Mitch Cooper is a software engineer with a degree in philosophy who has been a jazz drummer, retail worker and Columbia Borough Council member.
As the 62-year-old eyes retirement, he has decided to turn a lifetime hobby into a retail business that he hopes can usher him into his golden years. Along with his wife, Jeanne, he opened Cooper’s Comics & Collectibles last month in Columbia.
It’s a small retail shop where he is selling his collection of comic books, which date to the 1960s. It has around 15,000 comic books and features DC and Marvel superhero comics, which Cooper started reading when he was in grade school.
“It was a combination of needing to downsize and realizing that we’ve got to do something for retirement,” he says of his motivation.
The shop at 477 Locust St. is also a bet that such a retail store can be successful in the borough, which is trying to bolster its downtown.
“Having been on council, I know how hard it is to make decisions that spur things forward because (council) can’t support a business — that’s my job as a business owner,” he said.
Cooper, who continues to work as a software engineer, said he decided to open the shop after having some success with a comic book stand at Columbia Historic Market House.
Coincidentally, the roughly 500-square-foot store once housed Cooper Flooring, owned by Cooper’s father, Monte.
What’s it like to have a store in Columbia?
There’s nothing like this in town. And frankly ... people who have disposable income are teenagers. And there’s nothing for them to do here. There’s no place to just go and kind of hang out, pick up a couple things for a couple bucks, and go home. No disrespect intended, but it’s all antique shops and restaurants.
I think there’s a “shop local” resurgence, so that sort of idea happens here too.
Was it hard to start parting with your comics?
The first time I sold a book down at Market House, I was really concerned that I would have to take it out of the bag, read it one more time and give it back. (But) I handed it over, they paid for it, and the look on their face as they walked away made me think, “Yeah, somebody else is going to get to enjoy this.”
What was initially appealing to you about comic books?
I was a big fan of Spiderman. That idea that anybody could become a superhero — based on his accident — and still has a life and his life is actually more complicated than it was before. His powers didn’t give him a golden life. It messed him up, sort of.
Frankly, I always liked the artwork. I could read a book and not pay much attention to the words. I liked that visceral sort of artwork. It just knocked me out.
My sister and I had a fight one time. I don’t believe my father lost his temper three times in the whole time I knew him, but that day was one of the days. He said, “I’m sick of the two of you fighting over these books. Take them out and burn them.”
I was crushed, but I read every one of them and put them in (a fire) and burned them. And I think I had the first 20-some issues of “Amazing Spiderman,” and now they are worth a fortune. And I burned them up.
How much exactly would they have been worth?
I happened to look it up the other day. Issue 1 is $62,000. I didn’t have it in that condition for 62 grand; it was probably a four or five thousand.
As soon as I had an opportunity to start buying them again, and keeping them from my father’s view, I did.
How have all the new superhero movies affected the original comic books?
The films have legitimized the art form, even more than what happened through the ’60s.
The value of books — like (after) the first appearance of “Deadpool” (comic book character in a movie) — went berserk. Before that, you could have had that book for $10.
So, your dad used to have a flooring business in the building where you have the comic book store?
I think this was meant to be. I really do. We found out after we signed the papers. I called my elder sister and told her, “We’re going to do this store at the corner of Fifth and Locust.” And she said, “That’s wonderful. You know that was Dad’s first store.” We had no idea.
What was your heyday as a musician?
It would have been the late 1970s, and probably close to 1990. I played with a fair number of Boston bands, and at the time — I hate talking about this because it sounds like I’m so conceited — I was considered the go-to drummer in Boston. Bands that came through town, they’d call me.
I played for Jose Feliciano, The Four Tops, Al Martino, Foster Brooks, Mike Stern. Unfortunately you can’t make a living doing that anymore.
When did you become a software engineer?
1983. I was working in retail, a men’s high-fashion clothing store in Boston, and I thought, “I hear musicians make good programmers.”
So I took a six-month course at the Computer Processing Institute in Boston and learned COBOL and a couple other languages, and there was no looking back. I got in at the right time.