Star Clipper Comics in St. Louis Jan 16, 2015 10:17:00 GMT -6
Post by The Ultimate Nullifier on Jan 16, 2015 10:17:00 GMT -6
Star Clipper Comics To Close After 27 Years In Business
One of the nation's foundational comic shops and one of the great second-generation Direct Market, Star Clipper in St. Louis has announced its impending closure via a mailing linked to through their Facebook presence. It's local news, as it should be. AJ and Ben Trujillo owned the store for the last 17 years, and describe the closure as a "natural conclusion."
Star Clipper won the Will Eisner Spirit Of Comics Retailer Award in 1999, and was routinely named the region's best store in local alt-weekly Riverfront Times' best-of feature. It's certainly the only store in that area with a national reputation; it was one of the stores on the tour list, one you had it in your mind to go see. I don't know the St. Louis scene all that well, but I have to imagine it was a key institution and their relationship was very different than the rest of ours. I have to imagine it will be missed most keenly there.
I wish the owners all the best in a smooth transition, and I imagine thousands of people are thankful for their years in the retail trenches. They'll start selling off product at a discount to lighten inventory this weekend. They urge their subscribers to contact the store, which indicates a reasonably brisk pace on the shutdown.
There's a thorough article with multiple interviews here:
This morning, Benjamin and A.J. Trujillo, the owners of University City’s popular comics-and-ephemera shop Star Clipper, will inform their patrons that the store is closing, with a liquidation sale kicking almost immediately. The business, just over a quarter-century old, owned by the Trujillos since 2001, and located in The Loop since 2004, will be shuttered with markdowns planned through roughly mid-February. A sale of the business, in whole, will not be pursued at this point, leaving one of the The Loop’s most prominent storefronts open.
“The decision’s been a long time coming,” Ben Trujillo confirmed yesterday. “It’s been bandied about for almost two years. The economy tanked in 2008, and we weathered that fairly well. There’ve been changes in the demographics of the area and in comic readers in general, which has made things unpredictable, as we buy products on an unreturnable basis. And with the social things happening in St. Louis, those’ve impacted business, as well. It’s sad to be the people who are shutting it down, but we feel a great sense of ownership and don’t necessarily see someone else’s custodianship here.”
To date, the news about Star Clipper’s end was kept tight, with only workers and, according to Trujillo, “a few select customers” knowing. (The Trujillos are the business’ third owners in 27 years.)
“Everyone’s been really disappointed and sad,” he said. “Everyone’s really disappointed. Surprisingly, a lot have said that they’ll stop reading comics. Or they’ve said that they’ll move to reading digitally. For a lot of people, it’s a shock. They see the store and have no idea what’s happening behind-the-scenes.
“We loved being in The Loop,” he continued. “When we moved here, it was with the intention of making it very open and bright, welcoming to everyone, not just the traditional comic reader, but also families, tourists in The Loop. We wanted people to walk in and think ‘What is this? Oh, it’s comics.’ We wanted to have the distinction of a high-end appearance, with employees who had excellent customer service skills. I think we distinguished ourselves in that way.
“A key fact is that our average employee has been here for five years,” he concluded. “There’s not been a high turnover rate with our employees. That gave them time to learn the customers’ tastes, become friends with the customers. The employees cared about what they were doing, and about the product they were selling. For the regulars that we coming in every week, it was really nice for them to see the same faces. People weren’t coming-and-going every few months. We had the best employees in St. Louis, honestly, and that’s the reason that the customers had that kinship with the store. Those that have heard about it are sad and worried about what will happen to the employees. Some are looking for jobs, some have gotten jobs. I’m sure the regulars will worry about this, as there’s that friendship and connection.”
When A.J. Trujillo left her management duties to pursue another career, Jon Scorfina’s been the store’s general manager and, to a great degree, the face of the operation in recent years. Familiar to customers through his trademark beard, classic rock’n’roll t-shirts and cardigans, Scorfina’s upbeat tone resonated throughout his crew. After finishing his studies at Webster University, he worked for a time behind the counter at Euclid Records, before moving down Big Bend to The Loop, beginning his first shift with Star Clipper on May 17, 2006.
Though obviously upset that the store’s leaving the retail scene, Scorfina’s reflective in saying that “the only thing I can say is that I view this whole experience as a huge opportunity. I don’t look back negatively. I had a chance to meet a ton of my favorite artists. I got to craft events that I haven’t seen done at other stores. We were considered sort of a modern comic store, even a hipster comics store, for better or worse. My takeaway from that is that we appealed to a larger demographic than the average shop. That came from having a larger collection than other stores in the city. And we weren’t like a gaming store, or a collectables store; it was a much different vibe.”
Adding to the personal tinge, Scorfina mentioned that “it was my first major job as an adult, post-college. I don’t think I could’ve had more fun. Plus I met my girlfriend there, and was able to buy my first house by having this job. To be able to make your living off of your childhood hobby… well, I feel really lucky to have been able to do that. Everyone I worked with has felt that. I think this [comic] community will be hit the same way [music fans would feel] if Vintage Vinyl were to close. You’re losing one of the vital organs of The Loop.”
Echoing Ben Trujillo’s comment, Scorfina added that “one of the biggest privileges of working at the store was getting to help the regulars every week. You could tell they were excited to talk to you. That’s absolutely true. They were excited to come in and chat about their favorite comics, shows, movies; every week, we’d talk about music, too, or their life. They were there because we were a part of their community. The store was successful because of the loyalty of the regulars.
“What made our store different,” he continued, “is that we tried to make it as accessible as any store. We were always a store that appealed to more of a female audience. Comics are thought of traditionally as a boy’s club. Stores that have a similar model were the type of stores that brought the appeals of the entire industry. I’m really confident in saying that. We had a ladies’ night, but I wouldn’t even focus on that, because we were a store that always appealed to a female clientele. We attracted a huge, diverse audience. We were one of the only stores that would have an all African-American staff on-duty. I dare you to go to any other comic book shop in the country to find that. At any other store, it’s Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons running the shop. It’s white and middle class. To be otherwise is exceptionally rare.”
While Star Clipper’s main gig was in selling comics and graphic novels, it also featured a rich selection of toys, international candies and novelties, pop cultural bric’a’brac and pretty representative alt-culture magazine rack. Scorfina noted that Star Clipper has been a very different animal than the recently closed Apop Records, but that both were in the business of offering a brick-and-mortar location for cultural ephemera not found elsewhere in town.
“One of the slogans of the store was ‘purveyors of future culture,’” he said. “We portrayed that as being on top of trends. When I started in 2006, designer vinyl toys were a very successful trend and we were on top of things like that. And we were one of the only shops dedicating space to local, independent comics and ‘zines. With Apop closed, as well, where else can you go to find small press ‘zines anywhere in the area? We were the number one place to find those. The other differentiating thing was that we were a reader’s shop vs. being a collector’s shop. We didn’t sell back issues; we focused on selling books and our staff was educated on our being a reader’s store. That might be too much jargon, too specific to the culture. But there’s a real difference in buying comics as collectables (to buy and re-sell them later) and a place where you come in and talk to the staff about books.”
Running through his mind for anecdotes about manning the counter at Star Clipper, Scorfina pointed to a few things. Free Comic Day, when the line would run all the way down to the Tivoli. Or the openings at the store’s former gallery space. Or meet-and-greet appearances by top comic artists and graphic novelists.
Cycling back to the relationships formed at the spot, Scorfina said that “I know this might sound sentimental, but being able to have kids come in and you introduce them to the first book they might ever read on their own [was fun]. Obviously, it’s not their first book, but it might be the first book they ever purchase on their own. And that experience isn’t only promoting literature, it’s promoting art. That’s always been an exciting thing to do.”
(In the interests of disclosure, this writer has known Scorfina since he was a student of mine—for three classes!—at Webster U.; we later worked on a pair of music documentaries released in 2009. A year later, when seeking a location to shoot a 48 Hour Film Project, Scorfina offered up the run of his store and wound up improv-ing a few lines in the production, “Tales of Templar.” While the piece has all the refinement that two-day movies usually possess, it’s also got a fun feel that came, in part, from locations like Star Clipper. Here’s that video: