“Big Friendly Mike” was friend to many

Obits are not common on Perfect Duluth Day, but Mike Hruza wasn’t a common person. He was known to hundreds, thousands of Duluthians as “Big Friendly Mike” because he worked for decades selling games and comics, or because he played games and talked comics with anyone who would listen (including the times I sat next to him on the bus).

Mike rubbed me the wrong way, initially, because he was one of those comics salespeople who felt comfortable telling me which of the comics I was buying were not good and would be better replaced with better comics (that he would have been glad to show me). Most of the time, though, even if he was wrong about MY comics, his comics were great. Timothy Broman, his former employer as former co-owner of Collector’s Connection, tells this story:

Case in point was the day that WALKING DEAD #1 was published, and because he pushed it so hard, we would up with ten copies on our shelves. And I rode Mike hard on that one … Independent #1’s can be a tough sell. But, there he was — all available issues in his hands — hawking them to every customer who walked in the door like an old-timey newspaper boy. All that was missing was Mike shouting “Extra, extra — zombies go on a killing spree … read all about it!”

And I’m at the register giving Mike a hard time like always. But there was the passion of Mike shining through. Sure enough, all ten copies sold within a day or two.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY is that at one time, Walking Dead issue #1 was selling for around $1,000.00 (that’s ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS) per copy. I have no idea what value they carry these days, but I do recall a victory dance to two being staged at Collector’s Connection by a large man who should not take up dancing as a profession.

But of course, not all his tastes were great. A customer remembers:

I have a very vivid memory of talking with him at the counter at Collector’s about Star Wars while he was wearing a Jar Jar Binks T-shirt. I had so many fun conversations with him. He will be missed.

Eventually, I grew to love him, but not as much as his coworkers loved him. Timothy Broman tells the story:

During a Miller Hill Mall promotion called “Malloween,” kids dress up in costumes and travel from shop to shop for Halloween Candy. I had an idea — could I get a group of people to come to Collector’s Connection at the same time … all dressed up like Big Mike?

I explained my idea … Spencer’s had long black wigs with a grey streak down the middle … I had enough symbol-based T-shirts in case someone needed one (most were wrestling related — Big Mike was more of a comics-related guy) … otherwise, all you needed was a long-sleeved shirt rolled up past the forearms, and there you had it — a Big Friendly Mike costume.

Besides myself, John Foley, Robert Conant, Leah K., and Matt Dreher all agreed to meet at Collector’s Connection at about 5:30 p.m. on Malloween to spring the surprise.

I would like to report that the surprise went off perfectly without a hitch. But there was a minor hitch. There we are … me, Big Mike, and Matt Dreher waiting for the others to arrive.

And Big Mike kicks Matt in the ___.

I don’t know if Mike was just going through the motions and miscalculated. I don’t know if Mike felt like he was being picked on. I don’t know if Mike did it deliberately — but damn … that looked like it hurt!

To Matt’s credit, he shook it off and didn’t start a brawl in response. The memory of whether Mike apologized or not is not clear, but I don’t think he did, or didn’t do so with and sincerity. But by the time 3 more people showed up, he realized he was being pranked.

There are people who worked at the Mall who only knew Mike, twenty years later, as “the guy whose coworkers dressed up as him.” Still, as another customer noted, he changed lives:

As my wife just said, perfectly, he was the druid that led me on my path. Which became our path, and our children’s path.

Mike will be missed.  If you have stories to share, share them below.

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