In these changing economic times, everything is relative, even the longtime standard of “location, location, location.”
Just ask Scott and Andra Barbour, owners of the newly opened Barbour’s Books & Comics in the sometimes-moribund SouthShore Mall.
“I can’t tell you how many times I heard, ‘Don’t go there. It’s a dead mall,’” Scott Barbour said of his new, spacious digs in the South Aberdeen shopping center. He relocated the store after a slow first year in Monte Square. “It can’t be any deader than we were there. We were at the point where we were going to have to either box it or move it. It’s been way busier here — really nice. It could be painfully slow over there.”
So far, the Barbours are delighted with the new location.
“We opened here Nov. 1 and it’s been growing exponentially since then,” Scott Barbour said. “I think we’re both, well, pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.”
The only marketing they’ve done has been by word of mouth.
“Some college kids came by while we were getting set up,” Scott said. “I think each of them told two friends and they told two friends and so on.”
A circuitous route
This is not the first incarnation of the store, and it’s been a long and winding road to its latest edition and Scott and Andra’s partnership.
Scott Barbour, 57, grew up in Stockton, Calif., a San Joaquin Valley agricultural hub, where he graduated from Lincoln High School in the early 1970s. After enjoying early adulthood soaking in the music and lifestyle that the nearby San Francisco Bay area offered, he was eventually bitten by a nomadic bug and made his way to Western Washington.
“I’ve been up here around 35 years,” he said
He later enrolled at Grays Harbor College and moved on to the The Evergreen State College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. He started working part-time at the state Department of Fish & Game office in Montesano, and a few years later that became a full-time gig. Now a fish biologist, he figures he’s been working out of the Montesano office for about 26 years.
In the early 1990s, Scott decided to open a bookstore in Montesano — Barbour’s Books — and, by popular demand, eventually expanded into comics and other collectibles.
It was there he met Andra, who was a regular customer along with her then-husband and two sons, Christopher and Michael, now 27 and 31, respectively, and both still living on the Harbor.
“My ex-husband probably spent his whole paycheck buying comics from this guy,” Andra said with a wry smile.
“So I had to marry her eventually,” Scott said with a laugh. “It was the honorable thing to do.”
Andra was born in Hoquiam, but graduated from Aberdeen High School in 1975.
Scott was also married at the time they first met and has a daughter, Cherise, who is 35 and lives in Florida with Scott’s two granddaughters, 15-year-old Aliyah and 2-month-old Ava, who he’s only seen in pictures so far.
“We’ve been sort of occupied with all this,” he said surveying the mall shop.
Scott eventually “burned out” on running the store and closed it in 1995.
In the 10 years that followed, their marriages broke up and Andra high-tailed it for Las Vegas for a couple of years, first transferring from here to a Radio Shack there and then going to work in retail at Caesar’s Palace.
But she kept in touch with Scott.
Back to the Harbor
“I kind of talked to him through the Internet to keep track of family and loved ones,” Andra said. He just finally said ‘There are people who love you and miss you and want you to come home.’ So I came home.”
“We’ve known each other for 20 years, but have only been a couple for seven or eight,” Scott said.
In 2005, they were married, in Las Vegas.
The two enjoy searching garage sales and began collecting books and other such stuff. He began to get an inkling to open a store again.
“About two years ago, I said to her, ‘You wanna do it again?’ and here we are.”
After a sales-challenged year in Montesano, Scott began thinking about a new location when the SouthShoreMall was sold over the summer for $1 million to a business partnership led by New York businessman Mike Kohan.
Having spoken with previous mall management prior to the sale, Scott opened a dialogue with the new owner and said he found a very understanding and easygoing person on the other end of the phone and country.
“He seems like a real nice guy,” Barbour said of Kohan. “We came to terms and here we are.”
Barbour sees it as something of a symbiotic relationship.
“He needs us, and we need him,” he said, adding that he hopes to see other local small merchants follow his lead back to the mall.
“The more little stores you get in here, the more foot traffic you’re gonna see, and that’s good for everybody,” Scott said.
On Small Business Saturday, there were dozens of people coming in and out of the store and most of them were buying stuff, which is hard not to do considering the prices for the thousands of gently used books in stock — $2 for paperbacks, $3 for hardcovers.
The store will trade books of any category and other merchandise for store credit “as long as they’re in good shape,” Andra said.
“And if they’re not in great shape, we’ll throw them over there in our free book pile and people can go through that whenever they want,” Scott added.
The Barbours said they rarely pay cash for items with the exception of some comic book collections and lightly used books that are in categories of high demand.
The books in highest demand these days? Those are what the Barbours call “paranormal romances,” basically romance novels in which the love interest is a vampire, werewolf, zombie or the like.
“A lot of them are dark with werewolves and Gothic stuff, but I like the funny ones myself,” said Andra. “I read one called ‘Undead and Unwed.’ This one is next on my list,” she said, holding up a paperback titled “Real Vampires Hate Their Thighs.”
“We sell a ton of that stuff here,” Scott said. “Women come through and buy stacks of them. We sold a few over in Monte, but over here they’re selling big.
“The used books are a perpetual motion machine,” Scott added. “You bring in 10 books, I’ll give you two in credit and I’ve got eight to sell, but you’re happy and I’m happy and it just keeps perpetuating itself” — especially at the bargain prices.
For now the store is a two-person operation despite scores of job-seekers already asking if there are any openings at the store.
For now, they get turned away gently.
“It’s just us and, for now, I’d like to keep it just us because it’s something fun,” Scott said. “She loves the books and I love the comics. Right now we’re just playing it by ear. We’re kind of soaking it up and seeing what’s going on.”
“It’s been hectic,” Andra said of the first few weeks, which included the two of them building dozens of custom, pine bookshelves together.
“It’s been hard (getting open) because everything you see here has been done by just the two of us.,” Scott said. “I’ve had two back surgeries and she has a bad back, too.”
“I’d build a shelf and go to physical therapy, build another shelf and go to physical therapy,” Andra said with a laugh.
Those shelves hold the books on one side of the store; the other side is devoted to Scott’s specialty, comic books and graphic novels, along with an assortment of collectibles, trading and fantasy game cards and other cool stuff.
The comic book prices range from three-for-a-dollar to more than a thousand dollars. Scott sold a number of his more valuable comics to help fund the move to South Aberdeen, including a copy of Marvel’s Avengers No. 1, which he sold online for $1,600. He’s got another copy in his display case, but isn’t likely to part with it anytime soon, as older comics are one of his favorite things to enjoy until the right buyer comes along.
“You have to catch me in the right mood,” he said. “I have to get the right offer to part with some, so I am something of a collector. I like the older stuff. I keep them because I like them.”
Scott said he will keep individual files and place regular orders for collectors of certain comics, noting that in this day and age, the number of comics published is solely based on pre-orders from retailers like them.
“Comics are a unique medium,” Scott said. “You read a Time magazine or a Newsweek and then you throw it away. You don’t do that with comics.”
Today, Scott collects and reads comics from a publishing company called Zenescope.
“I read all their stuff,” Scott said with a knowing grin. “They do dark spins on things like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ and have a new one out called ‘Robyn Hood’ — it’s a gal.”
Like other men of a certain age, Scott gravitates toward the wicked covers featuring highly stylized, curvaceous and scantily clad heroines. As he perused his collection with an interested customer, Andra simply smiled and rolled her eyes.
She could handle this from a man who once took her all the way to a comic book convention in Calgary, Canada, so she could meet and have her picture taken with actor James Marsters, who plays Spike in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series, one of Andra’s all-time favorites along with the original “Star Trek” series.
It didn’t hurt that Scott managed to get Marvel founder Stan Lee’s autograph along the way.
Among the most popular items in his store, so far, has been Magic: The Gathering cards for the popular fantasy game. Along with numerous booster pack ($3.95) varieties and decks for sale, he also has tables available for players and plans to host sanctioned Friday night “draft-type” tournaments in the near future.
Last weekend a number of teenagers were buying, trading and playing with Magic cards throughout the afternoon.
“What I enjoy most is seeing this,” Scott said of the kids playing cards and poring through boxes and binders for more to juice up their collections. “The kids aren’t out on the streets getting into trouble. They’re collecting cards or they’re collecting comics or they’re collecting action figures or in here playing games.”
The Barbours believe the store’s new home will suit them well.
“Yesterday was really, really good,” Scott said of Black Friday shopping in the bookstore. “It’s basically been everything selling really well and all our old Monte clients seem to be finding us over here, so it’s all been very good.
“I don’t know what made us decide to do this,” he added. I think it was going to garage sales and seeing all these wonderful books for so cheap. We don’t have any aspirations of getting rich doing this. To me, this is a hobby. It’s fun. We enjoy it.”
Dave Haerle, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3928 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org