By Julie MacDonald (baltimore City Paper, 1992)
The shelves of Atomic Books, located in Mount Vernon, are dotted with handwritten signs such as “Some dude bought all my Bukowski books—they should be back in stock by the end of the week,” and “While men are off drawing X-Men and that shit, women arc putting out the best comix around, like Slutburger.” A copy of Concrete Introspection, by nutty actor Crispin Glover, sports a homemade bookmark that exalts, “He's strong. He can kick.”
The atmosphere at Baltimore's newest book-and-comics store is perfectly suited to the merchandise. Scott Huffines, the owner of the shop and a self-described “real bad mail-order junkie,” says, “I'm really heavy into the alternative comic-book scene and the weird books.”
His store is full of them. The extensive comic-book selection offered here includes Eightball, Hate, Sandman, and the afore-mentioned Slutburger, but Huffines feels that “there are too many good comic stores in Baltimore to compete with.” Fells Point's Reptilian is one of his favorites.
To forge a niche for himself, Huffines has added quite a few books about UFOs, freaks, and serial killers. “I don't even read fiction anymore.” he says. “Real people do enough weird stuff.”
The store also carries alternative adult magazines such as Future Sex. “I wasn't aiming to be an adult bookstore,” Huffines explains, after making the observation that many people head straight for the nude covers when they first come into his shop.
The beginnings of Atomic Books might be found in Huffines' childhood. “When I got my first library card, I found out the library had freak books and true-crime stories,” he remembers.
“This really has been my dream,” he says of his bookstore. “But I was too lazy, too afraid to do it.” With some prodding from his then-girlfriend, Huffines made his decision to go ahead and start the business this past June, but still needed some time to mull it over.
By the middle of September, he had left his food-service job at an area hospital and was ready to start putting things together. “I really had a good job at the hospital,” he says. “But I didn't want to be doing food service when I was fifty.”
Huffines was able to get started with no planning, lots of friends, a little bit of money, and a couple credit cards. “It's been a real half-assed trip,” he says, “but things have sort of fallen into place.”
Early this past November, Atomic Books opened its doors on West Read Street, an area that Huffines describes as “once the Haight-Ashbury of Baltimore.” He says, “When I went looking for a spot, I thought, ‘It's got to be here.'”
The early reviews of the store are mixed but certainly not indifferent. “There's been a lot of people coming in here and then running right back out,” he says. Others have gone out of their way to express gratitude. “I wasn't expecting people to thank me,” he says.
Huffines says that so far business has been “real iffy.” Still, he's happy to have taken the plunge. “I don't care,” he says. “If go bankrupt, at least I did it. laugh all the way to the poorhouse.”