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From designer of missions to outer space to comic store owner

Location

Nostalgic Books and Comics

517 W Main St
Alhambra , CA United States

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.

On the shelf at Nostalgic Books and ComicsAt 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.

Independent journalism is a bedrock of democracy--and it's in crisis. Here at the Alhambra Source, we're committed to covering the local stories that matter most to you. We don’t have advertisers and we don’t have pay walls, but we do have bills. You read to the end of this story. That's great. But this kind of journalism will end without public support. Join us! Support the work and the democratic values it serves. Donate now!

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3 thoughts on “From designer of missions to outer space to comic store owner”

  1. Anonymous 1 — thanks for letting me know about the wrong cut line for that photo!!! And in the future if you catch errors, please let me know asap. Thanks!

  2. The tag under the photo is incorrect! He is owner of Nostalgic Books and Comics, not the Cellar!

  3. I’d love to be involved in a comics reading group or something similar. I’m really glad these shops are here.