We contacted Chuck at his house and he admitted the store was no more. Our moment was at hand! Bag End had occupied a small storefront that was part of the Oliver Hotel, a fleabag flophouse which catered to the wino trade. We went to the desk in the Oliver and talked to Mr. Patel, the owner. He kindly allowed that if we paid Chuck's back rent and agreed to give him $60 a month we could take over. We could do that.
So we moved in to the old Bag End store. It took us a few days to clean the place up, but eventually we got the trash out, sprayed disinfectant here and there, burned some incense to clear out the dope smell. Chuck, opportunistic as ever, sold us his remaining stock for a hundred bucks and asked if we'd let him work for us for awhile so he could say goodbye to his valued customers. Free help! Yeah! A few days before we opened there was a knock on the door. A bespectacled young man stood there. He introduced himself as Steve Oliff, he lived up in Point Arena, and had come all that way to visit the comic store which no longer existed. We welcomed him and a long friendship began. He was interested in exactly what we were interested in, kindred spirits, you might say. Later on he would basically re-invent coloring for comics, be the first to use computers to color, and become a major player in the professional ranks. But now he was just another fan, like us.
We named the store Perelandra, after a volume of C.S. Lewis' trilogy, and opened our doors in late November 1973.
Success was slow to come. Steve soon discovered that retail was not for him. He couldn't take the constant begging we encountered, bums coming in and asking for handouts, tramps sleeping in our doorway, or pissing against our window. After a few weeks he opted out. We amicably divided the comic stock into thirds, and then it was just Wes and me.
Wes had become good friends with Chuck. Chuck had stuck around, working very well for us. Later on I would find out that he was selling dope to his valued customers. And not just marijuana. One day a clerk from the hotel wandered in. He spoke very little English,but made it clear that he wanted the little white powder (indicating the inside of his elbow as he did so. I shook my head, and he left, disappointed. I began to wonder about Chuck. Anyway, Chuck had a plan to go back to his hometown in Virginia and open a Comic Shop/Coffee Shop. He got Wes interested, and soon they set off in Wes's truck for Virginia, and then it was just me.
I ran Perelandra by myself, opening up at 10 am every day but Sunday, closing around 5pm. Business was slow; I can remember sitting behind the counter in 1974 figuring out a budget, and thinking that if I could just sell $20 worth of comics and books every day I could make a living out of it. How times have changed! (Continued)