on the shelves or failing to put something back in the right place was justification enough for him to bellow his disapproval across the shopfloor.
All the staff got used to this and started trying to take preventative action, because we hated seeing the looks on these poor kids faces. We'd quickly tidy around them, sidling up and around them so that they had little choice but to get off the shelf. Or we'd immediately pounce and replace that copy of Conan back in the right place.
(As another aside - given the tip that the boss described as his office, it was particularly rich that he got annoyed at anyone putting something back in the wrong place).

Anyway, my shopfloor experience started early on with the holy grail of working in a comic shop, something you should teach everyone that comes to work for you on their very first day. How to tidy a shelf properly.
I've been in countless Comic shops over the years and it always amazes me at how bloody messy the places are.
These things have covers on them for a bloody reason, didn't you realise that?
On my very first day at the shop, as a nervous little 16 year old hired to sort out the basement over my summer holiday I was called up at 5pm by Ted and told that we spent the last half hour every day tidying the shop. He gave me a quick run down of what that entailed and left me to it. And over the years, that always stuck. The last half hour would always be saved for tidying the shelves.

Added to the shelf tidying I did stocking up as well. Lots of it.
In the modern comic shop environment where comics have pitifully small circulations it seems strange to think that stocking up could take up a large amount of a persons day.
In fact, at one point my dear friend Mark was employed just to stock up the new comics on a Saturday, so great was the turnover of stock.

Back in those days of vacations from school and later University I also worked during the week and used to love Thursdays. In the UK this is the day the new stock comes in.
Well, it's the day the new comics come in. In the past it was also the day when everything else came in, but those days have long passed and there's virtually a delivery a day. But I know that Thursday still has a little magic though.
But nothing compared to what it was like back then.

Usually around an hour before the comics arrived we'd get the first customer hanging around trying to pretend he wasn't just there waiting for his weekly fix of new comic goodness.
By the time the boxes arrived there were many more of them.
On particularly bad days when something really exciting was due in there was almost a palpable sense of expectation (or maybe that was just poor hygiene?).

And when the boxes arrived they arrived in style. Loads of them. Because these were the days before the glut of stock, before the black and white boom, before sales went through the floor. We'd have maybe 40 titles to put out, but we'd have hundreds of copies of each issue.
The race was on, find all the titles first, get the subscriber pull copies into a few boxes, then hit the shelves. Of course, by then there was usually a crowd of customers around you as you got the comics ready.
Because they had the UK prices on as well we had to price sticker every one - these were the same comics that appeared on the UK newstands three months later remember, we'd got them as import copies. But invariably whilst in the middle of frantically price stickering someone would either: ask if they could have one of the copies in the pile or, even worse, just reach in a snatch one away off the top of the pile.

Meanwhile, someone invariably was rooting through the subscriber pull boxes. Like there was some buried treasure of comic-dom in there, some secret comic that we just weren't going to put out. We tried everything to stop these desperate souls going through these boxes. But if physically hiding them behind the counter didn't work, what good was a polite sign going to do?

After getting the comics out came the fun of sorting the bloody shelves out. Because the 40 new titles had replaced 40 old titles, which then had to drop down onto the lower shelves. Which of course meant the lower shelves were a mess. So the next job was to get down on these lower shelves, working your way through the throngs of customers eagerly picking up all their new comics and sort the bloody things out. Back in those days Back Issues were a huge part of the business and pulling back issues off the shelves was a huge job. We always had at least 4 long boxes of back issues, usually more. And of course, all of these had to go somewhere. (Basement of course).
But despite all this, Thursdays were special. (wipes away Nostalgic tear.......)

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