LEWISTON – Joe Rubino’s first clue Wednesday morning that something at Zimmie’s Comics was amiss was the frantic phone call from a concerned customer minutes before Rubino was scheduled to open the door.

“They asked me about the e-mail saying the store was closing, but I don’t have e-mail at home,” said Rubino, the store’s sales clerk since November.

The second clue was the missing photograph of Batman and Robin on the Batcycle, signed by Burt Ward and Adam West, that had hung over the cash register until Wednesday morning.

“Zimmie’s has been here since 1990,” Rubino said. “I don’t know what we’ll do about it.”

Owner Joe Loubier sent an e-mail to his regular customers Tuesday night saying the store wouldn’t be receiving this week’s supply of comics.

“I’m sorry for the short notice, but up until now I thought we’d be able to stay open,” Loubier wrote. “Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control … etc. etc. etc. … Thank you all for the support you’ve shown me over the years.”

Loubier said he’d removed the Batman photograph, signed by the stars of the television series at a 1992 convention at the Ramada Inn, because he didn’t want it to get mixed up with the store’s inventory.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Loubier said. “I could come in tomorrow morning and find the locks changed and the doors locked by the bank. The bank could decide to liquidate the store itself, or they could decide they want me to do it. If that’s the case, we’ll have a great-big sale. But I don’t know yet.”

Loubier said Zimmie’s has been a success and has made enough money to provide a living and pay the loans he owes from renovating the Main Street storefront in 1999. But it wasn’t enough to pay the bills after Cafe Bon Bon, the Main Street coffee shop he and his wife owned, failed last winter. He realized last week that he’d have to close Zimmie’s.

“I took the weekend, because I didn’t want to tell my wife on Mother’s Day,” he said. He’s still notifying friends and family.

The store has been an icon for Central Maine’s comic book collectors and fans for nearly two decades and has offered a home for role-playing gamers since 1999.

“We have a ‘Magic: The Gathering’ tournament scheduled for Friday night and Pokemon leagues Saturday morning,” Loubier said. “So, I hope we’ll still be open for that.”

Rubino, known to the store’s clientele as “The Other Joe,” has been a regular customer since his freshman year in high school. He’s worked behind the counter since November.

“I really don’t know how to react, because it’s been a part of my life for so long,” he said. “It’s always been good to me, helping me out when I needed it.”

Rubino said the store has a regular list of more than 900 customers with standing orders for specific comics.

“Some just want copies of specific titles, and we put them aside when we get them,” he said. “Then there’s another guy whose pull-list just says ‘Everything Marvel.'”

The news came as a shock to Armando Sherwood, another long-time customer. He stops in regularly to buy comics, but he spends more time talking.

“I finally realized, I can’t keep up with all of them,” said Sherwood, 27, of Howe Street. “I need people like this that I can talk to. They can keep me up on what’s going on.”

Loubier was hopeful the store would survive in some form or another. He’d be willing to sell everything – the name, the inventory, the building – if he found a willing buyer. If not, he’d be happy to help someone else open a comic book store somewhere else in the area.

“Maybe if I close this door, another one will open someplace else,” he said. “We just need to see what happens next.”

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