A CT comic book store completes its final quest as galactic shifts in industry challenge small independent shops

A Hero’s Legacy has fought its last superheroic battle.

The small yet powerful comic shop at 188 Middle Turnpike West in Manchester will be closing at the end of September, a victim of galactic shifts in the comics industry that have challenged small independent comics shops around the country.

For some people, owning a small business is a labor of love. For April Policki, it was a labor of friendship. A lot of comic shops have “Hero” in their names, but she named hers after a hero she knew personally. Brian Kozicki had run Buried Under Comics (previously known as Buried Under Books) for 18 years until his death in 2012. When he passed, Policki arranged to keep the shop running in the same location.

She changed the name to A Hero’s Legacy Comics & Collectibles because “Brian was my best friend. He is the hero in A Hero’s Legacy. I used to help him with the store. When he died I bought the contents and dealt with the landlord. For the first four years, I didn’t even feel like I owned it. I still thought Brian would be coming in, that he still owned it and I just worked here.”

A Hero's Legacy

Christopher Arnott/Hartford Courant

A Hero’s Legacy is the last of a line of book and comic shops that goes back decades. Christopher Arnott/Hartford Courant

Policki has been running the store for a decade. The current staff consists of her, one full-time employee and a few part-timers. She and her husband will be moving out of state. She said may return to her pre-comics career in the hospitality industry.

For its final weeks, A Hero’s Legacy will still be bringing in the latest issues of comics while holding sales on its back inventory. Last week, the sale discount was already at 50% and will be climbing higher. (New comics are not part of the sale.) Regulars who get some titles regularly through a subscription system at the store are getting an additional discount.

On a recent Friday morning, while Policki was working behind the counter, a customer spent hours carefully flipping through boxes and boxes of old comics. Some serious collectibles remain, and there are also boxes of perfectly readable if not valuable comics priced, pre-sale, as low as a dollar each. The walls are lined with shelves of graphic novels, arranged by publisher — the expected DC and Marvel anthologies but also an impressive amount of Image Comics and the more artsy stuff put out by Drawn & Quarterly or Fantagraphics.

Though some events could still pack ‘em in — “We would get 500-800 people for Free Comic Book Day,” a national event held every year on the first Saturday of May, Policki said — the store’s demise became inevitable.

A Hero's Legacy

Christopher Arnott/Hartford Courant

At the back of A Hero’s Legacy is the sign from the store that came before it, Buried Under Comics. Christopher Arnott/Hartford Courant

“COVID has not helped,” she sighed, but she also cites major changes in how the major comics companies DC and Marvel distribute their titles to stores. First, DC left the industry’s main distributor, Diamond Comics, for a new network of distributors that caused confusion and disruptions for months. Then Marvel made its own changes. Meanwhile, the shutdowns due to the pandemic led many comic buyers to buy their books from the Internet instead. There are also now online options, like DC Universe and Comixology, where subscribers can read digital editions of comics if they don’t need to own a physical copy. “This is all making it very hard for your standard brick-and-mortar stores,” Policki said.

Another issue for small shops is that comic-adjacent interests like roleplaying games require floor space for tables, refreshments and other things. A Hero’s Legacy is simply not able to expand its dimension the way so many universes are magically able to in the comics it sells.

Policki said that once she announced the closing, there were offers to buy the store’s entire inventory. This might be convenient, but she feels would be a disservice to her loyal long-term customers.

“I want to give back to the regulars,” she said. “We have a lot of committed customers. We carry a wider variety of comics than a lot of stores, but it’s not just the comics. They like the atmosphere. Some customers have told me ‘April, when you close, I’m going to stop getting comics.’”

A Hero's Legacy

Christopher Arnott/Hartford Courant

Some of the store’s customers decorated its ceiling with paintings of superheroes and other comic book characters. Christopher Arnott/Hartford Courant

She said her clientele is 40% female, which aligns with recent demographic statistics that a field once dominated by young male readers has been steadily growing its female fanbase.

A Hero’s Legacy is not the only recent closing of a comic store. AJ’s Comics in Colchester closed in January after 20 years. A Timeless Journey in Stamford closed five years ago after 28 years in business, succumbing to changes in the industry even before the pandemic complicated things further.

But not all comic stores are struggling. Stuck at home with their collections during the pandemic, a lot of fans rekindled their passion for comics. Movies and TV shows, from “Sandman” to “Across the Spider-Verse,” continue to stimulate sales. Mainstream respect has grown for graphic novels. In the 20 years since Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, works by artists and writers like Chris Ware, Chris Drnaso and Tillie Walden routinely receive praise and recognition from literary critics.

Some comic shops have even been able to expand. Wonderland Comics in Putnam is opening a second location in Hartford on Pratt Street. Existing comics shops in the Hartford area include Heroes & Hitters in Rocky Hill, Eye Opener Comics & Cards in Newington, Simsbury Cards & Comics, Newbury Comics in the Shoppes at Buckland Hills in Manchester and another shop in Manchester, The Grid Games, among others.

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