COLUMBIA — As customers headed into Quinlan Keep over the past week to buy their comic books, they were in for sad news. No, Spider-Man hadn’t fallen at the hands of his foes, nor had Batman been canceled. Shopkeeper Boen Quinlan was announcing that after almost two years in business, Quinlan Keep is being closed at the end of October.
“The hardest part is telling people,” said Quinlan, 26, a native Columbian. “I didn’t just want to back out on them.”
When he opened the shop in January 2006, Quinlan bought his backstock from another comic book store closing in Columbia, then borrowed some money from his father to stock the store with new comics. After breaking even in the first year, Quinlan said, the numbers began looking grim over the summer when it appeared to him that a lot of his loyal customers had moved. The decline in business forced Quinlan to look into closing the shop.
He called his distributor, Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., two weeks ago to inform it that he would be closing in a month. But when Diamond Inc. stopped sending shipments of new comics last week, Quinlan had to break the bad news to each customer who came into the shop.
“It definitely caught me off guard when Boen told me,” said Scott Ziolko, a Columbia comic book creator and member of the comic book enthusiasts group Mid-Missouri Comics Collective. “I am really sad to see the shop close, as it was a friendly place to go. I’d stop by even when I wasn’t able to buy anything, just to say hi.”
Ziolko said that as a creator of comic books, it is a little discouraging that Quinlan Keep is closing because Quinlan stocked copies of his comic and helped “spread the word” about local creators.
“The thing I liked about Quinlan Keep the most is that I always got a ‘hello’ and a handshake when I walked in,” Ziolko said. “That kind of personable approach really set Boen’s shop apart from a lot of local businesses in general. It was an enjoyable place to shop and I hope that Boen gets the opportunity to give it another go in the future.”
Quinlan said spending time working in retail before he owned the shop taught him that friendliness was always part of the business plan.
“If you’re nice to someone, they’ll come back,” he said. “If you’re not, they won’t.”
A few blocks away from Quinlan Keep on East Walnut Street is the location of its main competitor: Rock Bottom Comics.
“Honestly, I’m sorry it didn’t work out for him,” manager James Cagle said. “I think Columbia is big enough to support two stores.”
Quinlan said he, too, thinks that Columbia has the fan base to support multiple stores and that the loyal customers of the more established Rock Bottom have kept it in business for so long.
Cagle said he never felt a competitive “East Coast/West Coast” rivalry with Quinlan Keep.
“He sent people to us. We sent people to him, and that’s the way it should be,” Cagle said.
Nationally, interest in comics continues to rise. Comics Buyer’s Guide, which keeps track of comic book prices and sales, estimates North American sales for Diamond Inc. at $286 million for January through August of 2007 — an estimated 10 percent increase over the same time last year.
Quinlan is offering discounts ranging from 10 to 50 percent on everything in the store in the coming weeks. As for Quinlan, he plans to look into getting a “real” job; breaking his glasses a couple of weeks ago reminded him that company insurance would be a good thing to have. He said he’s been offered a partnership in Quinlan Keep if he can keep it open till January, but he isn’t sure that’s what he wants to do.
“I want to own a comic shop. It’s awesome,” Quinlan said. But he also recognizes that if he were to do it again, he would have to make some changes — such as treating it more as a business than a hangout and not keeping such a large stock of back issues.
Quinlan is somber about closing his shop, which was generally open seven days a week, but he recognizes the need to move on.
“I definitely want to thank everybody,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been in business so long without them.”