Sanctuary Lost

New England Comics shuttered its Cambridge store on Sunday.

A mainstay of Harvard Square for more than 30 years, the store closed because of a precipitous decline in foot traffic in this post-pandemic era.

Despite its proximity to Harvard University, the store was no longer profitable.

I had been a customer almost as long as the store was open.

I was working an administrative drone job at Harvard in the early ’90s when my co-workers took me to the store one lunch hour.

The Cambridge store was different from every other comic book shop I’d been in.

It was bright, airy, and you could move around without feeling as if you were going to step on someone.

It had a great assortment of new releases, trades, and back issues – an ever-changing assortment of wall books that captivated me. More than a few came home with me.

Oh, yeah, I spent some money there on the four-color fantasies I’ve loved since a boy.

But more importantly, I spent time there, in a place that welcomed me and made me feel like I belonged.

Staffers Matt, Wilson, Hannah and a lot more over the years, took the time to find out what I liked and sometimes to challenge me to try something new.

Inside New England Comics of Harvard Square on its last day.

(And sometimes to even deny me. Manager Matt once refused to sell me a JSA trade, reminding me I already had multiple copies at home. A good friend will try to rein in your worst impulses.)

Even though cinema today is dominated by billion-dollar comic book franchises, those who read and follow the actual source material are still treated with suspicion.

I found friendship with other customers who shared my passions and were eager to talk about them.

The conversations ranged from serious to silly and back again. I treasured them all.

After leaving my Harvard job, I eventually landed a newspaper job with the most toxic managers in the history of U.S. employment, and the shop became a downright refuge.

I looked forward to those visits more than I looked forward to going home. At least I could unwind with people who wouldn’t be screaming at me.

After a long hospitalization following a car accident, I hobbled over, cane and all, one raw and windy Saturday for some books, the first proof to myself that I was recovering.

I no longer work or live in the Cambridge area, and in recent years have shopped closer to home, at New England Comic’s Quincy location, still going strong.

But I was there for the last day.

Just a quick visit, really, to look around, to say farewell to a place that meant more than I ever acknowledged.

Sometimes a comic shop is more than a store. It’s a community center, a friendly pitstop, even a place of healing.

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