It may come to some people as a surprise that I am closing down my store. To other people, it was already in the air. Pulling the plug on my own baby like this is a decision that I did not take lightly, but in the end, I had no other option. Keeping up a store like Pitkämies is just almost impossible in Helsinki, with it's high rent and relatively small audience for exactly the kind of products i like to sell.
There are more reasons to it as well, anybody who's a bit aware of what's happening in today's retail world can see that small mortar and brick stores are going to slowly phase out of the urban landscape. Especially stores that sell products such as comics, movies and music.
I had the idea of starting a comic store in Finland the moment i moved away from Belgium. My start up fund was 100 euros, with which i ordered comics from the states and sold them through my first "webstore" (link from the waybackmachine). My first batch contained David Boring, Ripple and issues of Eightball and Black Hole. I kept the books in a cupboard in the hallway, and went to pick up the comics from the airport / customs on my wife's bicycle. If i sold anything, i kept the money to order new books. I sold books mainly on location, meeting up with people around the city (or other cities). I stopped by the first Kuti studio in Neljäs Linja every so often when i had some new comics. I got into the "scene" of finnish comics and slowly but surely my stock of books grew.
It took me about four years to outgrow my available storage space and with a kind loan I was able to open my store in Kallio. There, together with the help of the Finnish comics society, Kuti Kuti and Ifsociety I put together a pretty decent store, if I may say so myself. There were lots of great comics, a wellcatered music selection and a stock of t-shirts. One of the nicest things i heard during the opening party was that there was "finally a comic store where i can breathe". And if that wasn't enough, I started organising free events at the store almost every week. Going through my facebook event page and remembering every single event I organised brings back fond memories. Good times were had by all. I couldn't say myself what would be the best event we did at Pitkämies, ofcourse the Thor gig, the first recordfleamarket, the crazy one minute sale all come to mind immediately, but I personally liked the more intimate gigs as well such as Mother Goose, Muuan Mies, Mauro,...
But then reality started to creep up with me and it became gradually clear to me that financially Pitkämies wasn't going to be a high roller. First the record sales went down the toilet. In april 2009 Spotify became widely available and that same month record sales in Pitkämies dropped 75% (and went further downhill from there). Then, with the record sales almost eliminated, I couldn't balance the loss of sales from there with an increased sales in comics. So my downward spiral started from there and it seemed i never got out of that hole.
There's reasons why Pitkämies (or small indie stores in general) can't cut it anymore: we are growing more and more towards a service based society where actual physical objects are becoming obsolete. I mean, why would you pay more for a shiny cd to watch a movie when you can simply download or rent it from your computer or your tv? Why pay 18 euros for a Sonic Youth lp when you can listen to it for free on Spotify?
As far as comics are concerned, it may sound futuristic for most readers yet, but with the arrival of all sorts of computer tablets, conditions for reading comics in digital form have improved greatly. I see no reason why in, say, 10 years time reading comics digitally won't be the preferred way for the average consumer.
But let's say you still stick to your oldfashioned ways and consume all your entertainment in physical form. Why would you then purchase the object in a store when you can get the same object delivered to your doorstep 30 percent cheaper from Amazon, Bookdelivery or Adlibris? Oh, because you want to support independent stores like mine? Well, I am standing here behind the counter and even though I greatly appreciate you bought stuff from me, I know you are in the vast minority.
It wouldn't be fair to put all the blame on society on why Pitkämies will be no longer. I have done things wrong myself. Did my fair share of mistakes. I may be a good salesperson and i love to sell a great comic book to a customer, but I am not the best businessman and obviously my skills in accounting are limited (if they wouldn't, I should have quit already a year ago). But you know what, all the things i did (good or bad) for the store were straight from the heart. As lame as it sounds, I really put my everything in it. I never really reached my ideal, never quite turned Pitkämies into the perfect, "bestest" comic store in the world (which would be a practical impossibility since it would have to contain every single great comic book ever made) but i gave it my best shot. So naturally it pains me to quit it. But after months and months of struggling by, coming up with excuses why I don't have new books in store (here's a clue: didn't have any money to order new ones), my enthousiasm for the store swindled down. And if there is no joy, or any financial reward that counters the stress and tiredness that comes with keeping a store, then the choice of closing down Pitkämies was plain in sight.
All in all, maybe I will feel even releaved when it is all over. Maybe I will rediscover the pleasure of just being a comic lover again: reading a comic book not for professional reasons but for enjoyment of the medium only.
However, this is not the end of Pitkämies. Although not in physical form as such, Pitkämies will continue as a memory, an inspiration to future lunatics and aspiring comic shopkeepers. Namely as of tomorrow there will be a comic book out called PITKIS, which features 30 finnish comic book authors who have made comics about Pitkämies or about the ideal comic store. It's quite flattering to see the names: Matti Hagelberg, Jyrki Nissinen, Mari Ahokoivu, Ville Ranta, Petteri Tikkanen, Amanda Vähämäki, Aapo Rapi,....
Be sure to come to the release party at Liberté, which is aptly called Pitkäfest, and buy it there.
PITKÄFEST 22.12 at Liberté (Kolmas Linja): live music by Avarus, Jarse, Pitches, Lussu ja Pami, Dj Suohumala
Please come to the event, all profits will go to Pitkämies and it will surely be greatly appreciated and ease the damage that the store has inflicted on me financially.
There is a list of people i would like to thank, who all helped out with Pitkämies
Hanna for coming up with all sorts of great ideas that gave Pitkämies that little extra. Sorry if I haven't been able to execute them all. I hope that putting up with the long workhours will be worth it in the long run. I couldn't have made Pitkämies the way it was without you.
My parents and Hanna's parents for support and babysitting during busy times.
Kalle and everybody from the Finnish Comic Society; I know the Pitkämies spirit will continue at the Comics Centre in Arabia (and not in the least because i will be dropping by often), thanks also to everybody else from the Comics Society who filled in for me behind the counter when i was out on errands.
Tommi and Mikko from Ifsociety: you guys were great, Tommi's relentless efforts to promote the store, spam all over the internet, and hook up with artists; Mikko was great with the bigger events, making donuts and building the recordshelves. Thanks to you two I also discovered lots of great music which i listened to at the store.
Kuti people for buying stuff, promoting my store to everybody and doing all sorts of doodles for me.
My trainees Petja, Kati and Anis. Special mention ofcourse to Stephen, my "store manager" who amazed me with all his great neat little improvements to the general outlook of the store in Kallio and without whom Pitkämies 2 would never have been possible
Thanks to Jan and the crew from Myymälä2: too bad we had such a short sting together. Maybe in a parallel universe our joined forces would have lasted longer.
Thanks to all the bands who came and were willing to play in return for comics and records.
Martin for his incredible work effort to get the bookdisplays and the counter done in time ofr the opening, Olivier Schrauwen for his design of the storewindow, Renato for amazing skills of putting Ikea crap together, Otso and the Oranssi van for moving Huuda Huuda books, Arwi, Jussi L, Sami S, for providing records; Kasper and the Super8 guys (you brought in all your friends), Tapettitalo, Otto for his fine list of recommended manga, Ville for being the last customer in Kallio and YOU, my customer.