Williams Haberlein Jr. was passionate about comics, concerts and cars

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Editor’s Note: Every Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes “A Life Remembered”. Each story in this continuing series takes a look back – through the eyes of family, friends, colleagues and others – on a recently deceased community member. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about William “Bill”, “Billy” or “Luke” Lewis Haberlein Jr., who died on September 28 at the age of 60. His obituary appeared in The Herald-Mail on October 1.

There are too many items in the Atomic Comics store in downtown Hagerstown to count, according to Lori Haberlein, wife of its late founder, William (“Bill”, “Billy” or “Luke,” depending on how you knew him) Haberlein.

And there are also too many memories to count of a tireless man who shared his passion for comics, concerts and cars with his family and friends.

“He was my best friend,” said his son Luke Haberlein.

“He was just a great person overall,” said Lori.

“And he was one of those people who always had that instinct,” she said. “He didn’t care if everyone thought it was a bad idea. If he thought it was a good idea, we ride with it.

What started as a comic book collecting hobby in the early 1980s has grown into a business and gathering place for fantasy fans that surpassed its space three times until it took hold. in a department store at 18 W. Franklin St. in Hagerstown.

The unpretentious display case, with its recognizable mushroom-shaped sign and blinds closed to protect merchandise from fading in the sun, is deceptive.

People frequently comment on the size of the comic book store, Lori said. “From the outside, you would think it’s just a small hole in the wall.”

The place is filled – literally – from floor to ceiling with comics, magazines, action figures, Hot Wheels cars and other novelties and collectibles displayed on shelves that Haberlein himself built.

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It all started when Haberlein walked into a store in Frederick to look for baseball cards and was intrigued by the comic book illustrations on display.

He started collecting comics that eventually invaded his home, so he set out to sell them at events such as community fairs.

“Every room in our house started to fill with comics,” Lori said.

Haberlein quickly opened his first Atomic Comics store by renting a small space in the former Nik’s Gallery, a clothing and housewares retailer, two doors down from the former McCrory’s department store on West Washington Street in downtown Hagerstown.

As the business grew, he moved it to the old Hamilton Hotel, building the street at the intersection with Jonathan Street and then to an even larger space in the same building.

Luke has fond memories of visiting the store and his merchandise in the four-story Hamilton Hotel building when he and his sister, Ashley, were kids.

“My sister and I ran this building up and down, back and forth,” he said. “One of us was going up in the elevator and one of us was going up the stairs to see who was going up the fastest to the top.”

Haberlein took care of his customers. When the power was cut in the store, he conducted his business with a flashlight.

“People asked us to do a flashlight sale,” said Lori. “They found it pretty funny.”

After a pipe ruptured in the basement, the building was eventually boarded up and the store moved to its current location on West Franklin Street with higher ceilings for taller displays and more merchandise.

“And he didn’t take into consideration that his wife would have to go up the ladder to get this stuff,” Lori said with a laugh.

Floor-to-ceiling displays dominate Lori and Luke Haberlein at Atomic Comics in downtown Hagerstown.

Eventually, the business went from selling used comics to being a distributor of new releases, with a list of subscribers who wanted the latest every week.

Customers now span generations, with the grown children of those who frequented the store in its early days to satisfy their need for periodicals and novelties.

“There are a few of his followers who come here that when they were young saw him as a father figure… or just someone they can listen to,” Lori said.

When Luke grew up he worked after school to bring the store online through eBay sales.

Luke said his father recognized the potential of online sales, but was not as computer savvy and had no time to develop it.

In addition to running the store during the day, he worked 37 years full-time overnight at Neutron Products Inc. in Dickerson, MD.

“He slept about three hours a day if he was lucky,” Luke said.

“He’s exactly the kind of person he was, all the time,” Lori said. “He couldn’t stand still if he wanted to.

One eBay sale in particular a few years ago linked father and son to their shared passion for classical rock.

Luke sold a Johnny Lightning White Lightning diecast vintage car to an online buyer he suspected was ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons. As it turned out, they did, and since they already had tickets for an upcoming ZZ Top show in Baltimore, they met Gibbons backstage and delivered the car in person.

“They gave us tickets for the next night and we went back downstairs and saw them again,” Luke said.

The father and son can be seen front row at a Ted Nugent concert in video footage the outdoor enthusiast uses in his Spirit of the Wild TV show on the Outdoor channel.

Big classic rock fan William Haberlein Jr., right, poses for a photo with Foghat drummer Roger Earl at the last concert he attended.  Clasped in his hand are souvenir drumsticks.

Lori said Haberlein’s other favorite group was Foghat. He had his picture taken with members of the band at the last concert he attended.

Some of the big names they’ve seen in concert include The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Tommy James, and Bad Company.

Lori’s house is full of memories.

“Every gig they went to, they had to stay to get the playlist, the drumsticks, the guitar picks,” she said.

Luke was named after the nickname Haberlein’s uncle gave him as a child.

The engine maker of Harshman Automotive in Smithsburg also shares his father’s passion for cool cars.

The family stable includes three classic Chevrolets: a 1970 Camaro, a 1971 Camaro and a 1973 Nova.

Luke has built a small-block, 700-horsepower Chevy engine that will be incorporated into the Nova.

Father and son shared many great times cruising the Hagerstown Dual Highway and attending auto shows to hang out with other enthusiasts.

“I could go on all day,” Luke said.

William Haberlein Jr. continued to work at his Atomic Comics store in downtown Hagerstown even after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

After being diagnosed with lung cancer, Haberlein had to give up his night shift due to his physical demands.

“But he’s still been here (to the store) all the time,” Luke said, “Just because.”

“That’s probably what kept him going,” Lori said.


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