Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 66


In the late 1980’s comic book stores were springing up all over the United States. New comic book sales were reaching levels that hadn’t been seen since the 1960’s. I had a fairly good relationship with many of these storeowners. I had been in the comic book business for quite a number of years and I’d known these guys for a while. One such man was Hank Stolz. He owned four or five comic book stores in Massachusetts called “Same Bat Channel Comics”. I’d run into him every week while I was picking up my huge new comic book shipment in Boston and my cousin Steven and I noticed that Hank was buying enormous quantities of extra comic books and “trade paperback” editions. We knew he had a bunch of stores but these quantities were really huge! Apparently, business must have been great for him.

Hank was one of the most friendly and down-to-earth comic retailers of our whole group. He was quite young…early twenties perhaps. He was married to a nice woman and had a child. This was an unusual thing in the comic book business. Many comic dealers are rather strange. They tend to live alone. But not Hank. He seemed happy and successful.

Hank called me one day and asked if he could drop by my home after work to discuss something with me. I always loved talking about the “business” so I agreed to meet with him. When he arrived I could tell that he was upset. He explained that he had gotten behind in his payments for his weekly comic book shipments with Diamond Comic Distributors and they were threatening to “shut him off.” If he was not allowed to continue to get the new comic books each week his customers would be forced to shop elsewhere and his stores would go out of business very soon. If Hank’s stores went out of business, his father could lose his home because he had taken a large loan against his home to help finance Hank’s stores.

Hank was hoping there was something I could do to help him out of this situation. He offered to sell me his “chain” of stores but I declined because I knew I wasn’t ready to go from one store to five stores over-night. Although he owned one small store on Main Street in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, most of his stores were in high rent shopping malls in Massachusetts and New York. If I were going to buy his stores, I’d need adequate time to review his lease agreements with the mall companies. Also, I had recently lost my only full-time employee, Pat Donley, and I didn’t want to try to deal with hiring more people right now. There were just too many reasons to not buy his stores.

After seeing that this was an emotional and difficult time for Hank, I offered a potential solution to his dilemma.

I had a friendship with Steve Geppi, the owner of Diamond Comic Distributors. I called Steve and explained that Hank was also a friend of mine. I told Steve that I really believed that it was Hank’s intention to repay all of his back debt, but if he wasn’t allowed to continue to receive the new weekly comic book shipments his stores would go out of business and Diamond Comics would end up with a huge unpaid debt. I suggested that Hank could be required to pay, in cash, for each week’s new shipment and as long as he paid at least a portion of his back debt it would be a “win-win” situation for everyone. Eventually Diamond would get all of the money owed to them and they wouldn’t get stuck with the huge orders for new product that Hank had ordered two months in advance. Hank would be compelled to pay for each week’s shipment with cash so that he could keep his customers coming in on a regular basis for the new product. If Hank failed to keep his end of the agreement the comic book shipments would be stopped and he’d end up out of business. This plan was in everyone’s best interest so Steve Geppi agreed to give it a try. He had nothing to lose.

Before Hank left my home I explained to him that I was convinced that the high rent that most shopping malls charged made it very difficult for a comic book store to be profitable. I expressed some interest in buying his store located on Main Street in Fitchburg, Massachusetts (because it was more like my store in Worcester and the rent was fairly reasonable), but Hank wasn’t interested in selling just one of his locations. He assured me that he’d contact me if he changed his mind about this.

Next chapter: Hank changes his mind.

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