When I moved to Duluth in 2005, I didn’t visit Superior until I’d lived here for a few weeks. My then-wife lived in Madison and I drove there every other weekend to see her; on the weekends I remained in Duluth, I was a workaholic, trying hard to clear my calendar so I could travel the 5.5 hours each way to visit her.
It was a few weekends in when I finally had “enough time” to cross the bridge. I was so excited to see Globe News.
It looked a little worn out, from the outside. The signage had all the right words, but in faded lettering. In my hometown of Milwaukee, the best shops were the ones in buildings owned by the shopkeepers, that were a little worn out. They could afford to be worn out, because they had built a legacy of decades of customer trust. (Renaissance Books, Downtown Books, the Turning Page, these were the shops of my youth.) When you are a community institution, you spend a little less on new paint and a little more on serving the clientele.
The same was true of Globe News.
Honestly, the first few times I visited, the mysterious back room wasn’t open. So I got lost in the new magazines — other than Barnes & Noble, I hadn’t seen so many new and unusual magazines in one space. And the orders were more eclectic than B&N would ever be — I picked up Finnish newspapers, anarchist journals, and literary magazines, ordered often in onesies and twosies, the sign of someone just trying their best to see what would sell.
After Carlson’s closed, having a place that was willing to try so much, so eclectically, was important.
There were greeting cards and office supplies, too — the kind of stuff you would expect at the most conveniently located shop in the middle of a downtown area. Soda pops and newspapers, a bigger variety of papers than you could find anywhere in town, equipment for coin and stamp collectors — a little bit of everything. I feel like there were video game things, too, but I never care about video games, so I can’t really remember.
New magazines were replaced with collectible and antique magazines. Eventually, the greeting cards were replaced with the remnants of The Vinyl Cave. I remember talking with Unterberger about the closing of the Electric Fetus, asking what the center of the local music scene (for buying CDs and records) would be, absent the Electric Fetus, and he immediately reminded me that he’s long carried music by local musicians.
But the back room …
Ok, so I never cared about the sports magazines, sports cards, or other sports collectibles. I loved the CDs — the only place in the Twin Ports to find Frontline Assembly discs was at Tom’s, likely because someone sold him a collection and Tom was always willing to try. The Magic: The Gathering cards were plentiful and cheaper than anywhere in the Twin Ports. The Dungeons and Dragons books, on the floor by the door, were used, often well-loved, and affordable.
But two things set the store apart.
1) Globe carried the largest array of comics within 150 miles, a bigger array of comics than available in even many shops in the Twin Cities. He carried a few new comics (based on the ones his magazine distributor made available — so the Spiderman and Archie), but his back issues were deep. Millie the Model. The Nam. The Savage Sword of Conan. The Inferior Five. The Phantom. Everything under the sun. Today’s youth don’t get the ways that the back issue-only comic shop was, for a long time, the core of the industry. Stores like Globe, in other cities, pay collectors by the pound for massive collections, then push them out under market value. Here in Duluth, I can spend $4 on a 22-page, new comic at Collector’s Connection, or I could spend $1-5 on a 32-80 page comic from yesteryear — so much more to read, so much history to absorb. Now that so many “graphic novels” are available at Barnes & Noble, the need for these old, cheap back issues has diminished, but wow, Globe was a gem.
2) CDs, albums, books, comics at the Globe — they were “kind of” organized. Like, you still had to dig and bend over. I always imagined that this was intentional, like the tradeoff was lower prices for less organization. But man, this means that when you found a gem, you felt like your patience was rewarded.
But the biggest gem was chatting with Tom, sharing passions for old comics, sharing mutual friendships (especially with Tim Broman and Greg Culver).
I’m excited to meet the new owners. I worry, a little, that their plans to modernize the shop will lead to it losing its essential space in the Duluth-Superior scene. Other shops in the area, recently opened, are “modern,” organized, and comparatively soulless.
What I loved best about Globe, as a place to visit, was the fact that I could bring my friend Kyle Wills there, to shop the records; I could bring Zomi Bloom there to browse the books and new magazines. I could bring Roy C. Booth there to shop for comics. And there was kitsch for my out-of-town visitors, family and friends, who wanted a knickknack to take home. It was a little bit of everything. In that, it represented the genius of its owner, who was willing to try just about anything. The store represented a man whose passions were wide and diverse and, because of that, he could hold a conversation with just about anyone, find a common point of interest and connection.
Those kinds of retailers are rare and hard to find. Those kinds of people are rare and hard to find. When I stop by the shop next week, I hope to find these experiences with the new owners, but I thought taking a second to document “what was” would also be valuable.
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