When I moved here there were two comic stories, Comic Relief and Comics & Comix. I have no idea how long C&C had been in Berkeley, but I now know that Comic Relief had opened in 1987, not too long before I started going there. Nonetheless, to me it's a permanent fixture, dating back to the founding of Berkeley itself.
Actually, I only went to Comic Relief infrequently during my first two years in Berkeley, because I lived in (or by) the dorms at that time, and C&C was closer. But as soon as I moved down to University Avenue in 1991, Comic Relief became my regular comic store. Even when I moved back up the hill in 1994 and even when I moved to North Berkeley in 1999, I always went out of my way to visit Comic Relief because it is, quite simply, one of the best comic stores in the world.
That was entirely because of the vision of Rory Root, gentleman proprietor, who envisioned the store not just as a comic-book store, but as a comic bookstore. He saw the trends toward trade paperbacks before they were obvious in the industry. I remember him telling me how he'd told Jeff Smith (of Bone fame) that he needed to break his trades by storyline, not by issue count, as Smith originally did. Ah, how immature the trade paperback industry was at the time, yet Rory saw what it should (and has) become.
Rory's Comic Relief is one of the few retail stores that I've ever respected and appreciated. It was run well with a lot of attention paid to its stock and its customers alike. Rory also did a lot of work encouraging aspiring artists, and though I saw less of that, I know what he did was important to many people. He was also a very friendly, generous, and loving guy. When I was briefly hosting weekly Poker games at my place in 2001, when life was tough, he was one of the guys that occasionally attended. I was always sorry that he didn't continue on when I changed my Poker games over to Eurogames, but his schedule interfered. He was always busy, always working to improve not just his business, but the comic book industry in general.
Rory passed away today due to complications from a surgery. He'd been in ill health for a while. The last time I saw him was at Wondercon a few months ago now. I can't even remember the last time I saw him at his store.
I was amazed to see that mention of his passing was plastered across every comic book bulletin board around. He was clearly a giant in the industry, the one retailer who everyone knew.
Your store and your friendship has made my life better, Rory; thanks.