Helping Comics Stores Turn The Page On Hard Times
And maintaining a welcoming place for comic-book fans
Most people don’t realize that their friendly local comic-book store is living on the edge—and we don’t mean the edge of artistry or good taste. Most such stores operate with a very thin cushion of cash reserves: a really bad week can set them back in such a way that they never recover, and even go out of business.
So three caring comic-store owners recently launched a charitable organization called Helping Comics Retailers with Issues (HCR Issues, for short), which will help provide some relief for stores beset by unusual circumstances. The organization will make emergency loans to retailers who, for one reason or another, have been unable to get their hands on the inventory they’re counting on for the sales they need to make to keep their business in good shape.
Missing even just a week of sales can sometimes make the difference between staying afloat and closing up shop, according to Jennifer King, HCR’s Treasurer and owner of the Space Cadets comic shop near Houston. “For example, say some major weather event occurs and a retailer can’t get their stock for the week. Then they don’t have any income for that week so they’re going to be short, so they can’t afford their [comic distributor] bill next time around, through no fault of their own,” she says. Such a bump in the road can actually put a store out of business, King says. “A lot of retailers plan on, say, I’m going to get books in this week, and those sales are going to pay for the books for next week, and so on. So rather than have really great retailers face having to go out of business because of a one-time hiccup, we need to figure out how to help these retailers out, just bridge that gap for them one time.”
“Comic-book stores create this place where everyone gets together and can find really great friends or people they consider family”
In many cases, such hiccups are far beyond a store’s ability to control, and may be caused by events happening thousands of miles away. “We did have a problem this week in Texas,” King told Good Turns recently. “No stores in Texas got books because of the weather that happened where the books come from. It’s so bad that they’re just now getting to the hub in Dallas. Some stores won’t get them until tomorrow or the next day.”
That means many stores will be receiving two weeks’ worth of stock at once. But with no books to sell because of the late delivery, many won’t have the cash to pay for both weeks’ inventory, putting owners in a bind. “We’re all going to have to pay for two weeks of books without having the income to pay for them,” King says.
HCR is not the first time King has extended a helping hand to the comics community. After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, “both our customer base and our employee base were affected. People lost houses or lost cars,” King says. “There was so much need in our area during the hurricane. We had 15 families that the store adopted, and all we did was fundraise for a couple of months for them.”
The current initiative, as King points out, is about more than just helping small-business owners stay afloat. “Not so much recently, because nerds are cool now, but historically you have a whole segment of society that has had a hard time finding like-minded people, people who like the same fandoms they do, or share the same love of art and want to get together. Comic-book stores create this place where everyone gets together and can find really great friends or people they consider family,” she says.
King cites community as the main reason she opened her comic-book stores. (She owned a previous store in Midland, Texas, which she opened when she was just 25 and which did very well, she says.) “I thought, what would I have wanted to be around when I was a kid, to help me feel like I had a community I belonged to. If you ask any retailer who does comic books, that’s what they’re going to tell you.”
“There are people who’ve dedicated their whole life to this and are very passionate about it,” King says. “It breaks my heart to find out about stores that will have to close because of one thing that’s completely outside their ability to control. Sometimes it’s just the last straw, this one hiccup that means they can’t go on.”
“There are some other really good organizations out there that specifically help comic-book retailers in time of need,” King says. “But we saw that there was a section that got missed. Stores sometimes have these weird, one-time-only emergencies where how in the world can you plan for such a thing? We thought, Someone needs to do something about that. Well, we’re someone.” Someone, in this case, is King (who talks softly but carries a big sword); Christina Blanch, HCR’s Secretary and owner of Aw Yeah Comics in Muncie, Indiana; and Dennis Barger, Jr., HCR’s Executive Director, who owns Quick Stop Comic Shop in Lincoln Park, Michigan.
HCR Issues is awaiting receipt of their 501(c)3 status, and plans to rely on publishers to donate money to the fund directly, or to donate items that retailers can sell to put money into the fund itself. In part so that the people running HCR won’t have the chance to play favorites, stores in need will be able to apply for help through Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc., which will make the final decision on whether to disburse funds, King says.
“It’s not so much about retailing cool things, although that’s really fun,” King says. “It’s about creating a place where this is our Cheers, where everybody knows my name.”
Posted January 19, 2018