Home > Misc. > The anime shops: a look back

The anime shops: a look back

On April 1, it will be ten years since the anime shop I worked at from 2004-2009, finally shut down forever. So it seems like a good time for a trip down memory lane, but it is likely impossible to pack everything into one post. I’ll try and pick out some memorable happenings for now, and perhaps I’ll do some exhaustive recap at a later time. Photos will be at the end, to give an idea of the space we worked with.

[Part 1: very brief setup of when/where/what]

While there were three locations, there were really only two that mattered: the one Mikey managed at Montclair (MC), and the one I managed at Tyler. The third location was the boss’ baby, and not much of note ever happened there, or was never mentioned if it did. Mikey’s location was at the end of a wing, upstairs, next to a Sears. It was the larger of the two locations and had air conditioning. Tyler was downstairs at the end of a wing, next to an entrance by a parking garage. Also, while there was initially an arcade across the way, and H+M moved in and left us as the closest thing to the nearby bus stop. The backdoor of the store went out to an alley out back where the dumpsters were for that wing, which made it easy for deliveries to arrive, but also easy for roaches to take residence. Combine that with the lack of air conditioning and the fact that Tyler was always hot as hell and stagnant, even in the winter, and we always had that back door open, just for the sake of air flow. So MC was fairly comfy if not slightly cold from the AC, while Tyler was hot 12 months a year and required small fans to make it tolerable.

A basic day would involve opening and, outside of days with deliveries that needed processing, watching customers to make sure stuff wasn’t being stolen. At various points in the day, the owner [no name needed, let’s protect the innocent] would call and ask how much we’d made so far, and if things were going okay. Most times that I was working the same time as Mikey, we’d have an AIM conversation going about whatever, with our daily totals interspersed throughout. It was sort of like a competition that you had no control over, but if you were winning, you still got to talk shit. Then at closing, you totaled everything up, shut down the credit card machine and the PC/register, and put the receipts and day’s cash into an envelope that was kept in an unlocked drawer. The boss or his father would come by and pick up the envelopes a few times each week, when they brought deliveries. Looking back, the idea of working in a place that had thousands of dollars sitting basically unprotected, meant we could’ve been robbed at any time. But aside from a few instances of shoplifting, there was never much in the way of trouble there.

Each Monday, Mikey and I would meet at our warehouse, then drive out to the distributor and pick up merchandise. It made for a very long morning, but if traffic was good getting back, it could result in getting off in the early afternoon. This was also a great excuse for lunch at Applebee’s, or later, Oba Oba, the greatest Brazil BBQ place ever (it closed in 2008, sadly). Other times, we were tasked with some really random stuff, which I’ll mention somewhere below.

At some point along the way, maybe 2006 or so, the owner decided he would open a restaurant. The way I understand this, he used the merchandise in our warehouse as collateral for the restaurant loan. So when the restaurant failed as most do, he decided the best course of action was to move to a new warehouse under a new name, and stop paying the rent on our shops so we got evicted from both malls. That third location stayed on since it was under a different name as well, but Tyler was shut down on April 1, 2009 and MC was fully done on April 19, 2009.

For context going onward: both of these stores seemed to attract not just folks interested in anime, but folks who were just curious to see what the store was, as well as some really odd ducks. While both places had their share of weird encounters, I think it could generally be agreed among those who worked there, that Tyler had the higher concentration of encounters that made you wonder where the hell these people came from. Looking back, I can see that we weren’t always nice to people, some of which is regrettable. But not all of it…

[Part 2: random events and encounters]

– MC’s big spender was a guy named (I think) Jerome. He was cool and had a voice that would’ve been really great for radio, very deep. But he’d just randomly show up and drop $500 and explain how some figure he was buying was the perfect pose to hold [sex toy I cannot clearly remember] or whatever. Aside from him, it seemed like MC had a higher concentration of people that were there to actually buy, rather than browse and tell you “I’m here to see what I want to download when I get home” like they did at Tyler.

Tyler’s big spender was the old hentai man. Imagine Jonathan Winters, but hot for some anime titties. If you saw him on the street, you’d never imagine that was his thing. But he’d come in at the first part of the month, go through our shelf of hentai (kept up high so kids couldn’t get to it, mind you), start stacking up DVDs on the counter, and say something like, “stop me when I get to $600.” He once asked if he could bring a request list, and then brought in a multiple-page list, because he was close to owning every hentai that we carried (the distributor carried more titles, but space was at a premium in our shop). I looked it over and asked, “no Advancer Tina?” to which he replied, “eh, you’ve seen one tentacle rape, you’ve seen them all.” Okay, then! In the last few months we were open, we stopped getting new merchandise as often, and no new hentai. He bought regular anime DVDs, but you could see the disappointment on his face. But he was opposed to using a computer, so we were his only option. I wonder what he did after we were gone?

– The owner kept us stocked with legit merchandise, but there was also some bootleg stuff mixed in. At one point, he got scared about it, and tasked Mikey and I with scrubbing the inventory completely and rebuilding it from scratch. This would take forever, given the amount of stuff we carried. So rather than spread it out over weeks, we worked a 60-hour shift at Tyler to knock out about 85% of it, and a 40+ shift at MC to get it done there. Whatever was left after that, was done bit by bit during normal hours. Our reward? The boss said to take money and go get chicken. I think we both opted to go home and shower, because bathing in a bathroom sink is less than ideal. Also sleeping was done in short spurts, trading off to keep the project going. I don’t remember it being my idea, but Mikey later said that he told that story to people and said I had some role in helping him develop a strong work ethic, but I think he had it the entire time on his own.

– At MC, we had glass display cases full of capsule figures that were lined up and organized neatly. The fluorescent light inside one of the cases, had a screw fall out and was lying diagonally across the front of the case. The owner was there that day, and we were debating how to fix this. The screw was gone and/or the hole in the metal was damaged, so putting the light back up wasn’t an option. It needed to be removed. I said I would do it, but noted that getting the light fully removed meant removing the power cable as well, which ran through a hole in the back side of the case, then over to the outlet behind it. This meant moving the case, which meant moving all of those little figures. So it would get done, it was just going to take some time. The owner asked Mikey for the scissors, and said he would simply cut the power cable, then we could unscrew the one screw still in place, done deal. I said that might not be a good idea, Mikey concurred. There we are, and he’s got the scissors up against the cable and asks the immortal question: “should I cut it?” I don’t even remember what I said other than it being some variation of “I wouldn’t, but it’s your store” and then he cut it. While it was still plugged in. Sparks flew and we all jumped, then he just stared for a moment before going, “… whoa.” It burned a perfectly round hole in the scissors, as well as blowing out the wall outlet, which had a power strip plugged into it that powered the register, a receiver, and a DVD player. I can’t recall clearly, but I feel like that outlet was never replaced and everything was plugged up in an outlet much further away via extension cords, until the day that place closed.

– We were allowed to keep a running tab, if things came in that we wanted. You just had to call the boss and go, “I want [thing], how much is it for us” and you’d get it at his cost, then you could have him take it out of your check. This might be the one area where the boss was razor sharp and never missed a beat, but he was really good about it. So I ran up stupid tabs by buying import games and whatnot, but then Christmas would come and he’d cut your tab in half. Pretty nice. So I decided that I wanted to get him a gift. He said, “Just one time, I want to trying a white girl.” I asked why, and he said just to see what it’s like. Over across the street from the mall, there was an adult shop, so I went over there and asked for a DVD that would meet his needs. Of course, they definitely had such a thing, so I bought it and wrapped it up for him, then when we closed on Christmas Eve, I left it on the counter with the day’s envelope, with arrows pointing that said ENVELOPE and MERRY CHRISTMAS. I come back in on the 26th and he had written on the note, “Thank you I love shit! I will learn the moves tonight” which was hilarious. I stuck that note on the fridge at my dad’s house and it is still there to this day. The DVD thing became an annual ritual after that.

– A few months later, Mikey and I are at warehouse, pulling the merchandise we need, but the boss is complaining. At his house, there was no way for him to get any alone time. His wife and kids lived there, as well as his parents and her parents. So he would try to sneak time to watch his white girl DVDs and either someone would come in and he’d have to shut it off in a hurry, or they were out of the room but he’d have to watch it muted so they didn’t come in. So he wanted a solution, and he found it: there was an unused office at the warehouse. At the time, we had some wall-mounted bookshelves leaning against the walls, full of CDs, and random clutter in the floor. He decided this would all go out to the regular warehouse part of the warehouse, and the unused office would become his special place. I forget what he called it, but I called it his fap den. His plans for the room included a large TV and DVD player, a big couch, and one of the glass display cases from one of the stores except filled with naked lady statues and stuff. But first, he wanted Mikey and I to paint the room. We got to pick the color, so we wound up with some shade of lavender, I forget why. Then we got to painting, and even though we didn’t have all of the proper tools, managed to get the room painted fairly quickly. But the paint needed to dry before we moved anything, so we left a note in the front office that explained the situation: this paint is drying, including paint on the light switch, so don’t touch it until it’s dry. We come back the next day and he had written another gem on our note: “Sorry, I touch it. Fuck! My hand!” That one is also currently on my dad’s fridge. Eventually everything was moved in as he wanted, so I assume he finally reached the promised land, but I’d rather not know.

– I had lobbied hard for two things: a stool, so we weren’t standing all day, and internet access. Both were initially frowned upon, but when we started using email to send our pick lists instead of fax, things lightened up a little. So I killed a *ton* of time messing around on the internet, arguing about video games on IRC like an idiot for hours on end. One thing I was quite fond of, was iSketch. Online Pictionary, basically. Fast forward to a Christmas Eve, maybe 2006 or 2007, and I’m working alone, playing iSketch and minding the store. I know it wasn’t the fault of some online game, but the computer decided to blow up sometime in the afternoon and would not power back on. Without any viable way to actually sell stuff, I had to close early. “Merry Christmas, but we’re closed. You gotta get out.” But closing early would incur a fine of $150/hour, so I sat in the store with the gate halfway down for several hours, explaining the situation to would-be customers probably 200 times. Instead of getting it done right away, the owner dragged his feet on fixing the computer, so we did purchases by hand-written receipts for probably two months? Never played iSketch at work after that.

– We weren’t always nice to the customers, but there were different tiers of customers: sometimes they were just people killing time while waiting for the bus or a ride, or as mentioned earlier, checking out series so they knew what to download at home. Those aren’t customers. There were regulars who you took care of and would try and fill any requests they had, who were basically what kept us afloat. Then there were the regulars who rarely bought, but were such characters that even though they could be annoying and take up your time, were sometimes entertaining enough to at least spice up an otherwise boring day. Some got nicknames, because being on a first-name basis with customers is just weird. Other than Jerome, which I could see that not even being his real name and some Tony Clifton-esque persona. Trying to remember some of them offhand, a few spring to mind:

1. Godzilla Guy- Each location had its own Godzilla Guy. Tyler’s was named that because all he would buy were the movies, and he was super into them. MC’s was named that because he would come in and speak to the Godzilla toys, and sometimes kiss them. He once talked to me and let me know that Japan is a nation in Asia, to which I just nodded and smiled.

2. Batman Kid- A young kid who came in at Tyler after his parents left him there while they shopped elsewhere. He meowed at some stuffed animals, then put his arms straight out and ran around like he was an airplane, yelling, “BATMAN BATMAN BATMAN” until he was out of breath. He only did it the one time and was cool every other time he turned up, but he was forever Batman Kid after that.

3. Old Prospector- Mikey had a guy who would come in exclusively when he was working at MC, and I guess he looked like an old prospector? You’d be sitting there and AIM would chime, and it would say, “Fuck. Old Prospector.” I guess he would just hang out and tell stories for eons. Once he was going on about something and Mikey was relaying it to me via AIM, to which I replied with “black gold. texas tea.” and he had to fight to not laugh in the guy’s face. Maybe he looked like Jed Clampett?

4. Blind Guy- I had a guy at Tyler who always bought Gundam models and he was really cool, but he never said much. Then one day he had to show his ID for some transaction and I was like, “dude, they let you wear sunglasses in your ID photo? That’s cool!” and he replied with, “I’m blind.” Legally blind at certain distances, I think? Anyway, that guy probably built every Gundam we ever carried and he would always say he liked to support local business so we could stay around. I liked that guy.

5. High-Pitch Guy- HPG lived in Tyler, apparently. He was tall and thin, and for awhile was very low-key. But when he spoke, his voice was very high pitched. One day he came in, picked up a Charmander plushie, and went, “char char!” It sounded just like the one on the cartoon, and it pretty great. But then one day he came in wearing a long coat, carrying a small bottle of Pepsi. He took one of the hentai DVDs down from the shelf and was studying the cover with his back to me. After he hadn’t moved for several minutes, I went to see what was up. He had his high pitch ding-dong out and was stroking it with the Pepsi bottle. It was at that point that he was banned forever, because you can’t be doing that in public in general, even less so in a place where little kids shop. From then on, he would stand out in the wing and watch our TV, or go up to Gamestop and start doing spin kicks in the store. The girl who worked at GS would get at me on AIM and be mad that he was doing spin kicks, like it was my fault.

6. Bible Black Kid- there was a kid who would pop into Tyler every so often and attempt to haggle his way into a copy of Bible Black. It would always involve trading CDs and PS2 games, along with some change. He was persistent, if nothing else. Even if we would’ve been into the idea, I feel like he was maybe 15? So we couldn’t have done it anyway on an 18+ item.

7. Dirty Pair Guy- a middle-aged guy at Tyler who was super duper into Dirty Pair and would talk to you at length about not just how Dirty Pair was the best, but whatever else happened to be on his mind at the time. One visit was while Mikey was working with me, and we had a rule that if there were customers in the store, you couldn’t eat. So Mikey comes back with Carl’s Jr and we were both jonesing hard for it, but couldn’t eat until this guy’s monologue ended. I want to say it was roughly an hour of him rambling about owning a 357 Magnum and a Harley from 1907 and I forget what else. Another time, he told one of the other employees about his $70,000 computer monitor for a long time.

There are many more I’ve probably written about elsewhere, but those are the main ones I can recall. A lot of the customer encounters were one-offs, then we never saw them again. We kept a customer quote list for the fun ones, where we might explain the setup prior to whatever was said, including these:

– “Why do you watch it Japan sound, ‘cause the person who works here is a Chinese store!”

– “Has anyone ever had a seizure in this store?”

– “What’s that?”
A pin.
“What does it do?”

– A kid comes in and looks really hard at the Yugioh cards, and then he goes, “Do you have any like, bracelets that have anarchy signs on them?”

– Girl walks up to the kendo sticks: “OOH I WANT ONE!” Then she looks at me and says, “what is this?”

– “I saw that! It pimped me!”: some guy taking about Blue Submarine No.6

– Lady comes in with her son and he’s looking at stuff. She picks up the Inuysha plush and says, “Is this Tails?” Her son says no. She says, “Well, you don’t know. He might be the Japanese version of Tails.”

– “Hendrix and Joplin were poisoned by the government, and Jim Morrison is alive on some cattle ranch in Oregon under the name Bob Lawyer.”

– “Would the deathnote work on an unborn baby, like if you knew what its name was gonna be and you saw a picture of it on an ultrasound?”

[Part 3: the bitter end]

Things got really shady when the restaurant came into the picture. When I’d started working here, there were days when the boss or his wife would spend all day working at one of the stores. But by this time, we’d shown that we didn’t need them to be there, and since they had other stuff to tend to anyway, we’d go long periods without ever seeing the boss. There was a stretch of over one year where the boss never came to Tyler, which was nice for everyone involved. But then deliveries started getting smaller and smaller, and I would be given a smaller budget at the distributor, so something was up. Then in January of 09, the boss showed up and took me outside. He asked if I could tell the girls that he was going to have to close the store. I said I would, but he didn’t know when we would close. He had stopped paying the rent, so he was going to get evicted, and when he did, we had 48 hours to get everything out of the store. It wound up falling on April 1, so stuff was already in the process of being boxed up and moved out by that point. That was when I learned about the new warehouse and all of that, and after helping organize the new warehouse, had effectively organized myself out of a job as his next venture wasn’t ready yet. So I found different work and that was basically the end of that. Overall, it was a shame because for a place that had zero advertising ever, we did pretty well for a while there. But several decisions along the way weren’t the right ones, so when sales dipped, I’m sure that didn’t help. The final nail was really the restaurant dying a slow death, though. How that dude isn’t sleeping with the fishes, I don’t know.

[Part 4: the coworkers]

Really, this is the high spot of the entire experience. Customers ranged from cool to “call the police,” and the boss was a total character, but the people we worked with were generally all cool. Mikey was and is an ace guy who’ll go the extra mile for people, and his store had a bunch of good folks like Brandon, Luigi, Shulie, Eugene, Justin, and Moke. I didn’t work with all of them too often, as if I found myself working at MC it was usually with Mikey so it was just us and maybe one other person. But to go from working overnights at large companies, which generally puts you with people who are kind of aggressive and sour, working with laid back people was really nice. At Tyler, Nam and Jesse were always fun to work with, and they were there when I got there. When I got to pick people to hire, I picked people I thought seemed really cool. Jennifer would randomly come in as a customer and hang out before or after her shifts at another place, so it just made sense for her to come work with us. Heather was total tsundere, which I love, and watching her interact with customers was always funny. I found Kelsey when she commented on Jennifer’s Myspace and after I verified through Jennifer that she was cool, asked Kelsey if she wanted to work with us, and she did. [side note: Mikey thought I had made her up when I first told him about her, like I crafted this entire profile and blog posts and stuff just to mess with him… which is something I would’ve done, but not in this case. She’s the real deal!] Ashley was probably the nicest and most pleasant customer, and as it turned out, Jennifer knew her too, so she came on as well and is one of my favorite people to this day. Everyone was good about doing their work, they were just good people to know, and still are. If there’s one positive takeaway from the entire thing, it’s that I got to know some great people through this job, that I’ve been fortunate enough to continue to know. Even though it’s hard to stay as up to date as people spread out and go their ways, visiting and catching up is always enjoyable. A recurring theme in anime is the power of friendship helping people overcome obstacles, which sounds kind of sappy, but I really think it fits here. Some of the most important people I’ve come to know, and I’m better off for having known them.

[part 5: the photos]

Here are some photos of Tyler, specifically. These were taken June 6, 2008, so less than a year before we were gone. Maybe one or two bonus photos if I happen upon some. Also, apologies for lack of focus in a couple of these:


Bonus photos: “I love shit!,” my Halloween sign for mall trick or treaters, our very vague closing notice, and the last three being some of the only ones I have of MC:

05 Dec 24 - luvshit07 10 31 - nocandy09 Mar 7 - byesign05 Jun 17 - minivegeta109 Apr 19 - MC209 Apr 19 - MC3

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