Cory Stolberg and Bill Hoeks are dreamers. As the managers of the My Happy Place Comic Book Store in Crystal Lake, Illinois, they’ve set out to give customers the same great experience they had when they were younger. In store giveaways, special guest appearances and the thrill that comes when you first open a new comic.
They recently started a Go Fund Me Page in hopes of raising enough money to turn My Happy Place into one of the premiere comic book stores in the Midwest. I recently chatted with Cory about his younger years, his passion and the dream he and Bill hope will come true.
Mike Smith: Can you give us some background on the store?
Cory Stolberg: We opened the store in January of this year and it is my first time running a comic book store. The current owner opened the store as a tribute to her youngest son, who was only 19 when he passed away three years ago from an unknown heart condition. He was a huge “Captain America” fan and had always told his mom, who had previously owned a used book store, that one day he was going to take it over and turn it into a comic book store. Bill and I have been helping and assisting since day one of this project. We’re involved in everything from planning and remodeling the location to moving inventory around. We also handle setting up the current floor plan and the ordering of merchandise. We try to host an event a month by having artists, writers and publishers in the store for free meet and greets. We hosted Free Comic Book Day back in May and just had another one on Halloween.
MS: Is it hard work?
CS: We have worked hard every single step of the way We have laid the ground work for where we want to see this store go and the owner has pretty much given us free range to do it and we have made it a success thus far. But the time frame to purchase the store was moved up, which is why we set up the Go Fund Me page. The people that have donated thus far are regulars at the store and they understand and see the big picture of what we want to accomplish. It is their passion and commitment to us that keeps our heads up.
MS: Give a little information about your Go Fund Me efforts.
CS: I started the Go Fund Me Page in late August and it has had a slow start. Since then, we have fielded quite a few questions. Everything from is the store closing to “what about my orders!” Our store is different from every other I have ever been in. Now granted I don’t get to travel the country and visit other stores, but compared to the many I have been to in Illinois, none of them have the energy we have, none of them greet the customers walking in the door by name, few are willing to go above and beyond to locate books for customers if they are not found in the store or on the Diamond Distributors page. We receive so many compliments from customers who quickly become friends. Because of our efforts they often become loyal to our shop with just one visit.
Our goal is $75,000, of which part will be used for updating and remodeling as discussed on the Go Fund Me Page. More inventory, some gaming, some updating, new racks and displays and a nest egg to help us for a bit. Any and all funds raised will go directly into the store. If we do not hit our goal, then ever dollar is returned to the donors. However, we believe that we can and will make this work, it is just a matter of keeping our heads up and staying the course.
MS: Why do you want to run a comic book store?
CS: For us this is dream. I have been reading and collecting comics on and off for almost 40 years. I dropped out in the 90’s, like many others, after the whole “Death of Superman” experience and the introduction of Spawn and Image Comics to the world. Over the years the writing has gotten better, the artwork is incredible and many of the story lines are just amazing. I personally prefer to read the independent books or smaller publishers, as I have outgrown the whole Super Hero thing. Plus, its near on impossible to go back and try to collect the back issues if you aren’t wealthy. For Bill and I this has been the most fun we have had working, ever. The customers are awesome, most of them are now friends and we get new ones weekly. Even though we know we will never get rich at this, this has been the most satisfying experience thus far in our lives. We are continuing to make friends with people in the industry who truly understand our dream and are helping where they can. We had artists at the New York Comic Con this weekend helping to promote our fundraising page and spreading the word about our dream. Everyone has to start somewhere. It took us many years to get our dream going but there is no letting up on it now.
MS: What is the big difference between your store and others?
CS: Bill and I have both been in positions over our work histories where we ended up working for some terrible employers and bosses. And we remember this every day as a way not to treat others. Customer service is a huge part of this business. You get one chance to make a first impression and you better make the most of it, because the customer can make you or break you in an instant. If you are having a bad day, the customer had better never know it. If the customer is having a bad day, you better do everything in your power to make it better for them. My Grandmother helped raise me and she instilled in me at a very young age that every single person you meet and have contact with each and every day, make them smile, no matter what, you have no idea what is going on in their lives at that moment and that one simple gesture, like a simple smile, could change their lives. Does that make us qualified to own a store? Who knows? But the customers love it and if they are happy, we are happy. As we say “Come find your Happy Place at My Happy Place Comics!”
To make a donation or to find out more information about the Go Fund Me campaign, click here https://www.gofundme.com/myhappyplace