Greg Eide died on May 20, 2021 at the age of 69. He died of complications from COVID-19. Even though he had just had a second vaccination shot, he became symptomatic and spent the last two weeks of his life in hospital, according to a post on Facebook.
I’m sure a lot of people reading this don’t know who Greg Eide is (or, unfortunately, was), but he’s an important person in my life and I felt compelled to write about him after hearing this devastating news. Greg was one of the first people to open a comics shop in the United States and holds the distinction of being the oldest US comics shop still in business under its original owner. Through economic downturns, industry problems, and the COVID-19 pandemic, Greg managed to keep his store open, his employees paid, and brought a significant amount of joy into people’s lives, even if he, himself, was not exactly the most joyful person. The store is in the midst of its 49th anniversary as I write this post.
Eide’s started simply as Pittsburgh’s first comics shop, in Etna, a suburb of the ‘Burgh, in 1972. It was a one-room building, no bigger than my living room. In 1976, Greg moved his store to Pittsburgh’s North Side, at 11 Federal St., right smack dab where the Pirates stadium (PNC Park) stands right now, at the northern foot of the Sixth Street Bridge. By this point in time, the store was called Eide’s Comix, Sci-Fi, and Music. Growing into two storefronts at that location, Greg added music (at the time, mainly vinyl records), and sci-fi, fantasy, and horror paperbacks. I remember a time in this store when none of the comics were bagged and boarded behind the counter; they were all very neatly stacked in tight shelving, with their prices marked faintly in pencil on the back. In 1986, when the Federal Street block was to be razed to become a nursing home (if memory serves me right), Greg moved his store to downtown Pittsburgh at 940 Penn Avenue, which was closely followed by a move to 1111 Penn in 1990. Finally, in 2002, Greg purchased a building at 1121 Penn Avenue, which became the permanent home of what was now called Eide’s Entertainment, a four-story pop culture castle featuring comics, books, magazines, records, whatever the video du jour format was (VHS, laser disc, DVD), and much more. There was even an Eide’s cat, Cosmo (he wasn’t for sale).
I first met Greg in 1974 when I moved to Pittsburgh to attend a two-year program at the Art Institute (click here to read all about that). On, I believe, my second weekend in town, I hopped a bus to Etna and my first-ever meeting of the Pittsburgh Comix Club. Founded by Ben Pondexter, Greg became an important member of the club. Even though he gave all credit to Ben for the club’s founding and subsequent success, the simple fact of the matter is it wouldn’t have existed without Greg. He gave the club a place to meet each month, free of charge, and yes, of course, he profited off the club by doing so. But we were all so happy to be there, amongst the things we loved, that we readily used the monthly meetings as an excuse to buy comics from Greg.
Greg’s first shop in Etna was so tiny that the fire marshal stopped by one summer Saturday night and kicked us all out for overcrowding. So we held the meeting on the sidewalk, with frequent trips in and out of the store. Greg was on the path to become a lawyer, attending Duquesne University, but he realized that owning a comics store was what he really wanted to do. He had an incredible knowledge of comics and comic artists (and music, too) and he knew how to grade comics. He passed that knowledge down to his employees and I still have memories of watching his store manager at the time, Rick Ulacky (more on him in a minute), pouring over some comic that was recently purchased for resale, consulting the Overstreet Price Guide and marking the back cover lightly in pencil with the price.
I eventually started working for Greg in his Federal Street store, around late 1979/early 1980 (that business card graphic at the top of this post was designed and illustrated by me). I had moved back to Pittsburgh to try and jump-start my graphic design career and needed some kind of job to make ends meet. He hired me full-time and eventually entrusted me enough to handle ordering new paperbacks and pricing the used paperbacks that came into the store. I quickly got into a routine of arriving late every morning, about 15 minutes to a half-hour after opening, because I knew Greg wouldn’t be there. One morning he was. “Are you always this late?” he asked me. “Pretty much,” I replied. “Well, stop doing that and get here on time,” and that was the end of it … except a couple of days later he made me wash his van. I did such a lousy job of it, he never had me do it again. (I was lousy at washing the shop windows, too.)
Greg had a bark much worse than his bite, but he could be … scary at times. He had a gruff voice and a serious demeanor and he seemed humorless, but he really wasn’t. He had a great sense of humor and was an extremely intelligent person. When I finally did get a good job as a graphic designer at a local television station, KDKA, he understood and was great about me leaving; he saw it as the career opportunity it was for me. I tried to work both jobs at first, staying at the shop on the weekends. One Saturday he saw me staring blankly out the window and asked, “You really don’t want to be here, do you?” I admitted he was right and he told me to go. There was no judgment, no hard feelings. I faithfully shopped at his store from 1980 through 1998, when I moved to San Diego. And when I moved, Greg bought all my stuff, including all the VHS tapes I owned (close to 300) with cut-apart boxes. The amount of money he gave me financed my move across country.
“My store is not a democracy among employees or a democracy among customers. It is a benevolent dictatorship. I am Captain Kirk and this is my ship, and I will do what I damn well please as long as the law allows me to.”-Greg Eide
When some people protested his decision to sell records by a white supremacist group in the 1990s, Greg viewed it as a First Amendment issue … but he really was a benevolent dictator.
I learned a lot about comics and comic artists from Greg. He and Rick (his store manager for many years from the 1980s through the 1990s), were founts of information about comics, movies … pop culture in general. I think I gained a greater appreciation for comics from both working for Greg and shopping at his store, since he carried a large selection of comics and comics-oriented publications. In American comic store history, there are a number of great retailers who had a kind of “one-of-everything” philosophy when it came to stocking their shops, guys like Bill Liebowitz (Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles), Jim Hanley of New York City, and Rory Root (Comic Relief in Berkeley, CA). While Greg didn’t exactly adhere to that philosophy, he did stock a very complete line of products, including an extensive back issue selection of comics. And while I don’t believe in the whole CGC model of “slabbing” comic books (essentially sealing them in plastic to make them commodities instead of books created to be read), Eide’s has embraced that to its advantage among collectors, something that helped them weather the pandemic.
More importantly, Greg instilled in me a weekly tradition of going to the comics shop, something I still do to this day. Pretty much every Wednesday, I drive over the big blue bridge from Coronado to downtown San Diego and visit my local comics shop. I don’t buy as much as I used to back in my Pittsburgh days at Eide’s, but it’s still one of the things I look forward to each week. And I’m sure to visit comics shops when I travel, too.
Eide’s managed to stay open during most of the pandemic, even when Diamond Distributors stopped delivering comics from late March into June 2020, causing a huge problem for the industry and one that continues to shake out as comics publishers seek new ways to get their comics into the hands of fans (DC started their own distributor; Marvel recently announced it would be going with book distributor Penguin starting in October 2021). Greg had added a small convenience store type of set-up to his shop, selling soft drinks, snacks, etc., which allowed him to stay open under Pennsylvania’s lockdown rules. He also got some of the federal loan money to keep his employees working. Greg was always a good businessperson, something not very common to comic shop owners. Buying his building in 2002 not only gave him a rent-free store, but he also lived on the top floor.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to Eide’s Entertainment. I don’t think Greg had any family left. I’m hoping there’s some way the employees can take it over, and maybe even that there is some kind of plan of succession, but Greg died pretty quickly. This was the second death for Eide’s this year; earlier in 2021, Rick Ulacky died. Rick was a lot like Greg: quiet, intense, intelligent, funny, and passionate about comics and movies. Both were into fitness and healthy living. I don’t think either of them smoked or drank. Rick was my roommate for a while when I worked at Eide’s (he helped me make sure I got in on time, since we drove in together each morning; previously I was taking the trolley in from Mt. Lebanon, which was a bit of a commute).
Rick died of cancer, and even though that’s hard to take, it somehow seems like more of a known quantity. Greg died from COVID and that’s somehow more “unacceptable.” He had his vaccinations, but evidently he already had the disease. So all you people reading this who think that that one shot you got is enough, or that you don’t need to get any shot, think again.
Recently I joined a Facebook group devoted to the Pittsburgh Comix Club, created by some of the old members. It brought back a lot of memories about those years and my time at art school and my subsequent 20 years living and working in Pittsburgh. Eide’s was an important part of my time there, my escape valve every week, where I could plunge into my favorite comics, discover something new and be entertained and astonished. When I started my own comic book series, Innocent Bystander, in the 1990s, Greg and his shop supported my somewhat hare-brained idea of self-publishing.
After I moved to San Diego in 1998, I visited Pittsburgh a few more times, in 2000, 2003, and 2007, if I remember correctly. The last time I saw Greg was on that last trip, where he took me upstairs to show me his apartment in the building he bought. He was extremely proud of it and I remember thinking at that time that he was the most comfortable I’d ever seen him. I can’t begin to tell you how devastated I was to hear of his death. He had joined the Pittsburgh Comix Club Facebook group and had posted a few times before he took ill. I can’t imagine a Pittsburgh without Eide’s and I can’t imagine Eide’s without Greg. I wish everyone there the very best, including long-time employees Jim and Ken, who have been a part of that store for over 40 years. And I thank Greg for being an important person in my life, one who helped me become who I am today. I don’t think I would have been able to work for San Diego Comic-Con for two decades without the influence and mentorship of Greg and other members of the Pittsburgh Comix Club.