Conducted prior to the spread of the new coronavirus in the U.S., PW’s annual comics retailer survey was published just as the virus began to disrupt the U.S. comics and book marketplace. At the time of our interviews in early March, the retailers interviewed were unaffected by the virus and generally optimistic about the coming year.
However, since the feature was published, the pandemic has hit the country head on, forcing many closing comics and book retailers to close, at least temporarily. In a follow up discussion Steve Salardino, general manager of Skylight Books, a general bookstore in Los Angeles with a well-stocked graphic novel section, quipped that “it seems like that interview was a year ago. Right now It’s hard to not be in freakout mode.”
The Skylight Books staff, he said, have all been sent home although they are still receiving full salaries and, for now, no one is being laid off. “We are operating with the safer at home policy as our guiding principle. We want to do what we can to help keep our community safe,” Salardino said. In a related matter, after these interviews were conducted, Diamond announced it was temporarily halting payments scheduled to be made to publishers and other vendors this week. PW was able to speak with several retailers interviewed earlier for the comics retail survey.
What is your store’s situation?
Jeff Ayers, general manager Forbidden Planet in New York City: 100% of the workforce in New York City must either work from home or not work. Currently we do not have a warehouse distribution facility to keep our mail order business going as we operate our separate mail order business out of a New York City retail location. The warehouse distribution model is a technicality that allows other businesses similar to us to continue. Neither starting one at this time nor having products shipped to my small New York City apartment for me to mail out are viable options.
Carr D’Angelo, owner Earth 2 Comics, Sherman Oaks, Calif.: We sent staff home once we got the closure order. I read the city and state orders in the strictest way possible, always favoring safety. I don't believe curbside service is approved by the order as it induces both staff and customers to leave their houses and interact.
Patrick Godfrey, co-owner Velocity Comics, Richmond, Vir.: As of Thursday, March 26, We can't have more than 10 people in the same room, by state mandate. We're also allowing two shoppers in the store at a time, by appointment. That could change at any time.
Liz Mason, general manager Quimby's Books, Chicago, Ill.: Illinois governor Pritzger put a stay-at-home order in effect, and Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot has been urging citizens to stay at home. Chicago non-essential businesses are shut down.
Ben Ray, co-owner Atomic Books, Baltimore, Md.: Everything in Maryland is closed except for essential businesses. Delivery, mail-order and curbside pickup is still allowed. The governor here hasn't issued a shelter in place order yet, but we're expecting it and trying to prepare. It seems like every time we adapt to the situation, the situation changes.
Leef Smith, owner Mission Comics, San Francisco, Calif.: The California shelter in place order is pretty clear. We are being asked to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
Have you had to layoff staff?
Smith: Yes, I've had to temporarily lay off two part time employees.
Godfrey: No, it's just my partner and I.
Ray: We haven't laid anyone off. But we don't have anyone coming in to work either, more so for health and safety reasons. Before this crisis started, we thought we were really understaffed. Looking at the situation now, I think we were fortunate.
Salardino: All our staff of thirty booksellers, full time and part time combined, are currently still making their weekly salaries. We have not had to layoff anyone. But this can only last for so long.
Mason: We’ve laid off everybody, except for me and the owner. The idea was to help the staff get unemployment as soon as possible.
Will your store be able to return to normal?
Godfrey: It’s hard to picture right now. I hope that comics publishers take an honest look at the glut of material coming out, pull back and put out a smaller, higher quality batch of books.
Ayers: I can't even guess what the environment is going to be like a week from now. Right now we're planning on months. It sure as shit won't be Easter.
Ray: I'm not sure how we get back to normal. Or if we even do. [Diamond has stopped shipping new comics]. I didn't think the publishers and distributors would leave me in a position where I didn't have new things to sell. I understand and respect the decision, but it hurts me economically.
Mason: My realistic goal is for the store to make enough money to just be open. We’re looking into zero % interest small business loans, possibly crowdfunding things, like Gofundme campaigns.
Smith: I do believe things will bounce back. Last year was my best year of business and the first few months of 2020 were very strong. I think the shift of comics shops and fans into being more and more book-focused will accelerate.
What can customers and supporters do to help you right now?
Mason: We’re taking orders via phone at 773-342-0910 and even video conferencing with people who want to shop via apps like Zoom (people can find me by email and initiate a chat), FaceTime, and Marco Polo. I’ll walk around the store and show them things and we’ll talk. Order from our website even if you’re ordering gift certificates to use later.
Ray: The best thing people can do right now is order stuff via our website. Even if there's nothing you want to read right now, order a gift card that you can use later.
Smith: The best thing right now is to support our Patreon account or buy gift certificates/store credit that can be used when we are able to reopen
D’Angelo: We are asking pull list customers (comics held for the customer) to pay for their pulls so we can ship them out. Buy gift certificates to help with cash flow. Ask us to send books even if you are not pull list customers. We are also letting customers buy books for us to donate to local kids and school libraries. And be patient because mail order at this volume is not our normal practice.
Godfrey: Buy more comics and trade books! Get in touch via phone (804-303-1783) or email and set up a shipment, delivery, or pick-up. Communicate to us often about your ability to pick up things that are on hold. Buy gift certificates to spend later.
Salardrino: Ordering gift cards to be used in the future definitely helps. All orders through our website helps. Having patience with us is also worth so much. These are challenging and new circumstances and we are flying by the seat of our pants.
Ayers: We're immensely humbled by how many of our customers and friends have been offering up ideas and financial assistance, but there's a lot to sort out. The best I can say to our unbelievably loyal and generous customers is thanks for your support and keep us in mind. We're going to need you soon.