MORE Tales of the Smoke Shop

The Worlds Greatest Comic Magazine Store!
Romito’s Smoke Shop

Exclusive Interview with Frank Romito

Often overlooked in the nostalgic mist of the past was the place we purchased those 10 and 12-cent gems.
But, when I look back, the anticipation, the excitement, the experience of climbing the one step, going through the door and turning right was as much a part of the Silver Age for me as was the comics themselves. When you turned right you were face to face with the twelve-foot “Wall of Comics!”
No one displayed more comics, no one merchandised better, and no one, but no one in Northeast Ohio sold more Comic Books then Romito’s Smoke Shop.

Here is a look back in time, before there were comic/card shops, before there was cable TV, and long before the Internet. This was a period of time in the early 60’s when to a 12-year-old comics were king and the place that supplied them was your lifeline.

Frank Romito graciously provided the brief history, interview and pictures.

Since 1919….Romito’s Smoke Shop

Costantino Romito, an Italian immigrant, opened a small store in Bedford, Ohio in the year 1919.
The store was Romito’s Smoke Shop and although it has gone through a variety of changes, it remains a landmark on the corner of Broadway and Woodrow.
Originally, Romito’s specialized in Tobacco products, and offered sandwiches and a soda counter. As time went on magazines were added along with comic books in the 1930s.
Franklin Romito, one of the 19 children of Constantine, purchased the store from his father in 1962, at the ripe old age of 27. In 1968 he purchased the land next door and built a new shop, one that has more space and an updated look.

This interview was conducted Friday Sept.10 6:00am 1999.

Q Did Romito’s Smoke Shop always sell comic books.?

FR. Ever since I can remember, my dad sold comic books. He was one of the pioneers in selling comics and magazines in this area. He came up with the original “Wall of comics” an alternative to the spinner
and the smaller wire display racks. The “wall” back then was 4-6 ft and displayed approx. 80 titles.

Q. When did you become aware of comic books as a kid?

FR I always enjoyed comic books. I was responsible for merchandising and displaying them when I younger and worked at the store.

Q. Can you recall about when that was?

FR. Somewhere in the mid forties.

Q. What was your favorite comic book hero growing up?

FR. Superman was always my favorite; Batman was a close second.

Q. When did the “Wall of Comics” expand to 12 ft.?

FR. It was a gradual evolution. As the sales grew, so did the space we gave them.

Q. During the 1960’s or silver age of comics, do you recall how many comics you had on display.

FR. The “ Wall” as you refer held aprox. 160 comic titles, full cover exposure. Don’t forget we also had 2 spinners, one on each side. The one on the right had the “Classic Illustrated” and the one on the left had the new comic titles that I didn’t have room for on the regular rack. The total selling area in the old
store was less than 500 square feet, so the Comic Books had quite an impact!

Q. Who supplied your comics?

FR. Kline News.

Q. I remember Tuesday and Thursday as the “new comic book” days. Has it always been?

FR. That’s right Tuesday and Thursday they dropped off the new comics. That’s changed over the years and now I only get them once a week.

Q. Back in the early 60’s how did the process work?

FR. I’m not sure what you mean?

Q. Did you do the ordering? Did you fill the rack yourself? Did you tear off the covers for returns?

FR. I never did the ordering. Kline would drop off the comic books based on what I had pulled off the racks and sent back. I then would go over to the “Wall” and match titles. In other words,
if the new Action comic book had come in, I would pull the old one out, (if still around) and place the new one in the same spot. I tried to keep all the Supermans together, Batmans together in a vertical section.
That way it was easier for me to keep track and also when someone came in looking for the new issue
they knew where to look. Back then there were so many more types of comics. Westerns, Romance was big, the Disney characters sold real well too. I tried to give them their own section, to make it easier to
shop.

Q. At the peak, how many comic books would you sell in a week?

FR. It would depend on what came out that week. If Superman just came out, and I had to keep extra Supermans in the back room, because I could only put around 20-30 in a sleeve, we would sell anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 comic books in a week. Now I’m lucky to sell 50-100 a week. Closer to 50 then 100.

Q. Do you recall your profit margin back then?

FR. I used to make 3 cents on the 12 cent books.

At this point we are interrupted by a customer buying a newspaper. Frank points to me and tells the customer how he used to throw me out of his store back when I was a kid. (This is true, but a story
for another day)

Q. Comic books must have been a big part of your business?

FR. They probably represented about 10% of our total business back then.

Q. When did the decline start?

FR. In the last ten years sales have declined. It started sliding when they went over a dollar.

Q. What’s your biggest frustration with the comic industry right now?

FR. They keep bringing out new heroes that nobody cares about. They keep raising the retail price
and they keep changing the “old super heroes.”

Q. One last question. Do you see much of a future for comic books?

FR. No, it will never be like it was 35 – 50 years ago.

End of Interview

Conclusion

Yeah, I know, you’re thinking, the best place to buy comics was the place we all went to when we were 12 years old.. But, come on… of all the sellers of comic books during the sliver age, Romito’s Smoke Shop stands out.
No one place sold more comics, with more flare and care then Frank Romito did. 160 colorful books with full covers showing! No question the best in Northeast Ohio, and maybe, just maybe the best anywhere.