Larry's Comic Book Store, the first comic specialty store in Chicago and one of the first (and oldest) in the country, is preparing to shut its doors. The store opened in April of 1972 at 1219 W. Devon Avenue and has been operated continuously at the same location for the more than thirty years since by its owner, Larry Charet. For a time Charet also operated an Annex next door, which featured trade paperbacks and magazines, but that location was closed in 1998. Charet is currently running a final clearance sale to clear out inventory before closing the store.
Charet attributed the closing to poor sales, which he tied to the decline in comic sales, particularly of periodicals, which had provided the bulk of his business. 'To be successful today you've got to have the statues, action figures, t-shirts, and trade paperbacks,' he said. He also noted that his location was not the kind of high volume location that could support a big inventory. 'In the 70s and 80s there weren't that many stores and people would come long distances to come here,' he said. 'And in the boom (in the early 90s) there was so much business that even though there were more stores it was still my best time.' But with the decline in the comic market since 1994 (until very recently) and the larger number of competitors, Larry's was unable to generate sufficient volume to sustain itself.
In addition to founding a store that inspired numerous other Chicago-area comic retailers to start their own stores, Charet also played an important role in the history of Chicago fandom in other ways. Like Joe Sarno, another retailer who has been selling comics in Chicago for thirty years, Charet set up at the monthly shows at the downtown YMCA beginning in the early 70s. In 1976, Charet, Sarno, and Ross Kight started the Chicago Comic-Con, a show that has been operated annually since then. The show was sold to Wizard Entertainment in 1997, and is now operated as Wizard World.
We asked Charet for his reflections on the industry. He directed his answer at the state of periodical comics. 'I don't think it will ever recover from where it's been,' he said. 'Kids aren't interested in comics, so where is it going to be 10 years from now? I don't have one kid that comes in on Wednesday and buys new comics.'
Charet was more positive about the future of comics in book format. 'Maybe the trade paperbacks will sell; but if they're going to do trade paperbacks, do trade paperbacks, don't do weekly comics,' he said. 'I don't see how both trade paperbacks and weekly comics can both survive because they're cannibalizing themselves.'
Charet plans to continue to sell collectibles on eBay, concentrating on magazines and science fiction.