Via a private mailing list sent to comics professionals, Atomic Comics owner Mike Malve has made a statement on the abrupt closing of his four-store Atomic Comics chain in Phoenix, AZ. He confirmed that he would be filing for bankruptcy.
Malve blamed the economy in general for the closings, but cited a specific incident as the beginning of the problems: in October 2006, the Mesa Superstore had to be closed for five months after a car crashed through the front window, taking out a water main and causing such severe damage that they lost a million dollars in inventory. After the reopening, many former regular customers did not return, Malve noted. This began the downward spiral of declining sales which the last two years of recession had worsened.
Malve will give no public interviews and asked for readers to respect his privacy.
According to tweets and Facebook postings by former Atomic employees, they were gathered together Sunday afternoon and suddenly told of the closing. The reaction on Twitter was swift and shocked, with tributes from the biggest names in comics; over the years Malve had forged close bonds with many creators, and his private mailing list, which analyzed sales in his chain, was highly influential. One of the most-cited events — a FCBD Image Founders signing in 2008, as these photos show, was a gala affair. A small sampling:
BUMMED to hear about the closing of @Atomicmike stores @Atomic_Comics a GREAT guy, AMAZING stores. 1 of the best signings ever was w/Image
Incredibly sad day today. The best retailer I’ve ever met closed his doors. There’s never been anyone like @atomicmike and there never will.
Brian M. Bendis
i don’t know what happened or whats up but @atomicmike is and will always be one of the best retailers ever!
Ben Templesmith: I just heard about Atomic Comics. So sad. It’s a bit of a punch to the guts that.Thinking of Mike & all their employees.Friends with some :(
and many more.
Update just to show that it wasn’t just mainstream comics that Atomic supported, here’s a note from Jhonen Vasquez at Robot 6
Atomic was the first big signing I ever did, and the first I had done outside of California when I was first starting out. From the very moment I met the guy, Mike treated me not like the malformed horror most people see me as, but like a friend and a huge supporter of my work. Loved signing at Atomic then and for years on and I wish Mike and everyone from Atomic well.
Atomic’s problems seem to have some elements specific to that chain, including the fact that the four stores were all in high traffic retail locations, with the high rents those locations entail. The Robot 6 comment thread linked to above hints that a reputation for poor customer service may also have taken its toll.
As Tom Spurgeon theorizes, the Phoenix area may have had some area-specific problems as well:
I was in Phoenix about a year ago and spoke at length with one of the area’s retailers about the Phoenix market in general. While he remained sunny about its long-term positives, I’ve never talked to anyone in comics so absolutely dead certain that the economic turmoil of the last three years had specifically hit at the heart of his region’s comics business.
According to his general theory, Phoenix had long ago lost its traditional industries and the infrastructure (local banks, support businesses) that had developed with them, had in more recent years seen its tech business dry up or lost to states with a greater proclivity towards working government/private sector partnerships, and starting in the second half of the 2000s began to quietly shed a lot of excess retail — all of them together the kinds of places that offered jobs that employed the kind of people that would then tend to have extra money on a regular basis to spend on comics, toys and games. I don’t know how much of that is true, or how much any of it would directly apply if at all to Atomic Comics, but if you partner a broad customer burn-off with more focused declines in comics readership one would suspect that a series of substantial, heavy-inventory stores would have greater problems negotiating the current landscape, not fewer ones.
While some employees have cited tax problems as well, it is clear that as unique and dynamic as Atomic Comics was, its closure is also a unique event, and not necessarily the beginning of a tidal wave of store closings. As commenters here at the Beat and elsewhere have pointed out, Phoenix still has a number of fine, full-scale stores.
However, it’s also a sobering reminder that comics retailing is, at best, a low margin business; a few splurges on real estate here or there or other extravagances, and it can all be wiped out.
But also, as Beanworld creator and long-time industry observer Larry Marder tweeted:
Every generation of cartoonists has to face the shock of one of their most respected & supportive retailers going under. #ComicsGoOn
UPDATE: The text of Malve’s letter has been reproduced below:
My Final Report
As some of you may have already heard, after 25 years of running a successful business, sadly and much to my dismay, I have shut the doors of Atomic Comics. The villain in this tragedy is the economy. I had hoped to be the superhero and triumph over the recession, but sadly the economic downturn of the past 5 years has proven to be unsustainable.
For over 20 years I ran a successful and debt free business, provided jobs for up to 60 employees at a time, with some working for me for 16 plus years! I saw profits of up to 5 million during our best years. My wife recently bought me a copy of the book, “ONWARD” by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. I could really identify with some of the problems Starbucks had faced. Some similarities were that during the best of times, Atomic Comics, like Starbucks, expanded into high profile locations, but when the economy went sour, low sales could not support the higher rent at these high visibility locations. The leases at these particular stores which had originally provided the consumers with greater visibility and more foot traffic to our wonderful world of comic books￼, the higher overhead proved to be too much for Atomic as we faced declining sales.
As Atomic was seeing such success, we opened our headquarters which housed our shipping and receiving department, home base for our web store and worldwide mail order operation. We closed the headquarters down in May of 2010. I think the catalyst for Atomics’ downfall, as some of you may remember, occurred in October of 2006, just as the recession was beginning, when a 16 year old uninsured driver, drover her car through the window of our Mesa Superstore, our largest and greatest revenue producer. This in turn caused a flood as the water main had been hit. This caused such severe damage and loss that we had to shut down for over 5 months. The damages were so severe we lost close to a million dollars in product. The loss of revenue due to being closed all those months as we headed into retail’s busiest season was astronomical. What really stood out to me was how many of Atomics’ customers were lost as we rebuilt the store. It seemed as if half our customers never returned. The great mystery to me is what exactly happened to all those missing customers. I can only speculate that once you take away the habit of weekly buying-it is hard to jump back into it. Since there was not another comic shop in the immediate area, I can only assume customers found other means to obtain their comics, maybe they started driving great distances to hit up other stores, some possibly went the way of the internet and are now ordering their books online or perhaps even downloading their books illegally, or maybe even some stopped collecting comics altogether.
I have some great memories of my regular customers, seeing these people week in and week out. Some for as many as 25 years of not missing a beat as they picked up their books. Bringing the new readers into comics by doing various promotions and events was something I enjoyed a great deal and will truly miss. Hopefully the customers and fans I cultivated will find new a new place to call home and get their geek on. To all my fellow comic book￼ retailers out there, I truly hope you do not succumb to the same fate, can see this recession thru, and continue to be successful and flourish. I will be here rooting for you! With DC’s September release of the #1’s, Marvel’s makeover of key books and continual growth, and other publishers working hard with some amazing new and exciting content, there is hope on the horizon for the direct market! I have enjoyed sharing thoughts and ideas with all these other retailers. Much love and appreciation to you all.
I have been blessed since day one to be surrounded by so many incredible people. There is no way that Atomic would have lasted all these years without everyone’s effort and support. To all of my employees past and present, friends in the industry, and business contacts I have made over the years, I plan on staying in touch. If I made a list of all the many people who have helped and supported me over the years the list would be lengthy beyond belief! So I’ll keep it short. At Atomic I would like to thank Bill Mitchell, Dale Worthington, Julian Moraga, and Mike Ueber. I have had hundreds of great employees over the years that went above and beyond as they dedicated themselves to making Atomic Comics a very special place. Someone who has given me an incredible amount of support is Ryan Liebowitz from Golden Apple Comics. He and his family have bent over backwards providing me with ideas and words of encouragement to keep me going. Ironically, Ryan’s father, Bill Liebowitz was my good friend and mentor when I opened my first store 25 years ago. I would like to thank and give credit to Joe Quesada, Mark Waid, and Jim McLaughlin for inspiring me to write this weekly report over a decade ago. It was conceived at Megacon as we hung out talking about the industry. I had already been writing a very informal monthly report just checking in on sales with the guys at Wizard magazine, but I don’t believe anyone was receiving true and accurate sales numbers until this weekly report began. I had wanted to portray a candid-no holds barred account of what was and what wasn’t selling. Lastly, I want to give a shout out and thank everyone in the comic and entertainment industry for their continued support over the years.
Making the decision to file bankruptcy was very difficult and painful. I have had a very wide range of emotions. My family and I are headed into uncharted waters which is very scary for my wife and I as well as our children. We are losing our home as we had secured it against our leases which we obviously have to break. I know there are many people out there facing very similar situations in these difficult times and now I can definitely empathize with them. I have always been and will forever be an extremely optimistic person and will look at this situation as an adventure. I have very high hopes for the next chapter of my life. I have the support of my wonderful wife, Andrea, my kids, Alexandra & Jack, many loving family members, and lots of great friends. My passion in life, second of course to my family, is the comic book industry, of which I hope to remain a part of in the years to come. I don’t plan on giving any public interviews and would like mine and my family’s privacy respected so we can work on rebuilding our lives.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.