Stamford Comic Shop’s journey comes to an end

STAMFORD — Paul Salerno collected a stack of back-issue comics for a customer last week at A Timeless Journey, the only comic book store in town. The price came in at $195, but thanks to a store-wide sale this month, the customer saved about $150.

The two argued over the price for a few minutes. It was friendly; the client, Domenic Corbo, and Salerno, 54, go back a long way.

The sale comes at a bittersweet time for Salerno and its loyal customers: in February, A Timeless Journey’s time will come to an end after 28 years in business.

“Paul has persevered for over 20 years in a tough industry, and what’s amazing is people are amazed he’s not here,” said Corbo, a permanent resident of Stamford.

A Timeless Journey opened in 1989 on Elm Street, the same year Tim Burton’s “Batman,” starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader, was released. Since then, the store has moved twice, moving to its current downtown location at the corner of 8th and Summer streets in 2013.

It was a different time when the store first opened, Salerno recalls.

“When we started, it was a much bigger collector’s market with guys who read comics their whole lives,” he said. “It was a whole other world. There was no internet.

At this point, mid-sentence, Salerno pulls out a random comic from a box on his desk.

“If you were looking for ‘Giant Sized Avengers #5,’ you’d go to a show, which was rare unlike now, or you’d go to a store to finish your ‘set,'” he said. “That was the big thing – finishing your collection. He was our main client at the time.

With the release of “Batman” and the focus on collecting, it was time for Salerno and then-business partner Dave Edwards to open a store. It was Edwards who thought of placing an “A” in front of “Timeless Journey” so that the store would appear first in the phone book.

But a lot has changed since then, and not just when it comes to phone books. The comic book industry, along with its customers, has grown.

“Now the majority of people who buy older comics buy them for their value,” he said. “They’re going to get them graded, resold, and that defeats the whole purpose of comics. When you rate a card, you can always see the front and back. When you rate a comic, you never open it again. For me, the best part of the comic is on the inside.

Salerno orders his comics two months in advance based on subscribers; if people aren’t talking about a comic, he won’t order it because comics aren’t returnable, which limits what people are willing to buy. It’s an archaic business model that puts pressure on retailers like Salerno.

And although the movie “Batman” propelled the store when it opened, Salerno said today’s comic book movies are successful because the characters are more popular than the medium they originated from. . Movie producers, Salerno said, realized the value of comic books; moviegoers, not so much.

“Movies realized there were decades of storyboards,” he said. “Every comic is a storyboard for a potential movie.”

Meanwhile, retailers still rely on a loyal subscriber base while movies based on these comics bring in millions at the box office.

“Probably 98.9% of people who see these movies are already fans, and the lowest percentage are those looking for something different,” said Erik Yacko, owner of Alternate Universe in New Haven and Milford. “It’s not like as soon as the movie comes out I have a line outside my door.”

The brightest day, the darkest night

Alternate Universe’s New Haven location has been open for 23 years, while the Milford store has been open for 12 years. Yacko’s dad bought him his first comic when he was five, and the rest is history. That doesn’t mean navigation has always been smooth, though. He called the comic book industry a “disposable income market”.

“If you don’t have the money to go to a comic book store, you won’t go,” Yacko said. “It’s not a necessity, it’s a hobby. There will always be other things that will trump us.

In 2009 Disney bought Marvel, one of the big comic book publishers outside of DC responsible for characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man and others. Yacko said the acquisition has resulted in pressure on retailers.

“Big corporations don’t help small mom-and-pop community stores,” he said. “We are the middleman who sells their comics.”

David Kruseski, owner of Heroes Comics and Cards on Westport Avenue in Norwalk, called it “a niche market within a niche market”.

Kruseski said he doesn’t consider his business to be in jeopardy, but that doesn’t mean the industry is completely healthy. He too has a loyal clientele on which he has relied for 23 years in business.

“It’s not an easy industry to be like it was when I opened,” Kruseski said. “It’s sad to see a store close…but each store is unique.”

Up, up… and away

Salerno left a job as an accountant for A Timeless Journey. Today, 28 years later, he is leaving A Timeless Journey for a job as an accountant. He was offered the job at Stamford and it was an opportunity – higher pay, a regular schedule and benefits – he couldn’t turn down.

“You’ll never get rich doing this, but you’ll hopefully earn enough to pay the bills,” said Salerno, who lives in Trumbull with his wife, Susan. “It’s harder now because I’m catering more and more to the readership audience, and fewer and fewer people are reading comics.”

“When I was a kid, my dad took me to the store and I came back with a stack worth $3; they cost 15 cents each at the time. And my dad said, ‘I’ll never spend $3 on comics’; now a comic is $3! Now the kids are coming and they don’t want comic books. They want to go to GameStop.

However, Stamford resident Kevin Powers has always wanted to go to the comic book store. His first job was at A Timeless Journey, when Salerno needed someone to run the shop while he was away on vacation. Powers, 33, was 17 at the time; he had been a loyal customer for years before that, and since then.

“I’ve been like a lost squirrel for the last week without any new comics,” Powers told A Timeless Journey on Tuesday. “You won’t find a better guy than Paul.”

Yacko said that although other stores in the area represent competition, he never likes to see a local comic book store close down.

“We have to fight and fight in this crazy market,” he said. “Once the dominoes start falling, there’s no way to put them back together.”

However, Stamford comic book readers may not have much to worry about; with the nearest store a 20-minute drive from Heroes, Salerno is confident that another store will eventually come to Stamford.

“I have a feeling someone is going to open a store here,” he said. “It’s a pretty big city, and if there’s no comic book store here, someone will.”

In the meantime, Kruseski is welcoming new faces to his Norwalk boutique.

“If people want stores like ours to continue, they will have to support them,” he said. “It’s a choice that each individual must make for themselves…I know my clients have made a choice [that] they will support me and have for a long time.

Salerno said it would be an odd transition to a traditional 9-to-5 job — A Timeless Journey was open six days a week. He looks forward to having a more stable income and schedule, but he will miss the store and, more importantly, the people.

“I may never see the people I saw twice a week for 20 years again,” he said. “But owning a business is a rollercoaster. Right now it’s pretty low. It’s due for another round, but I need stability.; 203-964-2265; @TravClark2

Daniel K. Denny