Catonsville Patch: How long have you been in business in Catonsville?
Andy Bridges: opened in 1991 in old Ellicott City. We have been here in the Mellor Mews for eight years. Rusty Simonetta is the store owner; I am the manager.
Patch: Why did you choose Catonsville?
Bridges: We needed a bigger space, and this store is about three times as big as the one we had. Here, we are five minutes from the Beltway with plenty of parking. We have customers coming from all over the place; people who are into comics are willing to drive, but we wanted to be in a convenient location.
Patch: How has your business changed over time?
Bridges: We have grown, greatly expanded our selection. Comics themselves have changed and we are forced to change with them. We have a lot more trade paperbacks and graphic novels.
Patch: How are those different from comic books?
Bridges: Not to get too semantic on you, but a lot of people think they are the same thing and they’re not. A trade paperback is a bound collection of comic books. A graphic novel is an original work published in that format. For example, Watchmen, people ask for it as a graphic novel, but really it’s a collection of 12 comic books.
Patch: How much of this is moving into the digital medium?
Bridges: There is some movement, but it’s still heavily a physical medium. It just doesn’t translate as well to a digital reader.
Patch: What services do you do besides selling?
Bridges: We are interested in buying people’s collections, but we tend to deal in volume: thousands rather than tens.
We organize events. Like you’ve heard of March Madness, well, this year our Cosmic Madness event is determining who is the greatest villain of all time. Each game or face-off will take place on our website and then you can vote for the winner.
In May, there’s when all the publishers have a specially designed comic and it’s free. We try to make it as much of a party as we can here.
Patch: What is the price range for a comic?
Bridges: The average price for a new comic is $2.99 to $3.99. Collector’s items can sell for over a million dollars, but we don’t see those in here. Our back issues might go for as high as $100.
Patch: What is your busiest time of year?
Bridges: Our up and down isn’t annual, it’s weekly. New comics come out every Wednesday, so that is our busiest day. People want to come in and get what’s new.
Patch: Do you have a signature service or specialty thing you do?
Bridges: One thing that sets us apart among comic book stores is our selection of back issues. The size of selection like we have is hard to come by. We have worked hard to build it by buying people’s collections and by going to conventions.
Patch: What are you proud of?
Bridges: Honestly, I’m proud of the store itself. I’ve had an association with this business since 1999, and this is the best comic book store I’ve ever been in from the point of view of organization, cleanliness, selection, and customer service.
Patch: What’s your favorite thing about your work?
Bridges: One of them is working on the website. That’s a big part of what I do here.
Patch: Do you have any specials or loyalty programs for customers?
Bridges: Our customers have boxes, and we pull and hold subscriptions on a weekly basis. People can subscribe to that service and we give them a discount. Also first time visitors get a bag with free comics and other goodies.
Patch: What's the best piece of advice that someone has given you when it comes to running a business?
Rusty Simonetta: I’ll answer that one: Improve every day.
Patch: Who told you that?
Simonetta: No one, that’s me.
Bridges: That’s true. I do like that a lot.