Our Lives Have Changed: Pandemic stops Cadillac comic shop’s 6-year run

Feb 18, 2021

Rob Grimes holds up two comics he sold at his shop Comic Book E.R., which closed in July.
Credit Courtesy Rob Grimes

To those who spent a lot of time there, Comic Book E.R. was much more than a comic shop. It was where Cadillac’s outsiders and geeks came together.

  

Owner Rob Grimes says he liked to foster a space where people would be open to be themselves—regardless of their gender identity or religion.

“Very often people would come in there and express all sorts of opinions but not fear judgment and not fear harassment,” he says.

Rob knew most of his customers well. Many of them turned into volunteers,   like one veteran who worked there for his first job as a civilian.

A local priest started a group that met monthly at the shop called Comic Chat, a quasi-book club where people could talk about big ideas they learned in comics.

“It almost seemed like a mini-church,” Rob says. 

Comic Book E.R. had a new event each month, with free comic book giveaways, a Star Wars movie night and even bringing in a big name anime voice artist.

Through a non-profit connected to the store, Rob and the trustees strove to tackle some community issues. They gave presentations at schools to promote reading, help other rising local businesses and create connections with youth LGTBQIA groups.

Beverly Hall volunteered at Comic Book E.R. for several years and says she watched as the shop became a haven for young people.

“It’s a very conservative community.” she says of Cadillac. “A lot of kids if they come out [as gay or transgender] it means homelessness for some of them. There aren’t a lot of places of refuge for them.”

Beverly herself found solace at the store. She worked full-time as an insurance agent but spent weekends looking at comics.

An Asian woman in her 50s, Beverly isn’t necessarily the image of a comic book consumer painted by popular culture. Comic shops are notorious for gatekeeping she says, but Comic Book E.R. immediately welcomed her.

“They thought ‘oh can’t get rid of her might as well put her to work,’” she says with a laugh. “Just like bats in the belfry at churches.”

Growing up in a strict baptist home in Irons, Michigan—a small town 30 miles east of Manistee—Star Trek reruns were one of the only forms of pop culture Beverly consumed.

She got really into comics but drifted away from the fandom when she raised her kids.

It was a few years ago after her 14-year-old son died from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a seizure disorder, that she found herself spending a lot of time at the store.

“The community was important,” she says. “The escape was important.”

Beverly loved being in a space where she could geek out with other fans. The absence of which, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she feels even more acutely.

“Even discussing who was better Batman or Superman. As something as silly as that, it was a human connection.”

Places like Comic Book E.R. are rare in towns Cadillac’s size because there often isn’t a lot of institutional support, Owner Rob Grimes says.

But he says the store was doing well before the pandemic, after finally reaching its stride a few years into operating.

When COVID hit and the store closed, the building’s owner cut him some slack on the rent, while the comic book distributors stopped delivering new products, which helped with costs. But it was still hard to turn a profit.

“We were really committed to saying we could get through this,” Rob says. “And we could get through this together.”

Rob tried everything he could. He did mail-in orders and made his store safe when he could reopen, but it didn’t make a difference.

“Slowly but surely I kept seeing the books. Sales were down,” he says. “There was just nothing you could do about it. Costs were up.”

Some of his customers were also hostile to the mask mandate. They hurled insults at Rob and threatened to boycott the store.

For him, that was the last straw. He wouldn’t keep losing money each day to keep the store open while a few vocal customers made it so unpleasant. Even after the store closed, Rob says people still posted mean comments on its Facebook page, which he then deactivated.

“I had worked all these years to promote the idea of community and supporting each other and being there for your neighbor, which I always felt superheroes promoted,” he says. “And not see it come back and actually see it come back with some venom.”

Rob says he has other projects on the line, but for the first time, he’s wary about what to get involved in.

One day he’d love to help someone else bring comics back to Cadillac.