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Nostalgic Books and Comics closes — along with a dream

The Alhambra Source followed Try Lam, a designer of missions to outer space at Jet Propulsion Lab, as he fulfilled his childhood dream of opening a comic book store on Main Street. We regret to report that today he is locking the doors of the store. From the Nostalgic blog:

"It saddens me to write this, but after almost a year in Alhambra, Nostalgic Books and Comics will be closed beginning November 1st, 2010.

Nostalgic Books and Comics began as a dream and love for both books and comics. As a child I would visit the many comic shops and bookstores in Alhambra wishing that I was the lucky owner of such an establishment, a safe haven for those who understand the value of a great book and appreciate the talent of a skilled artist.

Although there were many lessons learned along the way, and many things I would redo, we have reached a point where it is too little too late and we can no longer sustain the store financially. I did not open the store to become rich, far from it, but such burden has taken its toll and closing down is our only solution. We knew the road was tough, but we gave it our best.

It is unclear right now if we will ever return. Maybe in another place at some later time you will find us again doing our very best to beat the odds and make a dream come true. I truly hope for this…

To all our customers, fans, friends, and our Nostalgic family, thank you for a great time. We appreciate each and every one of you for the support you’ve given us and for being a part of our love and passion. Lastly, for those who have our gift cards, groupons, or store credit, please redeem them before November 1st."

Below, you can watch a video or read the Alhambra Source's original story on Nostalgic Comics and about Lam's dream for the store.

Try Lam, a designer of missions to outer space at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, started imagining exploring other worlds reading science fiction and comic books on Main Street in Alhambra. When he was a teenager growing up in 1990s San Gabriel, a favorite pastime was to grab his bike and head to shops like Main Street Books or Comic Heaven. “Main Street used to be the big thing back then for books,” said the 30-year-old Lam, who immigrated to California from Cambodia as a child. But since then Lam watched as one bookshop after another shut down in Alhambra. Meanwhile, as his career progressed, he began searching for a new creative outlet. Lam, who remains a resident of San Gabriel, decided this winter to reduce his hours at Jet Propulsion and open a venture that would give back to his community: the appropriately named Nostalgic Books and Comics on Main Street.

If it succeeds, the store could usher in Alhambra’s reemergence as a comic center for the San Gabriel Valley. Just a few blocks down from Nostalgic is Comic Cellar, which opened about a year-and-a-half ago. “People walk in and say it’s so nice to have a comic shop back,” said store manager Ron Spanbauer. Alhambra “used to be a Mecca for Los Angeles” during the “big comic boom of the late 1980s, early 1990s,” according to Spanbauer, a loyal comic fan for most of his life. But starting in the mid 1990s both the comic industry and independent bookstores faltered. On Main Street the consequence was at least three book and comic shops eventually closed — leaving the city with no English-language bookstore.

The new stores are opening on Main Street at a time when independent bookstores continue to struggle around the country, but comics have seen a resurgence due in part to movies and imported art forms like the Japanese Manga.

“This shop keeps getting better and better,” said Spanbauer, referring to its popularity. While fewer people may be reading books, comics are no longer only for young people and many adults now see them as an art form. Down the street, Lam acknowledged he entered a tough market, with a trend toward purchasing on the Internet and a dizzying array of media options. But he said he believes that others will share his love of browsing and reading an actual book.

At Nostalgic, which in addition to comic books has a collection of used and new science fiction and novels, there has been an effort to make the store into a local cultural venue. Former Alhambra High School students turned staffers help Lam, whom they have nicknamed the “Astronaut.” Jessica Chong, 25, said she remembers when Main Street Books closed. “I think I actually started to cry,” she said. Going to the bookstores on Main Street — from the small independent ones Lam remembers to Waldenbooks — was one of her favorite memories from growing up. She believes that Nostalgic will bring that experience back to young people growing up in Alhambra. Another staff member, 21-year-old Remy Saint-Satyr excitedly told his plans for community activities like poetry readings.

Alhambra Feed readers — any ideas for literary gatherings on Main? Any memories of comic shops? Let us know.

The Alhambra Source encourages comment on our stories. However, we do not vet comments for accuracy or endorse links to posts in the comment section. The thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the author of the comment.

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3 thoughts on “Nostalgic Books and Comics closes — along with a dream”

  1. Actually, I looked in at Nostalgic before we opened our bookstore in South Pasadena, The Battery Books and Music. I started at Cliff’s in 1991 and became head of the comics department for almost three years. That’s a tough living. Anyway, I thought Lam hired some excellent workers and wouldn’t mind seeing them work here if an opening occurs. Thursdays we have live music or some sort of activity. We’re across from Buster’s, in between Mix ‘N Munch and Hodgson’s at 1005B Mission St.

  2. Wow, I never got to visit it. I’m not a huge comic book fan but support having local bookstores! Seems to me that there needs to be another sustainable model for bringing books to the street level in this age of Amazon (and not the local library!). I’ve often wondered if there are collaborative partnerships that can combine bookstore with other interests, like most do now with at least a coffee shop. Best of luck on future endeavors Try Lam!

  3. This saddens me so much to see Nostalgic go.
    If only there were more independent book shops like Nostalgic!

    Oh, Waldenbooks and childhood memories in Alhambra…
    If they were still there now I’d be sipping on a drink from Cha and spending my weekend afternoons there.