Our Lives Have Changed: Pandemic Stops 6-Year Cadillac Comic Shop Run
For those who spent a lot of time there, Comic Book ER was much more than a comic book store. This is where the Cadillac underdogs and nerds met.
Owner Rob Grimes says he enjoyed fostering a space where people would be open to being themselves, regardless of their gender identity or religion.
“A lot of times people would come here and express all kinds of opinions, but not afraid of judgment and not afraid of harassment,” he says.
Rob knew most of his clients well. Many of them became volunteers, like a veteran who worked there for his first job as a civilian.
A local priest created a group that met monthly at the store called Comic Chat, a quasi-book club where people could talk about the great ideas they learned from the comics.
“It almost looked like a mini-church,” says Rob.
Comic Book ER had a new event every month, with free comic book giveaways, a Star Wars movie night, and even a great anime voice artist coming in.
Through a nonprofit linked to the store, Rob and the administrators have been working to resolve some community issues. They made presentations in schools to promote reading, help other emerging local businesses and link with LGTBQIA youth groups.
Beverly Hall has volunteered at Comic Book ER for several years and says she has seen the store become a paradise for young people.
“It’s a very conservative community. she said of Cadillac. “Lots of children if they go out [as gay or transgender] it means roaming for some of them. There aren’t many shelters for them.
Beverly herself has found solace in the store. She worked full time as an insurance agent but spent the weekends watching comics.
As an Asian woman in her fifties, Beverly is not necessarily the image of a comic consumer painted by popular culture. Comic book stores are notorious for their control, she says, but Comic Book ER immediately embraced it.
“They thought ‘Oh, I can’t get rid of her, you might as well put her to work’,” she laughs. “Just like the bats in the belfry of churches. “
Growing up in a strict Baptist house in Irons, Michigan, a small town 30 miles east of Manistee, Star Trek reruns were one of the only forms of pop culture Beverly consumed.
She got really into comics but strayed from the fandom when raising her kids.
It was a few years after her 14-year-old son died of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a seizure disorder, that she found herself spending a lot of time in the store.
“The community was important,” she says. “The escape was important.”
Beverly loved to be in a space where she could have fun with other fans. The absence of which, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she feels even more acute.
“Even discussing who was better Batman or Superman. As stupid as that, it was a human connection.
Places like Comic Book ER are rare in towns the size of Cadillac, because there is often not much institutional support, says owner Rob Grimes.
But he says the store was doing well before the pandemic, having finally hit its walking pace a few years after opening.
When COVID hit and the store closed, the building owner cut the rent to him, while comic book distributors stopped delivering new products, which helped cut costs. But it was still difficult to make a profit.
“We were really determined to say we could get over this,” says Rob. “And we could overcome this together.”
Rob tried everything he could. He placed mail orders and secured his store when it was able to reopen, but it made no difference.
“Slowly but surely I continued to see the books. Sales were down, ”he says. “There was nothing you could do about it. The costs have gone up.
Some of his clients were also hostile to the mask’s mandate. They insulted Rob and threatened to boycott the store.
For him, it was the last straw. He wouldn’t continue to waste money every day to keep the store open when a few noisy customers made him so obnoxious. Even after the store closed, Rob says people still posted nasty comments on his Facebook page, which he then turned off.
“I had worked all these years to promote the idea of community, of mutual support and to be there for your neighbor, which I always felt promoted by superheroes,” he says. “And not see him come back and see him come back with venom.”
Rob says he has other projects online, but for the first time ever, he’s wondering what to get involved in.
Someday he would like to help someone else bring comics back to Cadillac.