By Shawn Perry
In the small town of Manchester, Connecticut there stands a comic book store with a legacy that cannot be described in any other way than heroic. After the passing of the store's original owner, his co-workers banded together to keep its legacy alive. Recently, I spoke with the team behind the counter at A Hero's Legacy.
This is the story of a comic book store with a legacy of heroes, but also, it is a story about the power of love…for shared passions, for community and, most of all: friendship.
A Hero's Legacy is the second incarnation of Buried Under Comics, and for over three decades, it has provided a home for comic book fans at 188 West Middle Turnpike in Manchester, Connecticut. Buried Under Comics closed in August 2012 after the passing of its owner, Brian Kozicki, who gave life to the store with his passion for comic books and building a community. Kozicki's spirit lives on with A Hero's Legacy, as current owner and long-time friend, April Kenney explains:
Brian was a really dear friend of mine and with my involvement over the past seven years that it was Buried Under a lot of the customers became kind of family to me as well. I really was touched by the kind of tight-knit community that everybody was and it was losing my best friend and trying to keep that community together which made me decide to try to reopen. In memory of him.
Kozicki began working at the store in the late 80's before buying the store outright from original owner, Chuck Bruder. He was known as the type of business owner that cared more about creating relationships than just making sales. The store earned a reputation for being where customers could always get whatever they were looking for – whether it was comics, busts or toys – because if it wasn't there already than Kozicki would find it for them. Before his untimely passing, Buried Under Comics had won the coveted Hartford Advocate's "Best Comic Book Store in Connecticut" award two years in a row.
In honor of Kozicki, just two months after Buried Under Comics closed, his friends and long-time co-workers Kenney and Scott Prentice reopened the store as A Hero's Legacy.
The experience of reopening was a challenge but also an opportunity to improve the store in some areas while maintaining its core values, as Prentice explains:
I started part-time at Buried Under in 1998 and went full-time in 2003 until the end and [re-opening] was one of those things where you just have to work at the goal. There were a few days where everything was up-in-the-air because we didn't know what the previous owners family might want to do with the stuff but once we found they had no interest we knew it was just a matter of time. The whole two months where there wasn't any comic book store here we were just behind the scenes getting everything ready. There was no down time for us. It was really just refocusing the mission on getting the store back up-and-running.
Before we opened we went around to different comic book stores and we kind of saw what worked and what didn't work in different venues and stole a few ideas for ourselves.
It's just a matter of building our customer-based clientele. It's our job to sell whatever the people are offering and there has never been more variety in publishing than there is now. I think we're in a new golden age of comic books…of course you never really know when you're in the golden age so quote me on that one and talk to me in five years.
In addition to the new name, Kenney and Prentice made some changes to the stores layout. They also now sell branded t-shirts and have an active social media presence.
But despite these changes, Kenney maintains that the core values of what made Buried Under Comics successful will remain ingrained in the stores blueprint:
We made the store more shopper-friendly. The way the layout was, at times, people were walking over one another or they felt like they were bumping into someone. We tried to gear everything to where customers are easily able to find things and not have to worry about inconveniencing someone. It helps that we're in the exact same location. Sometimes people come in here and say "are you going out of business" because they're not used to things being so organized. And we laugh and say "no we're not going out of business and we can help you find whatever you're looking for…
We're not as buried under as we used to be but this store will always be buried under comics. The staff here loves comics. They love each other. It doesn't matter if you're a DC or Marvel fan they don't discriminate. Its really neat seeing them all try to encourage to try something new.
Personally, I would not be as big a comic book fan – nor, I might add, of books in general – if it were not for the nurturing environment of Buried Under Comics that now lives on with A Hero's Legacy. A late-bloomer when it came to reading, comics provided my gateway to new mediums of art and I owe a lot to the encouragement of this community.
This view is one shared by long-time customers, Brendan Nicholas and Siobhan Covill, who were relieved when the store reopened after having explored the alternatives.
Overall the redesign is very nice. I'd say it's a bit more organized but the feel is the same. When this place was shut down for a few months after Buried Under closed, we tried a few other stores in the area and none of them have the selection or the feel of this place. Their focus isn't on comics, this is the only comic book store in the area where to the focus is comics —Brendan Nichols
I've been coming here since I was about thirteen, back when it was Buried Under Comics. I like that it's not a chain. I have a rapport with the people here. I've known Scott and April since I've been coming here. I have a friendship with them. They're family to me. Being a female comic reader, especially, it's always been a welcoming environment. There's never anybody looking down on you —Siobhan Covill
With strong management at its helm and as its foundation, it appears that the legacy of Buried Under Comics is in good hands. In further, while I am certain that Kozicki would be proud of what his friends have accomplished, I think he would agree he is no longer the only hero in this store's legacy.
As for the future, according to Kenney, there is no telling what could be in store for A Hero's Legacy down the road, other than remaining a great place to talk shop and pick up comics:
Ultimately, I think our goal is to expand our customer base so largely that I am forced to open a larger store but we really want to keep the same feeling where everybody feels like they're at home and can hang out here and there is no judgments in what you like and what you're into.
Shawn Perry is a comic book and film enthusiast striving to be here now. He currently resides in East Hartford, Connecticut. Tweet him @thesperry, follow his blog at http://shawnsthoughtsonstuff.blogspot.com/ and email him at Shawn.Perry88@gmail.com.