Wixom comic shop aims to capitalize on community in new future as auction house

Scott Lovejoy once learned a lesson as a customer at a memorabilia shop. While he was there, an employee, who was a big fan of James Bond, took a dismissive tone with someone who gushed over the Wizard of Oz.

“It struck me as an odd thing to do in a collectible shop,” says Lovejoy. “To be derisive about what someone geeks out about.”

Lovejoy does not see much difference between excitement for The Wizard of Oz and comics, Star Trek, or old records. Fandom is fandom.

That’s the sensibility he’s hoping to bring to his new endeavor in Wixom. Since 1990, the comic book store Back to the Past has had six different homes in Livonia and Redford.

Lovejoy has picked up stakes, moved the shop to Wixom at 50420 Dennis Court, and transformed it from a comic book shop to an auction house for collectibles. While the shop’s business model may be changing, Lovejoy says the focus remains the same: community.

Back to the Past. Photo by David Lewinski

In the past, that has meant everything from knowing what books a repeat customer would want, to holding a mock debate between the “Avengers” and “X-Men.” This time and effort meant a lot to customers and kept them coming back.

“I have all the friends I met at the shop,” said regular customer Sean Pigeon.

Pigeon came to Back to the Past about 10 years ago after previously shopping at another comic store. He was taken with Back to the Past’s atmosphere almost instantly, especially since at the time he was going through some challenges in his personal life.

“(The shop) allowed a type of escape I needed in my life,” said Pigeon. “I found a place where I was accepted.”

Over the years, he remained one of the store’s biggest cheerleaders because of its emphasis on creating a community feel.

Anyone who has been close to a hobby shop with a small, specialty clientele knows the value of customer relations. With a niche base, there is less room for error. The personal touch can make or break a sale and a store. And sales in most stores have taken a hit in the last decade.

For much of Back to the Past’s existence it was a traditional comic book store, but over the last 10 years auctions became more profitable. Before long, as comic readers left, it became the main source of income.

When the store moved to its last Livonia location on Plymouth Road, founder, and owner Andy Cirinesi’s intention was to burn off the stock and be done. This is when Lovejoy, who was then an employee, saw an opportunity. He bought the store from Cirinesi in July 2018.

Back to the Past. Photo by David Lewinski

Even as new comic inventory shrank and back issues went to auction, Lovejoy wanted to keep the old community spirit alive with new comics.

Then COVID hit.

The auctions still made money online through the website Proxibid, but the in-store situation was pick-up only. When distribution challenges across the country made things even more difficult, Lovejoy decided it was time to pull the trigger and turn the store into an auction house.

During the transition years, the owners had tried to bring that personal touch to the auctions. And that was all about knowing customers. Lovejoy often thinks about regulars when he goes through collections for auction.

Some customers have been uninterested in the online-only auctions; for them, the in-person fun at the store was more important than what they won. Lovejoy mentions one big-spending customer who still comes around to chat since the auctions went solely virtual, but doesn’t engage online. Lovejoy expects him to bid again when live auctions return post-COVID.

Lovejoy hopes to continue that sense of community in the shop’s future as an auction house. For a long time, it had a “local watering hole” vibe, with almost a clubhouse feel, where people talked not only about collectibles but about almost anything that came to mind.

Employees knew customers’ favorite movies and customers knew what band the employees would travel across the state to see. That attitude initially turned Lovejoy from patron to employee. Now, as an owner, he wants to make that a priority.

Back to the Past. Photo by David Lewinski

Lovejoy plans to expand and move past the usual comic-related merchandise. As the store became a sort of pop culture nexus, with a wide variety of lots from across the spectrum, Lovejoy aims to grow the shop’s expertise. And he is looking for people who can make customers with other interests feel at home.

And even that is not quite where the community planning ends. While still in the early planning stages, Lovejoy also sees a chance to bring in local crafters and other creative types into the mix.

“When you understand what excites people,” said Lovejoy, “It brings excitement to you.”

A customer for more than 20 years, Jim Bradley, is still there every week and has watched the transformation progress all summer.

“When you get in there, it’s something,” said Bradley. “I think it’s going to be a really nice place.”

What the future holds is still to be seen, but there is a clear North Star.

As Lovejoy puts it, “I don’t want it to be a company where the only point is the turn of a dollar.”