Location: 4427 Devine St.
Owner: Ray Hunter
Deals: $1 comics, buy 3 get 1 free back stock, free bag and board or 10 percent discount
The Comic Shop Spotlight emerged from the idea that each and every comic shop is inherently special and unique. The previous three stores that have been spotlighted — Silver City, Scratch N’ Spin and Apocalypse — all cater to a slightly different crowd. Likewise, Cosmic Rays carves out its own place in the market with a focus on customer service. The takeaway from my time at the store is that the staff at Cosmic Rays wants the shop to be fun. In fact, the owner, Ray Hunter, says that if you don’t have fun at the store, they did something wrong.
“If you come in here and you don’t laugh by the time you leave, we haven’t done our job. That’s the way I look at it,” Hunter said with a chuckle.
I had a quite a few laughs during my conversation with Hunter and the comics manager, Greg Lombardi. Hunter runs the business side of the shop, while it’s Lombardi who knows the ins and outs of comic continuity. Together they make a dream team. When I asked why people should come to their shop, they didn’t initially list a bunch of deals or low prices, but instead told me that they want to build a relationship with their customers. It’s about friendship at Cosmic Rays. I know they are sincere just from the humorous and witty interview in which both Hunter and Lombardi convey their love of getting to know the new faces that walk through the door. In fact, Hunter told me a short anecdote about a glum student who walked into the store one day looking for a particular comic, and when Hunter gave it to him, both of their days were made.
“This kid literally — I still get goosebumps — floated out the front door, he didn’t walk... It made my day. When I think about my best sale, he’s still it. There’s nobody that even comes close because of how important it was to him. And that’s where I say ‘that’s my job.’ My job is getting you that book — that’s where I get the satisfaction, from that reaction,” Hunter said.
With so many comic shops in Columbia, each one must be distinct from the others out of necessity. However, I noticed that the shop itself is very reminiscent to Scratch N’ Spin, and for good reason. During our interview, Hunter mentioned that Eric Woodard from Scratch N’ Spin played a part in the setting up of Cosmic Rays back in 2013 when it opened. Cosmic Rays carries a gamut of media just like Scratch N’ Spin including comics, video games, movies, and vinyl records. While the music section is much smaller than their counterpart, Cosmic Rays makes up for this with their large back stock of comics. Whereas Scratch N’ Spin started as a DJ specialty store, Cosmic Rays was out to be a comic shop from the very beginning. In fact, they claim to have the largest collection of independent comics in Columbia.
Unfortunately, as much as Hunter and Lombardi seemed to love what they do, they have run into a few problems as part of the direct market. As Apocalypse Comics said last time, the student population plays a large part for Cosmic Rays. When school lets out for the winter and summer, things can get a little hard for these stores.
“Once school lets out this place is gonna take a hit,” Lombardi said before Hunter interjected. “It does slow down, there’s no question about it… This is a college town. Make no mistake about it,” Hunter said.
While Cosmic Rays is undoubtedly a comic shop, it’s also a place to hang out and meet new friends. While I was there Hunter read a comic that one of his customers had made and self-published. Ray Hunter and Greg Lombardi aren’t just there to sell you comics, they are there to hang out and ask you how life is going, and that is what makes Cosmic Rays stand out.
The Comic Shop Spotlight series will be wrapping up soon, so make sure to look for the next one in the coming weeks. Check out Cosmic Rays’ Facebook page here.