Home Retailing & Marketing Retailer Lee Hester explains why his 29-year-old comics shop is closing

Retailer Lee Hester explains why his 29-year-old comics shop is closing

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As we reported earlier today, the San Mateo location of Lee’s Comics is closing after 29 years in business. We reached out to owner Lee Hester for more of the story, and he responded below: We wish him well with his remaining store in Mountain View.


I started in business in 1982 with a tiny store in a bad location in Palo Alto. 

My competition was Comics and Comix, which at it’s peak was the best chain of comic book stores the industry has ever seen, and I was up against their 2nd best store, (2nd only to their Berkley location.) They were doing about 10 times better than me in the early days. I always felt that a good competitor makes you stronger. 

In 1987, I opened my 2nd store on El Camino Real in San Mateo. It was a much larger store, and it remains there to this day. (That’s the one that’s closing next month.) 

In 1990 I moved my Palo Alto store to El Camino Real. It was a much larger location, and was on a corner with great street visibility. 
Within a few years I was doing well. The 1990s were great for me. I got married, bought a house, and raised a family in Silicon Valley. All on comic book money. 

Eventually Comics and Comix went under, and I became the largest comic book retailer in Northern California. 

In 2000, things began to slow. The Palo Alto landlord would not renew my lease, so I moved to an even bigger store in Mountain View. 
2001 hit, and the economy took a big downturn. 

Sales have been going down in both stores for 15 years now. I cut down my salary, 3 times. I’m now working twice the hours for half the pay that I got in the 1990s.  

I figure it’s better to make a planned landing now than to make a crash landing later. I’m hoping that many of the San Mateo customers will travel over to my Mountain View location and bolster the sale there. In addition, I have been growing my sales of vintage books, and hope to make that a larger part of the business. I’m hoping that the consolidated store will do well.  

There’s no sure things in this world, but I’m hoping to stay around for a long time to come. I’ve been in retail for 33 years, and I find that you have to re-invent yourself from time to time if you wish to survive. Only the name “Lee’s Comics” stays the same. This is a very radical change for me, but it’s also exciting. It’s definitely gotten me out of my comfort zone.  I’m a little scared, but also excited. I’m hoping to make one really great store, and I’m be lavishing all my attention and resources on that in the coming months.

11 COMMENTS

  1. There is a comic shop in NOLA (Metarie, really) that buys any used GN/TPB for 10% cash or 20% store credit (of the MSRP) and sells the GN/TPB for half of the MSRP.

    This results in customers constantly needing to come into the store to check for new (possibly rare, OOP) stock. Results in high turn of merch, and lots of foot traffic. Worth a consideration for any store.

  2. Refreshing to see a comics retailer that is closing a store as part of a planned business model based on the reality of retail evolution and not bitterly blaming publishers, customers, retail competition or any number of the common closing complaints we see. Best of luck to him with his future plans.

  3. That’s the thing about retail, it’s constantly evolving and if you don’t evolve with it you’ll get left behind. It’s fresh to see a retailer accept this and not blame everyone but themselves.

  4. Dan- there is a store in my area closing right now, and they are on their FBOOK page railing about how awful customers are right now. It’s sad.

  5. I don’t buy a lot of old comics. If I do, it’s usually a PSA or a marketing premium.

    What I do buy, and spend large amounts on, are books.
    Generally, anything published before 1990, or, again, of a non-fiction genre.

    That’s what I search for at conventions… the unusual. Not variant covers or the latest hot book.
    Sometimes I’ll try to do the bargain bins, but it’s hard sometimes to find three books to meet the discount.

    I’d like to see more comics shops become used bookstores.
    That’s how comics shops started in the 60s… they were nostalgia shops, selling paper ephemera.
    Old Life magazines, lobby cards, movie posters, dime store paperbacks, comics… That’s what I seek, and that’s why I tend to visit used book stores more than comics shops.

    Perhaps we’ll see a comicbook version of Book Off, with miles of shelves filled with manga and graphic novels! (And toys and t-shirts and DVDs!)

    Hmm… do many comics shops buy remaindered graphic novels (not Diamond clearance, but the stuff available to bookstores)?

  6. I remember discovering Lee’s Comics hidden away off Central in Palo Alto. Then when they moved to El Camino, great location they had alot of great obscure independent comics. I only went to the San Mateo store a few times. Sorry to hear it closing down.

  7. Gotta keep local ‘American’ businesses closed, and foreign multinational companies happy -that is the ‘American’ way: Wile this comic book shop closes, and pretentious bigoted Generation 911-snitches bash print mediums while they ignore the degrading livability in this fake country by staring at iPhones, Amazon is opening actual *book stores*, and Barnes and Noble are expanding their graphic novel sections (which should actually be labeled ‘Sequential’, but like most decisions that affect most ‘Americans’ the decisions must be made by out of touch suburbanites that have, or pretend they have, MBAs). Lee, you should go out of business. If you sit around and think you are making money in the 90’s (all based on b.s. Internet dot-bomb ponzi schemes, and excessively low interest rates) while Costcos and Wallmarts, and Targets were popping up like weeds, and local, people oriented (not today’s car oriented) main streets that enabled local businesses were crumbling. Lee, after the WTO protests in 1999 everyone has had their balls in a consumer vice. Americans are meek, and weak, and apathetic, bigoted, xenophobic, traffic ridden consumers that pretend the USA still exists. Leek, keep not being involved in democracy, and peaceful protesting, and watch another store close… Seriously, since concepts like ‘cooperation’ are taboo in the USA, and traffic, and outsourcing, and bigotry are a priority, why would Lee not lose another store…???

  8. Did comic book stores 1972-1994 beginning as a founding partner in what we grew in to Comics and Comix. Dealing paper in a digital era is tough all over. I saw the future shock hand writing on wall back in 1994 and began making internet plunge back then. Since then have sold in to 68+ countries world wide

  9. “Dealing paper in a digital era is tough…”, -i.e. the only reason we are calling this a ‘digital age’ is because going online, creating ponzi schemes with dot-coms and the housing market (American currency will be next?), and outsourcing, and making things break down with no journalism to enable accountability perpetuates consumerism and bigotry, and of course the tracking of online membership account purchases and ROI clicks are all part of the easy quick profit alternative, instead of economies of scale that enable and perpetuate alternative forms of clean energy, and advances in materials science technology to enable livability, healthy food, mobility, and local businesses to cooperate w/each other creating people oriented neighborhoods, not to create today’s asphalt, parking lots, traffic, and condos for outsourced labor to live in. We are NOT in a ‘digital age’ -we walk along three, four, five lanes of traffic to breath car exhaust to get to a parking lot and strip malls, staring at iPhones, because Americans are too insecure and impolite to acknowledge people around themselves, and Americans need to gossip to a ‘friend’ for example in the same room, at the same table texting eachother, while companies data mine our lives to create an online environment to socially engineer a ‘virtual singularity’ for cheap predictive analytics, and marketing data = that is not a ‘digital’ age, it is a pathetic passive aggressive meek insecure xenophobic apathetic immature age.

    Dave, journalism does not have value any more -‘American’ culture is about creating web sites for people to want to impulsively rant comments in, we not to do anything constructive while regardless of salary, or education, or work ethic our lives will always mainly be grueling traffic, getting our jobs automated or outsourced, being surrounded by asphalt, and consumerism/bigotry. Journalism matters when you have articles that are based on research that was funded by a private company that is biased towards the same point of view as the ‘journalist’/employee…

    Browne Eye, get a grip on what? How is Guevara relevant -didn’t he fight a war, yet I preach nonviolent protesting, and participation in democracy…? Please let me know solutions. You sound like an ‘American’, since your response is to mock what I say. Please reply with answers to my questions, and then also please convince me how work ethic, education, and cooperation have any value in ‘the USA’. Did you sit in enough traffic today yet, Browne Eye? What is going on today that makes you think Lee will not lose another shop?

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