Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in July 2014 I expressed hopes and well wishes for the Android’s Dungeon, a new comic book shop that had opened in Avon, Indiana, in a heavily commercial area in otherwise comics-less Hendricks County. The owners were a nice young couple; the selection was diverse; the perks were kind. All signs pointed to potential success.
On August 31st, last Wednesday, the Android’s Dungeon observed one last New Comics Day before closing its doors for good.
It’s no secret that comic shops are one of the hardest small businesses to open nowadays. Between the fierce competition from other entertainment media and the advent of digital comics, the local comic shop isn’t an automatic draw for super-hero geeks anymore. Some fans press on nonetheless and cherish that dream of passing on a love of reading to others around them, of proselytizing for this wondrous medium, of building a new community focused on a single shared passion.
In my initial visits over their first few months, I saw the Dungeoneers implementing several fun ideas beyond merely ringing the cash register — a reading club, monthly prize drawings, free comic bags-and-boards with every purchase, in-store local artist signings, and more. Their first location was miles away from other Indy shops, which meant their objective wasn’t necessarily to poach clientele from existing shops, but rather to create and nurture a new fan base in their surrounding area. The crowds we saw were promising.
I had one concern early on: they ordered a lot of new singles every week. A lot. Like, three or four times as many copies as I’d see at my regular shop. Some of their new-comic stacks were so tall on the shelves, you’d need a weekly crowd the size of a Manhattan shop’s to break even. I have no idea how they calculated their initial orders, so for all I know maybe they did need all of those at first. They had more cover variants than any other shop around, all sold on the racks for cover price, same as the regular editions. That also differs from other shops’ strategies, but it’s certainly an option.
After the end of Year One, they were forced to relocate when their aging storefront proved more ramshackle than they’d realized, and their landlords turned somewhere between uncooperative and evil. As I recall from their old Facebook posts, the search for another Hendricks County location wasn’t easy and didn’t offer many viable alternatives. With much fanfare they eventually moved from Avon five miles south to Plainfield, from a decades-old hole-in-the-wall strip mall to a younger, fancier “lifestyle center” (read: outdoor shopping mall). They virtually quadrupled their square footage, and presumably their overhead, giving them more floor space than any other Indiana comic shop I’ve ever seen. The all-new all-different Android’s Dungeon would never be one of those decrepit, musty, 1980s shops where the back-issue boxes create a labyrinth that makes walking around the shop next to impossible. Of all their new perks, unlimited elbow room was among the most noticeable.
Meanwhile behind the scenes, things were falling apart.
Or so we found out a few months ago when Facebook deigned to show me one of their posts, which is a thing Facebook loathes doing for small businesses nowadays. (Or, y’know, for bloggers and other internet users who have a Facebook page that no one ever actually sees because their algorithms are miserable and miserly. LOUD COUGHING.) In the post in question, one owner invited followers to come in that weekend and “make me an offer on anything in the store”.
My stomach sank when I read that. They wasted no time in deleting their Facebook page since then, but I stopped what I was doing and perused their timeline for a bit, noticing signs of growing despondency over a confluence of problems. Large sums of money had been spent on pre-ordering comics for more than a few clients who never bothered to show up and pay for them, culminating in a recent declaration that all pull lists had been indefinitely suspended until and unless folks showed up, renewed their commitment, and paid for what they said they’d buy. Ordering a variety of products from different vendors besides just Diamond Distributors took a toll in keeping up with varying payment schedules. Worse still, at some point they’d hired another guy to assist with day-to-day operations who reportedly drove clients away and was ultimately more trouble than he was worth.
I don’t have screen shots of any of this, only my sympathetic memories of what I read in that one sitting. I shared one of their posts with my own Facebook friends — using my personal account rather than MCC’s so other humans might stand a greater than 5% chance of seeing it. But a large portion of my FB Friends list aren’t locals and couldn’t do much besides sigh. I took small comfort in the response I got from a fraction of the rest, but that’s not saying much. I make no secret that I’m kind of terrible at networking.
I wanted to make a point of driving out there sometime to spend some cash as a sign of support, but if you’ve been following MCC already, you should be well aware July and August weren’t docile, lifeless months for us. We’ve had a lot going on, and I regret I didn’t make the time till this Labor Day Weekend, when I discovered their current terminated status.
Part of me feels like part of the problem because I wasn’t there all the time, but I already have a regular comic shop where I’m on a first-name basis with the staff, they’ve got my peculiar wants covered, and their location is of utmost convenience in a way that no Hendricks County store will ever match. As I said, I came in a few times and donated to the cause by buying stuff, but I have neither the money nor the reading time to provide ongoing support for two different shops. Regardless, I feel sorry for their loss and can’t imagine what they’re going through right now as their hard-fought dream has come to an end.
I doubt it’ll make anyone involved feel remotely better, but if you’ll mote from my previous entry linked above, the following paragraph…
Curiously, the Android’s Dungeon isn’t the only new shop to open in central Indiana this year. I’m aware of two other newcomers some forty-odd minutes away from us. At a recent event I heard a sales pitch from one store owner who made sure I knew up front that he doesn’t order shelf copies of smaller titles. I didn’t have the heart to tell them those are about 85% of my monthly reading list. I know little else about the other new shop except that their name bugs me.
…an online spot-check tonight tells me the other two shops I mentioned both closed within a year. Kudos to the Dungeon for outlasting their combined life spans. Two years may not be a good run, but at least they ran for all they were worth.