My readers have heard me speak reverently several times in the past about the Rock Bottom Bookshop, which I frequented in my childhood. We comic book fans of a certain era, pre-comic shops, and WAY before Previews, you could never be sure that you would get the books that you wanted. That is why I loved going to the Rock Bottom! The Rock Bottom, an institution in our town nowadays, was founded and managed by Ms. Wilda (NOT Wilma) Hardin.
She was a nice older lady, who smoked constantly, while sitting behind a HUGE vintage cash register. That thing had more buttons than 10 keyboards! The Rock Bottom was only one of a series of shops in a row on both sides of the street. It was an old structure and the epitome of the "hole in the wall" bookshop (and I mean that in the BEST of ways! Wilda's shop was the place to be to get comic books back in the glory days of the mid-late 1970's and 1980's! Her customers ranged from elementary school kids like me, to older adults).
It was an old building in a row of old buildings even then (the street used to be the main drag way back when. All manner of people hung out around there. It could still be a little dangerous even in the 1970's when I was shopping there). When you opened the door to enter, or ESPECIALLY to exit with your new purchases, you had to step quickly! Wilda had an old air conditioning unit just above the outside side of the front door. The old unit dripped constantly and if you were not careful, a drop of ice cold water would drop down your neck (or even worse, onto your new books)! During the winter, Wilda kept the place warm with an old gas stove that made the place feel like a sauna! You could feel the heat as soon as you opened the door. You could smell the intoxicating smell of vintage newsprint as soon as you stepped inside the building.
I was just an elementary school kid when I first started going to the Rock Bottom. Since I (and other little kids) could not even reach the top shelf, with that row of long boxes full of Bronze, Silver, and even some Golden Age comic books in alphabetical order I had to stand on an old milk crate (provided by Wilda) in order to check all of the boxes (and I would! I had allowance money burning a hole in my pocket!!). It was get on the crate, look at two or three boxes, scoot it along, get on the crate, repeat, repeat, repeat. In those halcyon days of the mid-to-late 1970's, the boxes were FILLED with Silver Age Comics in mint condition. They were only a few years old at that point, and were not commanding all of the higher prices that they do now. I bought Silver Age Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Detective Comics, Batman, Flash and others! I mostly bought new comics in those days, however.
I went at least once per week, usually on Friday nights and picked up my new comics. I did not discriminate between DC and/or Marvel like many fans did in those days (maybe today as well), I loved and collected the lot from both companies. There was one week of the month, where ALL of my absolute FAVORITE books came out. There was NOTHING like going to the Rock Bottom Bookshop on a nice spring Friday afternoon (with Saturday Morning Cartoons to look forward to that next morning as well) and getting the newest issues of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and The Justice League Of America! Four Color Heaven!!
Every year at Christmas time in the mid-1980's, I would ask my parents for only ONE gift -- a $100 shopping spree at the Rock Bottom! I got a huge stack of books each year! While Wilda could get cranky at times, she was not one to take advantage of her customers.
Remember the absolute FUROR over Superman Vol. 2 #75, otherwise known as the "Superman Death issue?!?!" Wilda sold out of her copies within hours, as did everyone else! But, when a new order of first printings arrived at her store, Wilda immediately put them up for sale -- for the cover price of 75 cents! Wilda refused to charge the wild prices that other shops were selling the issue for. That is why I happily bought my copy (and one each for my friends Gordon and Virginia for their kids) at the Rock Bottom Comic Shop!
Wilda is long gone now, but she is still honored by Alan, the current owner of the Rock Bottom and all of us who were around back in the days and remember Wilda with fondness! Raise your glass to the Rock Bottom Book Shop and to Ms. Wilda (NOT Wilma!) Hardin!