Friday, April 30, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 88

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 38
Mal: my wife
Adam: my son
Cassy: my daughter


One day in 1993 I received an advertising flyer from a talent agency that represented a large number of celebrities and entertainers. My store manager, Chris, and I looked through the roster of people they were offering but most of them had no connection to our business of selling comic books, toys, and sports memorabilia. There were lots of singers and some old television stars but one name “jumped out” at me. Davy Jones of The Monkees was available through this talent agency!

The Monkees was one of my favorite bands from my childhood and I thought it would be such fun to have Davy Jones as a guest at my Worcester store. The Monkees had gotten back together for a highly successful tour from 1986-1987 and I had paid to see them five or six times during that period. Each show was extremely entertaining and the audiences seemed to love these guys. Chris and I weren’t sure that our customer base, primarily collectors of comic books and sports memorabilia, would have any interest in seeing an ex-Monkee, but if the price was reasonable enough I would book Davy Jones just for my pleasure. The Monkees were not touring as a group at this time so I thought that perhaps this could be affordable.

The talent agency asked me a bunch of questions about what I would want Davy Jones to do at my store. I explained that I wanted him to sign free autographs for my customers. I wanted Davy to be available to “meet and greet” my customers from 10:00 am to noon, and then he’d take two hours for lunch and come back to sign more autographs from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. The agent thought that it sounded possible and she quoted me a price for Davy’s services. The fee was reasonable enough so I accepted the deal with the conditions that Davy Jones would be responsible for his own transportation and hotel expenses. The agent cleared the appearance with Davy Jones and she sent me a contract that I signed and returned. I now had four months to make this a successful event.

Chris and I worked on press releases to send to the newspapers and radio stations in the area and we created a flyer to be sent to the people on my huge mailing list but I wanted to let the general population know about my exciting guest. I decided to advertise his appearance with some “spots” on cable television.

A few months earlier, I had been approached by a cable-television advertising sales person (named Sue) when she was trying to sell me on the idea of actually spending some money on television commercials. I explained to her that I was not in the habit of spending any money on advertising. I had built my business over the previous thirteen years by spending about twenty dollars per year on an advertisement in the annual “Comic Book Price Guide.” I was not going to be easy to convince that I should buy television commercials. But Sue was very persistent and she presented me with a proposal for a fifty-two week advertising campaign. The cable company wanted me to run seven spots each day and pay thirty-five dollars for each of the thirty-second commercials. They also wanted me to pay for the production of the commercials. Cable companies have over a hundred channels running twenty-four hours per day for which they need to sell commercial time. If they don’t sell that space they’ll be forced to run a “PSA” (Public Service Announcement) that they won’t get paid for. So I “countered” with a quite different suggestion. I wanted them to pay for all production costs. I was only to pay thirty-five dollars for one spot each day in a pre-scheduled time-slot and I would ask them to place ten “free” bonus spots anywhere on the television schedule. I was also only willing to commit to a thirteen-week contract. Sue spoke with her boss and they agreed to my suggested terms. We filmed two different television commercials in my store to show the viewers how huge this space was and to let the public know what types of products we sold. Our first thirteen-week contract was expiring soon when we got the contract for Davy Jones’s appearance. Sue convinced the cable company to renew our contract for another thirteen weeks at the same low rate.

The cable company created a new commercial to advertise Davy Jones visit and they really did a nice job. They used a little bit of the original theme song from The Monkees television show and some photos of Davy from the mid-1960’s to let the viewer know that he was coming to our store to sign free autographs. The commercial ran for three or four weeks before Davy’s store appearance and we hoped that the local television audience would be interested in coming to see him. But as we approached the event date, I was surprised (and dismayed) to learn that my loyal customer base seemed uninterested in coming to meet Davy Jones.

Next chapter: Could this event be a disaster?!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 87

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 38
Mal: my wife
Adam: my son
Cassy: my daughter
Brian: an artist and my friend


After I finally forced myself to make the time available to help Brian finish photographing the toys that we wanted to include in our new product, “Classic Toys Trading Cards,” we worked hard to write the descriptions for the backs of the cards while our good friend, Mark Marderosian, did the finishing touches on his computer layout of the final set of sixty-six cards. Mark also designed a full-color advertising flyer that we had our old printing friends at “Associated Printers” of Grafton, North Dakota, print up for us. We sent these to “Diamond Comic Distributors” so they could include these with the next order form that would be sent to almost every comic book specialty store in the United States, Canada, and England. I found a printer in “up-state” New York who was able to print the cards in large sheets and then cut them into individual trading cards. To complete the project, they would put seven random cards into a foil package and put thirty-six of these packages into a box. The box would then be shrink-wrapped and twenty of these boxes would be put into one case. We sent the printer the computer disk with the sixty-six card fronts and backs on it so he could assemble these into the large un-cut sheet format. He produced a “proof-sheet” for Brian and I to review before the cards were to be printed.

I remember our excitement when we received this “proof-sheet!” The cards looked great. We carefully looked at each card to be sure that there were no spelling errors and to be sure that the front of the cards matched the backs of the cards. When we were satisfied that everything was correct, we called the printer and gave him the permission to print the cards. I brought the “proof-sheet” home to show my family. My fourteen-year old son, Adam, looked over the large sheet and said, “Dad, why are there two Paul McCartney cards?” ARRRGGGGH! Somehow Brian and I had both missed this error! Luckily, we were able to contact the printer just before he printed the cards and he corrected his mistake.

My agreement with Brian was that I would put up all of the money to produce these cards and he would be the main artistic guy. We’d then split any proceeds evenly. It was now time for me to send the printer the $42,000. Thirty days later we received the three hundred cases of “Classic Toys Trading Cards.”

We shipped out the cases that were pre-ordered through the comic book distributors and we began to enjoy the favorable reviews that the trading card publications wrote about our new product. Within a few months we had my original investment back and we still had about one hundred cases of cards left. Unfortunately, the trading card market was “crashing” and the interest in our product faded. Over time, we eventually made a modest profit on these cards and this remains as the product I’m most proud of. For a couple of guys with no professional experience, we produced an excellent set of cards.

Next chapter: Hey, Hey, it’s Davy Jones of The Monkees!

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 86

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 38
Mal: my wife
Adam: my son
Cassy: my daughter
Brian: an artist and my friend


I love collecting things. In fact, at one time or another, I’ve collected comic books, toys, trading cards, movies, TV shows, and artwork (primarily comic book art). The only non-comic book related art I wanted was an original Norman Rockwell painting. I had always admired his work but I couldn’t afford to buy one of his original oil paintings because they were usually sold for over $10,000 and I always had more “important” things to spend my money on, like food and school tuition for my children.

The comic book business was really great in the early 1990’s and by early 1993 I decided that I could finally afford to buy one. I began to mention my desire to a few of my customers and friends in the comic book business. One of my customers had a father who was an art dealer and he offered me two different Rockwell paintings but neither of them excited me. One pictured an astronaut and the other was something else I had no interest in buying. My good friend, Tom Stanford, gave me a catalog from an auction house in Michigan that was going to be selling a nice Rockwell oil painting. The catalog showcased the painting on the front cover and it was a painting I was familiar with. It was titled, “Shuffleton’s Barber Shop” and it pictured an old-fashioned barbershop that was closed, but in the background you could see that there was a light on in the back room and there were some men playing instruments there. The auction house had estimated the value at $8000-$11,000 and I was ready and willing to pay that much. When I showed the catalog to my wife she encouraged me to bid on the painting.

A little later, as I was leafing through the rest of the catalog I came across a double-page spread that showed the entire painting. (The picture on the front of the catalog was apparently cropped so it would fit the cover.) I discovered that this painting actually had a small rack filled with comic books in the foreground! This was the only Norman Rockwell painting I knew of that featured comic books in it and I was now convinced that I should own this great painting. I mailed in the bidding form with an opening bid of $11,000.

The auction was scheduled to end a few weeks later, but it turned out that my son, Adam, had a performance of his school play of “Yankee Doodle, A Musical Revue” on that same night. Adam was in the seventh grade and this was going to be his first lead role as an actor and there was no way I was going to miss this performance. I arranged to have access to the school administrator’s telephone (this was in the days before cell phones) and I sat in Joodi Ward’s office waiting for the scheduled time for the painting to be sold. My wife, Mal, came in and told me that the play was about to start. I got through to the auction house’s phone “bidder” and I could hear the auction happening. The Rockwell painting was displayed and described to the live audience of bidders. The bidding opened at my mailed in bid of $11,000 and it appeared as if I was going to be the high bidder at that price. I was thrilled! I heard the auctioneer say, “Going once. Going twice. No advance over $11,000?” Suddenly some bidder offered $13,000. I countered with $15,000. Mal came in again and said, “Come on, the play is about to start!” The auctioneer said, “I now have $18,000.” I bid more and for almost thirty seconds it seemed like I was going to end up the high bidder. But someone increased the bid again. By the next time that my wife came in she heard me bidding $32,000! She just gave me one of those “looks.” I knew I couldn’t really justify spending any more than that on this painting so I stopped bidding. It sold for $51,000. A Rockwell original oil painting now sells for over $200,000. I guess I’ll never own one.

I rushed into the theater just in time to see the play begin. Although I would liked to have been the high bidder on the painting, I would hate the constant worry that would come with the ownership and care of such a valuable item. By the way, the play was great.

Next chapter: Our “Classic Toy Trading Cards” are finally released.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 85

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 37
Mal: my wife
Adam: my son
Cassy: my daughter
Brian: an artist and my friend


On top of the almost overwhelming effort of moving into our huge new store location, managing two stores, finishing up our “Classic Toys Trading Cards” project, and the day-to-day operations of the comic book business, I decided to complicate my life even more. I had been married for nineteen years and my wife really hated my teeth. They were crooked and in some areas I had multiple rows of teeth. I thought it would be a nice “gift” for her if I got my teeth fixed. So at the ripe old age of thirty-seven, I got braces. This required five teeth to be pulled out and far too many inconvenient orthodontist appointments but she liked the results. Through the process I discovered some of the discomfort that my son, Adam, endured during his first experience with braces. Sore teeth, broken wires sticking into the inside of my cheek, and cleaning food stuck in the braces, were just a few of the negatives. This wasn’t fun for me but since it was only for a year and a half I knew I could handle it. After all, children do it all of the time. Eventually, Adam and Cassy both endured braces twice.

The commercial building I purchased had almost 20,000 square feet of floor space and it was divided into two almost equal spaces by a cement block wall. I planned to use one side as my retail section and eventually I’d use the other section for storage of my extra, un-needed “back-room” inventory.

Shortly after I bought my new store building a man named Gary contacted me. He had been interested in buying the building but he waited too long and I ended up with it. He asked if I’d be interested in renting part of it to him so he could relocate his business there. Gary and his wife, Janice, ran a Halloween store called “The Halloween Outlet” that sold costumes, props, wigs, makeup, and more Halloween related merchandise. I had no idea what most commercial spaces in this area were renting for but I figured out what my mortgage, interest, taxes, and insurance would cost each month and quoted Gary a little bit above that amount. Gary agreed to my asking price immediately. He knew what a bargain this was and I was thrilled to be in this new location at “no cost.” This relationship was important for both of us for many years. Some people considered this to be another one of the examples of my “luck” and they may be right.

In mid-1992 DC Comics revealed to retailers that they intended to “kill” Superman in the seventy-fifth issue of his current comic book series. This special issue was going to be sold in two versions. One would be a regular comic book and the other would be poly-bagged with a small poster and a black armband. The poly-bagged edition would have a $2.50 cover price and it would be sold exclusively at comic book stores. We ordered five hundred copies, double the number of copies we normally ordered of the ongoing “Superman” series. Since we ordered these comic books almost two months before they were released we really were just guessing at the demand for this “special” issue.

We were not prepared for the major press and media attention to this comic book. DC Comics managed to make this big news in the mainstream media by seemingly issuing press releases to everyone on the planet. I guess the gullible press really believed that when DC Comics “killed” Superman that he would stay dead! As the release date drew near, television, radio stations, and newspapers reported about Superman’s death and it began to seem as if the general public would actually be interested in buying this issue. We doubled our original order for this comic book to one thousand copies.

I don’t remember which one of my employees (it may have even been my idea) in my organization came up with the idea for our special “Death of Superman” event, but it was a great idea. We hired one of our customers to dress up in a Superman costume. Gary, the owner of The Halloween Outlet, let me borrow a prop coffin for our fake funeral for Superman. I called around to a few funeral homes to see if I could have some of their unwanted flowers that might have been leftover from recent funerals. Some of the funeral directors were insulted by my request (I guess they thought I was making a mockery of their profession) but I finally found one guy who was willing to help me. He gave me some nice looking funeral flower displays that were only slightly wilted and they would serve their purpose well.

Albert Aeed, one of my more “fun” employees, would dress up as a minister and he prepared a solemn and passionate eulogy about Superman. All of my employees had collaborated on this event in different ways. A few weeks before the funeral, they had all offered different ideas and many hours were spent discussing and planning this event. Everyone was willing to work together to make this fun for our customers and a potentially profitable event for the store. We decided to gather up a few thousand back issue comic books that featured Superman in them and planned to give them away to the people who attended the funeral. We also made up some packages of ten Superman-related comics to give away to anyone who came to the funeral dressed up as a “super-hero.” Faxes and press releases went out to radio stations, newspapers, and the cable company. We then followed up with personal phone calls to these media outlets. Surprisingly, most of them expressed interest in running some sort of story for this event. The major newspaper in the city ran a small story two days before the event and sent a reporter and a photographer to cover the funeral. The local cable-TV news channel did a nice two-minute segment the night before the funeral and followed it up with a story after the funeral too.

With all of this advanced publicity I was concerned that we wouldn’t have enough copies of the special edition Superman comic book to meet the demand. I called “Jeep,” my Diamond Comic Distributors representative, and he was able to do me a favor by getting me another seven hundred copies. We were pretty sure we were ready now.

There were already people lined up when we arrived at 9:00 a.m. at our store on that Saturday morning. By the time we opened an hour later there were a few hundred people!
Our “Superman” laid perfectly still in the coffin with his eyes closed for almost six hours as almost one thousand people streamed by him to “pay their respects” to the fallen hero. Mal and our two children, Adam and Cassy, came to help out in any way they could. My mother and my Aunt Jody (Cousin Steven’s mom) even came by to be part of this event. A few dozen people came dressed as other superheroes including Sandman, Insect Man, and Batman. Albert Aeed’s eulogy was well received. We gave away thousands of the back issues of the Superman related comics and sold every copy of the special edition for $2.40 each. (It was our policy to sell all of our new comics for ten cents off of the cover price) The visitors had a great time and we were rewarded with a record-breaking day of sales.

Because of all of the publicity we received, people came in looking for a copy of the special “Death” edition of the Superman comic book for many weeks after the funeral. My pal, Jeep, managed to supply us with more copies so we were able to accommodate these potential new customers at the original cover price while most of our competitors were “gouging” people for as much as twenty dollars a copy! The goodwill we earned from this event paid off in many ways.

Next chapter: The Norman Rockwell comic book connection.

Picture: The Death of Superman

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 84

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 37
Mal: my wife
Brian: an artist and my friend


Now that we had moved our entire store into our huge new location on Park Avenue in Worcester, we had an enormous amount of work to do to set up this store properly. In our old location, we only had about 1800 square feet of retail space so we kept a maximum of three of each back issue comic book out on display at any one time. We would keep track of every comic book we sold and then we’d pull out replacement copies from our backroom full of old issues and then we’d put these into our retail stock. This process took so much time and cost me so much in employee salaries that I decided to change this procedure at my new location. Since we now had more space in this building than we thought we’d ever be able to fill we decided to put every comic book back issue out on display in the main retail area. This system would cut labor costs for me because there would be no restocking costs. This meant that we had as many as one hundred copies of the same comic book available at any one time. This amazed a lot of collectors because they didn’t realize how big my inventory had gotten but now they could see the whole inventory at once. While this created quite an excitement with our customers, I began to notice that this new system slowed the sales of some back issues that we had dozens of copies of because the customer now perceived that there was no urgent need to buy these comic books. There seemed to be plenty of them available to buy some other day. Even though this wasn’t smart we decided to leave it this way because we needed to make it look as though we had a lot of product available in this larger store.

At the same time that my employees and I were attempting to rearrange things in the new store we also had to keep our normal business activities going. Business was great and it was increasing each week as we bought more products to offer to our customers. We also noticed that more women were coming into the new store because this new location was in a much safer neighborhood. It was nice to have entire families shopping at our store now. We continued to move stuff around to make it more appealing to non-collectors and our increases in sales indicated that we were making the right decisions.

All of this extra work left me little time to work with Brian on our ongoing project of “Classic Toys Trading Cards.” We had hoped to have this project finished by now but I just couldn’t get motivated to work on these cards and this frustrated Brian. We had been friends for years now and we had always gotten along but this situation was getting tense and it came to a “head” one day when we were attempting to photograph some collectible toys in one of the unheated storage rooms of my new store. Brian explained how much he wanted to finish these cards and he was upset that I wasn’t willing to set aside the time necessary to complete this project. He pointed out that he was also very busy with his full-time job as a teacher but he was willing to work hard to finish these cards. After a brief and angry exchange, we agreed to work together to get the cards ready to send to our printer. We were only mad for a short time once we got everything “out in the open.”

While we waited for the last batch of photographs to be developed, we began to design the layout for the cards. We wanted these to look “Classic” so we went to a wallpaper store and spent hours looking through books of wallpaper until we found one that looked like marble. This would be used as our border on all of the trading cards. We had intended to actually cut the wallpaper to the size of our trading card and we’d glue the developed photographs onto it but my old friend, Mark Marderosian, who now had access to a computer, thankfully helped us.

I had worked with Mark a few years earlier when I published his comic book, “Delta Tenn,” and he was always friendly, talented, and professional. He offered to design our clever “retro” logo for our “Classic Toys Trading Cards” and he scanned all of our photos and the wallpaper border into his computer. Mark ended up doing far more than he ever anticipated and this project would not have been as professional if he hadn’t been involved.

Brian and I photographed lots of interesting toys for this set of trading cards and most of them were from our own personal collections but we did get some help from a few other collectors who had items that we didn’t. Eventually we selected sixty-five collectible toys to feature in our set. The toys we selected included: Captain Action, Robby The Robot, The Man From Uncle Napoleon Solo Gun Set, Aurora monster model kits, Marx playsets, Barbie, Corgi cars, Star Trek action figures, The Beatle’s Remco Dolls, GI Joe, View-Master sets, Colorforms, lunchboxes, the Lost In Space game, Easy Bake Oven, the Mouse Trap Game, Star Wars toys, Major Matt Mason, Mr. Potato Head, James Bond items, Slinky, and many more!

We decided to design the backs of the cards to be an informational price guide so we researched the current values of all of the toys that we featured. We had fun writing some of these and many contain our “trademarked” sarcastic wit. All that was left to do was to get these cards manufactured.

Next chapter: The Death of Superman!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 83

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 37
Mal: my wife


We had successfully purchased a 20,000 square foot commercial building in Worcester in a great, safe area, on the third busiest street in the city. My friends, Jim Stoll and his wife, Patty, had worked hard for over three weeks to demolish the existing office partitions, clean out all of the debris, build a huge work platform (so we would have a clear sight-line of the entire retail floor from the cash register position), and painted the huge cement floor. It was now ready for us to move into.

I originally intended to move into this new location a little at a time so I wouldn’t disrupt my business at my original location and planned to start by moving in the entire inventory from my “back room.” Then the important store inventory would be moved a little at a time until everything was done. Because I needed every penny of sales in order to pay for all of the new expenses of buying this new building and getting it prepared to open, I didn’t want to lose any days of retailing at my old location. Neither did I want to inconvenience any of my loyal customers. They were all accustomed to my stable store hours of operation. The store was open seven days a week and three hundred and sixty three days each year (We were closed only on Christmas and Thanksgiving). I didn’t want to close my store.

So, one Sunday afternoon I rented a truck and many of my loyal friends came to the store and began to fill up the truck with my back-room inventory, shelves, tables, and supplies. Paul Dinsdale, Stanley Hosmer, Daryll Hunt, Chris Ball, Jose Rivera, David Hartwell, Kevin Simpson, and a few others helped me. We all took turns waiting on customers while the rest of us carried boxes to the truck. My cousin Steven and his buddy, Chris, also came to help us. Business was always good on Sundays but by about 4:00PM it had slowed down so we began to pack up all of the new comic books from the display racks and the new comic books that we were “holding” for our customers as part of our subscription service. I was nervous about doing this because I would have felt bad if a customer made a special trip to my store to pick up his weekly comic book shipment and the comics were packed away in a truck.

I wanted to be able to close my store on Sunday in my old location and be open for business the next morning in the new and improved location on Park Avenue. We had been telling our customers to expect the move soon, and we had signs prepared to alert them about the move. We certainly didn’t want anyone to think we had just gone out of business. My faithful friends worked late into the evening and got everything into the new store but I was left with the job of setting up most of the store, unpacking the boxes of product, and arranging the displays. Jim Stoll had built all new comic book display racks and he had securely fastened them to the wall. Ten new glass display showcases had been previously ordered and they were placed on the newly built platform. My cousin Steven cleaned the glass and installed the shelves. Knowing I’d have to get back to the store by 6:00 a.m. to finish up enough to open again by 10:00 a.m., I finally went home at 2:00 a.m., exhausted. The store wasn’t very well organized, but we opened up for business as scheduled. Many of our customers were shocked that we were able to completely move the whole store in one evening.

Next chapter: Our product, “Classic Toys Trading Cards” causes friction between Brian and I.
Pictures: Our old store location and our new store location.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 82

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 37
Mal: my wife
Brian: a customer, friend, and artist


While my friend Brian and I were working on creating a new project of a set of trading cards, I was contacted by a real estate agent who was trying to get me to buy a piece of commercial property so I could expand my comic book and collectible store in Worcester, Massachusetts. Real estate prices had fallen a little bit during the recession of the early 1990’s but the asking prices of commercial property still seemed too high to me. The realtor took me to a building that was quite interesting. It was an old three-story brick building that was used as a manufacturing facility. Each floor had about 2000 square feet of floor space. The first floor was already set up as a potential retail area and it was in nice condition. The upper two floors were unusable for retail without a lot of renovation because they had very old, oil soaked, beat-up floors. I was intrigued with this building though, because there was a nice parking lot, a loading dock, an elevator, and a nice office already constructed on the second floor. Almost all of the windows (and there were over seventy windows!) would need to be replaced. This would cost thousands of dollars so I considered this to be a big “negative.” There were some great “positives” though. This building was located on the very same major road as my current store but it was in a great area that would be much safer for my customers. The store I was using at that time was in a tough section of the city and I was eager to move out of there. This building was also located directly across the street from a very prosperous bookstore called “The Tatnuck Bookseller” and I knew they’d attract some of the same type of customers to the area that may be exposed to my store for the first time.

The owner of this building was asking $350,000 for it and I offered them $275,000. I thought that this would be a fair offer because of the amount of expensive renovations that would have to be done to make this building usable for me. Thankfully, they declined my offer.

The real estate agent called me a week or so later to tell me about another building. This one, a brick building built in the 1940’s and used as a car dealership for most of its history, was located on Park Avenue, the third busiest street in Worcester. It had almost 20,000 square feet of space including a small second level. The first level was divided exactly in half by a cement-block wall to create two almost identical commercial spaces. A small parking area would hold nearly ten cars. My current store had on-street parking for two cars so this new location would be a small improvement.

The building was being used as a “light manufacturing” facility for disabled people to assemble things for outside companies and state projects. This privately owned business was very successful until the governor of Massachusetts cut the funding for many state-sponsored programs in order to fix the huge deficit left by the former governor, Michael Dukakis. At one time, an interested buyer had approached the owner of this building, and offered $750,000 for the building. The owner didn’t want to sell it at the time because they were making a good profit using the building. They certainly didn’t foresee the huge state cuts coming. Once it did happen, the owners went back and offered the building to the potential buyer but he had already bought another property. They decided to put it on the market for $700,000. This property had been on the market for a couple of months by the time my real estate agent told me about it and they had only received one very low offer.

I was excited by the possibilities of this large space but I thought I’d never be able to fill it all up with merchandise. I was currently using about 2000 square feet for retail space and I did need more, but this was huge! I wanted this building but since I wasn’t in a desperate position I made a pretty low offer of $200,000. To my surprise, the seller accepted it.

I didn’t have much cash in the bank at that time so I needed to get a mortgage to purchase this property. I was still making monthly payments on the apartment building next to my store in Worcester and most banks were reluctant to loan me more money because I was now losing money each month on it. Although all of the apartments were rented, the commercial restaurant was still way behind on their rent and I wasn’t collecting enough to pay the mortgage and taxes each month. I finally found a bank that was willing to loan me the money to purchase this building but because it was a commercial loan, it would take almost six weeks for them to do a commercial appraisal of the property.

I met with the manager of the bank in my hometown and she suggested that I could refinance my home to get the cash needed to buy this building. My home was valued at about $350,000 and I had paid off the loan many years earlier so the bank was willing to give me a loan against the value of it. They gave me the money within a week and I hired a civil engineer to inspect the building before I bought it. He found some minor problems but I bought it anyway.

I hired my buddy, Jim Stoll, to quickly demolish many of the office partitions on the first floor of my new building. Jim, along with his wife Patty, worked long hours over a few weeks to clean this building out and they built a large, raised platform so we would be able to see the entire store from one spot. It was my intention to open in this new location in early 1992

Next chapter: The crazy, big move.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 81

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 37
Mal: my wife
Brian: a customer, friend, and artist


In the early 1990’s, many collectors began to collect what were commonly called “non-sports cards.” These were trading cards that were based on movies, television shows, music, monsters, and many more subjects that had nothing to do with sports. These kinds of cards have been produced for almost one hundred years but they were not as popular as baseball, basketball, or football cards. There were exceptions of course. The Beatles cards from 1965, The Batman cards of 1966, and the Star Wars cards from the late 1970’s all sold huge quantities.

My friend Brian and I were both collecting old toys and we attended many local toy conventions together. Brian and I had successfully worked together on our book about the merchandising of the TV show of “The Man From Uncle,” titled “The Toys From Uncle” and we thought it would be both fun and profitable to create a series of trading cards based on old toys. We figured that a set of trading cards that pictured popular toys from the 1950’s through the 1970’s would appeal to both toy collectors and card collectors.

Neither of us had a computer at the time and digital photography wasn’t available yet so this whole project had to be done “the old-fashioned way.” We picked out some interesting toys out of our own collections and began snapping pictures of each item. Brian was designated as the creative member of our team because of his artistic ability and he worked on making the set-up and backgrounds look interesting. We would take multiple photographs of each toy and then we’d send the film out to be developed. There were no “One-Hour Photo” stores in those days so we would anxiously wait for three or four days to see if the pictures were actually any good. Frequently we weren’t satisfied with the photos so we had to retake the pictures. After a few weeks of trying to get decent photographs of the toys we decided to get the help of a professional photographer. There was a photographer in my hometown of Bolton who had a great reputation as a superior professional. Brian and I packed up a few boxes of rare and valuable toys and went to the photographer’s studio. Brian would select the background colored cardboard and set up each toy in an interesting position and the photographer would adjust the lighting and take the picture. I just stood around because I trusted Brian’s judgment when it came to the artistic side. After a very long day with this photographer we realized that he didn’t really care about our project enough to justify the huge additional cost for his services. We’d have to go back to taking the photos ourselves.

Brian worked full-time as a schoolteacher and I was very busy running my two collectible stores so we had to squeeze this project into our already busy schedules. We were both committed to making this set of trading cards a success so we were willing to make the time. In the middle of this project my situation changed. The real estate agent that had been trying to find me a larger store location called me with an interesting piece of property.

Next chapter: I make an offer on an interesting commercial building.
Picture: Our new product, Classic Toys Trading Cards

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 80

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 37
Mal: my wife
“Brad”: a customer and friend


“Brad” (not his real name) was a good customer and a good friend of mine. He had been shopping at my collectible store for quite a few years and we had spent some good times together. When the “Foxwoods” casino opened in the early 90’s Brad asked me to take him there so we could experience this exciting place together. I had no clue that this would eventually ruin his life!

Brad was in his mid-50’s and he was a responsible, hard-working guy with a really good job but he certainly couldn’t afford to risk losing money in a casino every week. But that’s what he did. There were some weeks that he went there multiple times. There were times when he’d get out of work, head for the casino, and he wouldn’t leave the casino until it was time for him to go back to work and I had no idea that this was happening.

A bunch of us, including Brad, got together and planned to meet at the casino for the day. We had fun gambling together and we all urged Brad to quit while he was slightly ahead and after a lot of coaxing he agreed to stop gambling and drive back home. We found out a few days later that he driven right back to the casino after we all separated in Worcester and he lost hundreds of dollars. Within a year all of Brad’s credit cards were completely at their maximum limit and his car had been repossessed. He now had to walk to work! He came to my store one day and he explained that he needed help. I encouraged him to seek help from “Gamblers Anonymous” and he seemed willing to try it. Brad convinced me that his gambling days were over.

I’m quite sure that Brad stayed away from gambling for the next year or so, but it wasn’t long before I began to hear rumors that he was taking trips to the casino with many of the employees at the company where he worked. Brad continued to shop for comic books and trading cards at my store but he didn’t visit my store quite as often as he used to and he certainly didn’t spend as much money on these hobbies. He never mentioned to me that he was gambling again. When I tried to call Brad to offer him some help, I found that his telephone had been disconnected. I wrote two letters urging him to call me, (collect if he had to), but he didn’t respond. I just recently heard that Brad has now lost his home because of his addiction to gambling. I no longer underestimate the clever marketing and psychology used by casinos and the potentially overwhelming possibility of addiction to gambling that affects many people. Brad’s life has been ruined and I’ve apparently lost a friend.

Next chapter: My friend Brian and I create “Classic Toys Trading Cards.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 79

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 37
Mal: my wife


After twelve years in my two thousand square foot store on Chandler Street in Worcester, Massachusetts, I decided it was time to start looking for a much larger space in the hope that offering more products I would increase my sales. I began to scan the real estate rental advertisements and called quite a few of them but I thought that the rents were too high. A local real estate agent tried to convince me to buy a piece of property instead of renting one, but real estate prices also seemed too expensive. I couldn’t justify spending five hundred thousand dollars for a building. I was still only paying seven hundred and fifty dollars a month for my rent and I was nervous about getting into debt by buying a big commercial building. It also seemed to be a bad time to buy property in Massachusetts because of the high selling prices, but the realtor kept looking for just the right property for me.

In February of 1992, the long-awaited “Foxwoods Casino” opened up in nearby Connecticut. A nearly extinct Native-American Indian tribe had finally won government approval to open this casino and they secured financing from a Malaysian investment group to build a huge high-stakes Bingo hall, a hotel, and gambling casino. Foxwoods was a convenient one-hour drive from Worcester and an easy drive from Boston and Providence, Rhode Island. I’m sure the casino was located there to pull as many of the serious gamblers from these big cities as possible.

For me, this was certainly going to be easier than the six-hour drive to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Before Foxwoods opened, a fun trip to a casino required a lot of planning and usually took up a couple of day’s worth of time. Even if I only spent one day in Atlantic City, I’d get home exhausted and it’d take another day to feel rested again. I couldn’t justify making the trip to Atlantic City more than a few times each year but once the Foxwoods Casino opened I could go more often.

The management of Foxwoods expected to have big crowds for the grand opening but the crowds far surpassed their expectations. The news reported capacity crowds for the opening week. Players couldn’t get a seat at a blackjack table because there were dozens of people already waiting for seats. The huge parking lots were completely full. People would drive throughout the lot just waiting for a space to open. This place was an immediate success. I knew I didn’t want to fight these huge crowds so I planned to go there a few weeks after it opened assuming that the initial excitement would be over and people would get back to their “real life.” I went with my wife, Mal, my father, and my sister, Sharon. Although it was still crowded on this Tuesday morning, it didn’t take too long before we were seated at a blackjack table. We played for hours and had a fun time. The management of Foxwoods was certainly friendlier than Atlantic City casino managers. Foxwoods management set up a system to reward players with “wampum points” for playing there. These points could be redeemed for free meals or rooms at the nearby hotel. Casinos in Atlantic City made it far more difficult to receive these “comps.” The atmosphere and attention to detail at Foxwoods was carefully calculated to be exciting and accommodating. I don’t remember if we all won or lost money there that day but I do remember that we had a great time.

I was telling a customer of mine, (I’ll call him Brad, not his real name) about how nice this new casino was and he asked if he could come with me the next time I went there. Brad was more than a customer of mine; he was a friend. Occasionally, I organized poker games with my family and friends and a few times I invited other comic book storeowners. Brad had been to my home a few times when I had these card games and also played cards with other people from time to time. He seemed to be a good card player and was always fun to be around. I never thought about the potential harm that casino gambling could cause because I don’t have an addictive personality and I have no problem controlling myself. Unfortunately, Brad wasn’t as strong.

Brad and I took a trip to Foxwoods one day and we both had a great time. I won a little bit of money and Brad played all-day and only lost a few dollars. He enjoyed the atmosphere of the casino and he was eagerly looking forward to going back another day. The next time Brad went to Foxwoods he won about eighty dollars. This was probably the worst thing that could happen to him because it only encouraged his gambling. Before long he was going on a regular basis, usually by himself. He worked a good, full-time job and he’d leave work at the end of his shift and stay at the casino until late at night gambling, usually losing a lot of money. I had no idea that Brad had a problem with gambling until I went to the casino with him one day and I noticed that he was recognized by most of the “pit-bosses” as we walked by the gaming tables. They’d say, “Hey Brad, how’s it going?” and “Brad, you’re back again already?” Brad seemed to enjoy the attention he was getting there but he didn’t realize that the casino was really only interested in separating him from his hard-earned money.

Next Chapter: The situation with “Brad” spirals out of control.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 78

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 36
Mal: my wife


Every customer is important to the profitability and survival of most small businesses and I really appreciate the people who support my two stores. We’ve always believed that it would be better to have one thousand customers who would each spend one dollar than to have just one customer spend one thousand dollars. Many comic book retailers just can’t understand this kind of thinking. We believe this because if a few of your smaller spenders decide to stop spending money at your store you can still (hopefully) count on the rest of your customers, but if you rely on just the “big spender” and he decides to leave the hobby you’re out of business.

Leonard was one of my big spenders. In the late 1980’s he collected every comic book that Marvel Comics and DC Comics published each week. I’m serious. He read and collected every single comic book! He also bought ninety percent of all of the various independent publishers’ comics. Comic books usually sold for about thirty-five cents each when I first opened my store in 1980 and at that time Leonard spent about one hundred dollars each week. At that time we had quite a few comic book fans that were considered “Marvel Zombies” who tried to keep up with everything that Marvel Comics published, but it was rare that someone bought absolutely everything. Most collectors couldn’t afford them all. Comic book prices rapidly increased throughout the 1980’s and it forced most collectors to stop reading many of Marvel’s comics just because the reader couldn’t continue to spend that much money on their hobby. The steady price increases didn’t stop Leonard though. By the very late 1980’s Leonard was spending about three hundred dollars each week. In their relentless attempt to increase their bottom line profits, Marvel Comics raised the cover price of their comic books until it was too expensive and it became close to impossible for any collector to continue to buy the entire output of Marvel Comics. Many customers began to trim the list of comics that they felt compelled to collect. Once Marvel made it too difficult for them to afford, it became a convenient “jumping off” point for collectors. Marvel Comics didn’t seem to care because hundreds of new comic book stores were opening up all around the country and they were ordering enough new comics to compensate for the collectors who were cutting down on the number of comics they used to buy. Although Leonard was a highly paid management guy for a local seafood distributor (and he almost always smelled like fish) even he couldn’t afford to keep collecting as many comic books as he wanted to. At one point, in order to help Leonard be able to afford all of his new comics, I hired him to drive into Boston each week to pick up our huge shipments of new comic books. It worked out great for both of us because after doing this pick-up each week for almost ten years I needed a break and Leonard needed the extra money.

Jim was a local healthcare worker and he was a friendly, outgoing customer. He had tried to invest some money in new comic books and he had been shopping at a competitor of mine. My competitor had given him some really bad investment advice and Jim came to me for my advice. I tried to encourage him to invest his money in “proven” collectibles like comic books from the 1940’s through the 1960’s because I knew that these comics were scarce and historically they had proven to be solid investments. I was pretty convinced that these comics would offer a reasonable return on his investment over the long-term but Jim was more excited by potential short-term gains in the new comic book market. I wasn’t convinced that investing in newly published comic books was the best investment choice because most new comics were printed in very large quantities and the vast majority of them were purchased by careful collectors who would take good care of them. These comics would be plentiful in “high-grade” condition for many years so they wouldn’t be considered scarce. Supply would exceed the demand for these comic books and the prices should remain low. It seemed as if I’d just about have Jim convinced and he’d get lucky because he’d buy fifty copies of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. These quickly rose in price from $2.50 to $10.00 within a few months because most of the country’s comic shops had underestimated the demand for this groundbreaking Batman comic book series. A few lucky purchases propelled Jim’s enthusiasm to buy more new comics.

New comic books had to be ordered from the publishers two months before they would be released and I always ordered new comic books carefully so I would sell out of each issue within a few weeks of its release. Jim wanted to buy such large quantities and I didn’t order enough to satisfy him so I worked out a good solution for him. I’d call him a day or two before we headed into Boston to pick up our weekly shipments to get a list of the comic books he wanted me to get for him. I would then call the order in to Diamond Comic Distributors and they’d have as many of the comic books Jim wanted waiting for me. Jim would come to my store and he always paid for everything he had ordered.

The first year Jim had transferred his comic book buying to my store he spent about three thousand dollars. By the second year he had spent close to twenty thousand dollars. A few times during these two years I had suggested that he should sell some of these comic books while they were in high demand but he wanted to hang on to them until they were “worth more.” As it turned out, that day didn’t come. Jim decided he suddenly “needed” to sell these comic books and when I told him that I didn’t need very many of the comics in his huge collection he said he understood and left the store. He returned in a few hours and began to question me about my thoughts on “investing” in new comic books. I went over my philosophy again in great detail, explaining that although some new comic books do increase in value, investors are better off buying vintage collectibles with many years of proven collectibility. New comics should be read and enjoyed and maybe someday in the future they’ll become sought-after collectibles. When I was finished, Jim pulled a tape recorder out of his pocket. He was trying to “catch” me saying something that might be used to force me to buy back all of his comic books! When he realized that I had been honest with him from the very first time we met, his demeanor changed and his cheerful attitude returned. Eventually, I reluctantly did buy his entire collection of comic books but Jim didn’t get the amount he was hoping to get. He understood at that point that I was paying him as much as I could.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s many comic book retailers complained about “speculators” ruining the comic book business. The dealers were buying huge quantities of new comic books to satisfy the short-lived demand of these “investors” and when these speculators realized that these comic books were overprinted and they weren’t scarce, they stopped buying these huge quantities and most retailers got stuck with tons of unsaleable comics. My store didn’t get stuck with any unsaleable comics. We ordered only what we knew our loyal and serious customers requested.

Leonard lost his job and decided to move to Florida. I haven’t heard from him in over fourteen years. Jim began to collect and invest in baseball cards after that and he’s been quite successful with those. He remains a special customer to this day.

Next chapter: Foxwoods Casino opens in nearby Connecticut and the life of a friend is ruined.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 77

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 36
Mal: my wife
My son, Adam, age 12
My daughter, Cassy, age 7


Although comic books were my primary interest when I first opened “That’s Entertainment,” I learned to appreciate many other fields of collectibles including records, trading cards, toys, movies, model kits, and more. I enjoyed reading price guides and books about collectibles and I found that this new information enabled me to profit from a wider array of materials.

In the 1970’s and early 1980’s I only specialized in comic books so when I’d travel to the large flea markets in Brimfield, Massachusetts, I’d be able to browse through the thousands of dealer’s booths in a short time. As I learned about more collectibles, these trips took longer but I was able to make more money because I was now able to sell almost anything in my store. On one such trip to Brimfield, I was disappointed in the selection of old comic books but as I was leaving I found a booth that specialized in glassware. This dealer also had recently bought a bunch of old model kits (still sealed) based on the television show of “The Flintstones.” These were model kits that became large battery operated Flintstones vehicles when they were assembled. It was at the end of the day and he offered these to me for ten dollars each. I bought all that he had and sold them very quickly at my store for $150.00 each.

On a vacation to Cape Cod with my family we discovered an old junk-antique store and we all enjoyed digging around for potential “treasures.” While Adam and Cassy enjoyed old toys, Mal looked at jewelry and furniture, and I looked through a pile of old record albums. An album by a group from the 1950’s called “The Five Keys” struck me as something that I’d seen pictured in a record album price guide. I couldn’t recall what was “special” about this particular record album but I figured that if it was unique enough for the price guide publisher to include in the full-color section, I should take a chance on it. Besides, it was only one dollar. When I got back to my store I looked in the record price guide and discovered that the record album had been pulled off of the market because the front cover photograph seemed to be lewd. It wasn’t, but at a glance, it looked as if it was. I sold this to a serious record collector for one hundred dollars and he was thrilled because this was “valued” at over three hundred dollars.

At the same antique store I found some hardcover children’s books from the 1950’s priced at five dollars each that featured beautiful, full color illustrations by N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish. I had a hunch that some fan of these great artists would buy these books for at least thirty dollars each. I was right.

In October of 1991 my family went on a vacation with my good friend, Allan Traylor, and his wife Pascal and their children. We rented a cottage in Maine and because of the cold weather we spent most of the time trying to watch the televised Clarence Thomas hearings on a television that had poor reception. The kids all played together while we listened in amazement. Later, since my son Adam was old enough to “baby-sit” the other kids, the adults had a chance to go out and explore the area at our leisure. We ended up at an old country general store full of vintage and antique stuff. I didn’t see much that I was interested in buying to resell in my store except for some old products on a shelf near the ceiling that had a large sign that said, “Not for sale” on it. I brazenly asked the shop owner if I could buy some of these items and he explained to me that these were just for display and they weren’t for sale. He also told me that these items were very collectible. I don’t remember what I replied to him but I know that within a few minutes he allowed me to actually buy three or four of the old, empty cereal boxes that were “not for sale!” He charged me two dollars each! The “Corn Flakes” and the “Rice Krispies” cereal boxes were from the 1930’s or 40’s but my favorite was the “Sir Grape Fellow” cereal box from the early 1970’s. This was only sold for a very short time in the early 1970’s and it’s quite rare to find an example of this cereal box. I sold this box for $175.00 within a few weeks. It took me a few years to sell the other boxes but I had decided many years ago that I’m not in a hurry. I can wait until the right collector comes along.

Next chapter: Two cool customers.
Picture: a box of Sir Grapefellow cereal

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 76

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 36
Mal: my wife
My son, Adam, age 12
My daughter, Cassy, age 7


When I bought my second comic book and collectible store from Hank Stolz in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, I was afraid that his employees wouldn’t stay on board with me as their boss. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. Chris enthusiastically embraced his opportunities with my company. He worked hard at developing relationships with our customers and had a great ability to match the right product with the waiting collector. Hank’s other former employee, Richard Ortwein, was finally given the responsibility of becoming the Fitchburg store manager. Richard worked hard to keep all of our customers happy and quickly learned how to order the new product for this store. The customers seemed to like Richard. The only problem was with me. I was not an easy guy to work for. I held the store manager responsible for the profitability of his store even if it was out of their control. I also tended to “micro-manage,” expecting the employees to think of ways to increase sales and feeling that I needed to be included in all of the planning and discussions for these decisions. I’m sure it wasn’t a pleasant environment in which to work. My poor management skills didn’t seem to bother Chris, but after about a year and a half of working full-time for me, Richard decided to devote his efforts to a more meaningful career. He went back to his previous vocation of helping disadvantaged children find foster families. I was sorry to see him leave but I couldn’t try to talk him out of such an important career choice because he really had a “heart” for helping children.

Before Richard left he recommended that we hire a customer named Bernie to take over for him. Bernie was very friendly and he loved comic books so we hired him as a full-time clerk and cash register guy. We’d need some time to evaluate him to see if he had the right skills to become the store manager. At this point, I had Chris working four days each week at the Worcester store and on Saturday at the Fitchburg store. This enabled us to move stock between the two stores with ease. David Hartwell and Jose Rivera were also working part-time in Worcester. Mark DuFresne ran the Fitchburg store on Sundays. I needed to find and train someone to help out during the week at the Fitchburg store. Luckily for me, Ken Carson became available.

Ken was a pleasant, regular customer, who had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of comic book history. He was quiet and soft-spoken but he had a unique, dry sense of humor that always “cracked me up.” I hired him to work thirty-two hours each week in Fitchburg and eight hours in Worcester. It didn’t take long for Ken to increase the sales in Fitchburg because he is a real “details” guy. He carefully and meticulously made sure that all customers were able to find the items they needed to fill-in their collections and he would recommend interesting new product that he knew they’d enjoy. Customers appreciated his attention to detail. So did I.

Ken also began to work on what would become the first “Employee Handbook” for That’s Entertainment. Although I was now paying my employees better, I was not excited about beginning to offer decent benefits. My policy was that there would be no paid sick days. If they were sick, I’d still pay them, but they’d have to make up the time on some other day that they didn’t normally work. When I worked a normal job I noticed that employees would consider sick days as extra vacation days and I didn’t want that to happen in my store. I offered no paid holidays. We were open every day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving and I needed every employee to work his shift as scheduled. I had no “extra” employees. Everyone was essential. Ken worked hard to convince me that I needed to treat the employees better and it was really just about the only disagreement we would have. Eventually he convinced me to start improving the benefits a little bit at a time. We began to give the employees paid sick time and increased the amount of paid vacation time. Most of my employees appreciated this and they didn’t abuse the new upgraded benefits.

At one employee meeting, one employee shocked me with his lack of understanding. Ken and I had just finished explaining that these new, paid sick days were not to be considered as “personal days” or extra vacation days, when one guy said, “I’m going to be moving next weekend and I was wondering if it would be okay if I took my sick days as personal days.” Arrrggg! That’s exactly why I didn’t want to offer these kinds of benefits! We explained the situation to this employee again and we’ve really had no problems since then. I must admit that most of the employees I’ve had have been dedicated “professionals.”

The year 1991 was a busy year for my family activities. During the winter Mal, Adam, and Cassy had convinced me to learn to snow ski. The kids had learned to ski with a group from the Imago School that they attended, and although I hated the cold, it would give me a chance to do something with them. I learned pretty quickly but Mal and I enjoyed nice, slow trails, while Adam and Cassy preferred the more difficult, fast trails. I did my best to keep up with Adam but he usually left me far behind. Speed seemed to be his favorite part of skiing while I tried for style over speed. Cassy was fun to watch as she skied. She was about four feet tall and she skied without ski poles. She was very graceful and always seemed in complete control. My favorite part of the whole ski experience was the time we all enjoyed on the ski lift as we rode to the mountain summit. We’d finally have uninterrupted time together as a family. No phone calls or television. One of our highlights each winter was our trip to my sister Sharon’s house in Laconia, New Hampshire. New Hampshire students had their school vacation the week after most Massachusetts schools did, so Adam and Cassy would frequently go to the private school in Laconia just to be with their “favorite” cousins. Then, on the weekend, Sharon’s family would come skiing with us at a nearby mountain called Gunstock and we’d usually end up spending close to a week with them. Our kids all got along great! But inevitably, no matter how long we stayed with them, when it was time to leave Mal and my kids would say, “But we hardly had time to play!” I’d end up being the “bad guy” because I knew we really had to get back home to get the kids ready for school the next week.

This was also the year I took Cassy to her first major league Red Sox game at Fenway Park in Boston. One of my customers gave me free tickets. I wanted this to be a special father-daughter day so I made a big deal about our big train and subway ride to the baseball park. Our seats weren’t very good. We were out in the direct sun and it was over ninety degrees that day. We spent most of the game eating like pigs! We ate lots of hot dogs, ice cream, and we each had multiple sodas. The sodas were a problem because Cassy was only seven years old at the time and each time she had to go to the bathroom I had to stand outside of the ladies room nervously waiting for her. I was certainly paranoid about someone harming my little baby girl! By the end of our day those free tickets ended up costing me $70.00 by the time you totaled up all of the expenses. But it was worth every penny. Cassy and I still laugh about all of that junk we ate.

During that summer, we all got together with my sister Sharon and her family at a multi-day Christian Festival called “Kingdom Bound” at Darien Park in Darien Lake, New York. Darien Park was a decent sized amusement park with some pretty exciting thrill rides including The Python Roller Coaster. Cassy was a daredevil and she really wasn’t afraid of anything. Adam was not too thrilled with heights and he had never been on a real roller coaster. Sometime during the three days we were there, my brother-in-law Greg and his son Jesse and I convinced Adam to try this roller coaster just once. I explained to him that if he went on it and hated it I wouldn’t try to force him to ride it again so he agreed. While we waited in the long line I could see Adam was getting more and more nervous. I’m sure he thought that this was a bad mistake. He wanted to back out of this agreement but we all talked him into trying it, just this once. All during this ride Adam had the funniest forced smile on his face. He wanted to pretend that he was enjoying this. I know he was really frightened but I didn’t let him know that he wasn’t fooling me. When the ride was over I asked him if he wanted to go again. Trembling, Adam said, “No thanks. Not right now.” I didn’t want to pressure him anymore. Although it was obvious that Adam didn’t enjoy scary rides as much as his little sister did, he would always at least try them.

Before the kids went back to school, we went on an eleven-day vacation to England with our friend Kevin Simpson. We spent most of our time in London, exploring art museums, antique stores, and the usual tourist destinations including Big Ben, The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, 221 Baker Street (the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes), The Wax Museum, The London Dungeon, and more. We also took the kids to see the famous murder mystery play of “Mousetrap,” which was the longest running play in the world. Kevin was adventurous enough to rent a car and drive us all to Bath, a small community north of London where there are natural hot water springs. Driving on the opposite side of the road was no problem for Kevin. We had a great time on this vacation and even though we were in London for almost eleven days, there was still more we wanted to see. We’d have to return to England some other time.

Next chapter: Even on a vacation to Maine, I find unusual stuff to buy for my store.
Pictures: Cassy goes to her first Red Sox game.
Our family travels to England.

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 75

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 35
Mal: my wife
Chris: my second store’s manager


As my second store’s manager, Chris, and I thought about possible future events to stir up some more excitement for the customers of our comic book and collectible stores I received a phone call from my old pal, Kevin Burns.

Kevin had moved from Massachusetts to California to work for Twentieth Century Fox. Kevin was a long-time fan of the 1960’s television show of “Lost in Space” and he had developed a friendship and business relationship with the original cast of the show. Kevin had been the primary force behind the big twentieth anniversary Lost In Space convention that was held in Boston in the mid-1980’s that reunited the surviving cast members. June Lockhart, Marta Kristen, Mark Goddard, Angela Cartwright, Bill Mumy, and Jonathan Harris were all there. Kevin invited me to attend a very intimate dinner party with the cast. Since I was allowed to bring a guest, I chose to bring my old journalist buddy, Mike Warshaw. The cast of “Lost In Space” was seated in a straight row of tables and they were introduced to the sixteen guests as we were seated across from them. Kevin had also acquired and rebuilt the original Robot from the TV show and we had a chance to get our photograph taken standing with it.

After the first dinner course, June Lockhart came around and spoke with all of us. She remembered all of our names and seemed to be genuinely interested in our comments. We were impressed that she cared enough to spend this time with us because she could have stayed seated with her celebrity friends like most of the other cast members. Mike and I got a real “kick” out of this special dinner. Now, a few years later, Kevin Burns was offering me an opportunity to have Bill Mumy as a guest at my Worcester store. Bill Mumy played young Will Robinson in the television show of “Lost In Space” and he still had many fans who would enjoy seeing him in person. Because Bill was a serious comic book collector we agreed to pay him for his time by giving him his choice of $250.00 worth of collectible comics. A few hundred fans lined up and got a chance to meet Bill and get his autograph and, as usual, many of the local newspapers ran interesting stories about his appearance in our store.

In 1990 we also arranged for my old friend, Carol Kalish, to come to my Worcester store to evaluate portfolios of aspiring artists. Carol had collected comic books for many years, she worked as a comic book distributor, and was now a vice president of “Direct Sales” for Marvel Comics in New York. She was one of the few people in the comic book industry who understood almost all aspects of this business. I enjoyed Carol because she was honest and humorous even in her role as one of the most important people in the comic book business. I remember her speaking to a gathering of comic book retailers at a comic book seminar in Baltimore. Referring to a popular (but poorly written) comic book series she said, “ Let’s be honest. Secret Wars Series One was crap, right?” The room full of comic book storeowners all agreed. “ But did it sell?” The retailers cheered. “ Well, get ready for Secret Wars Series Two!” We all laughed but we knew she was right. Secret Wars Series Two would be one of the biggest selling comic books of the year. We knew we could trust Carol’s opinion.

When she came to my store, Carol chatted with dozens of artists and writers and because of her “gentle spirit” she was able to honestly critique my customers work without hurting their feelings. She pointed out the weaknesses in their work but also encouraged many of them to continue to work to improve. Like most people who met Carol Kalish, my customers enjoyed the time she spent with them. Within one year, while walking down the streets of New York City, Carol died of heart failure at the age of 36. We all lost a special friend on that day.

Next chapter: The family goes to England.

Picture: Bill Mumy (TV's Will Robinson from Lost In Space) is a quest at our store.
Paul with The Robot from Lost In Space.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 74

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 35
Mal: my wife
Chris: my second store’s manager


In 1990, Diamond Comics Distributors organized a huge gathering of comic book retailers, suppliers, and publishers, in Las Vegas for a comic book retailing seminar. I decided that it would be an important business and educational experience for some of my new employees so I booked the trip for Chris, my Fitchburg store manager, my friend Kevin Simpson, and Mal and me. My cousin Steven and his wife Donna also booked the trip. I had also convinced Dave Edwards, a friend of mine who had recently gotten into the comic book retailing business, to attend this seminar.

I had attended a few of these seminars before and although I learned something new at each one, I had decided that I would have my employees attend the teaching parts of the seminar and I’d give much of my attention to the blackjack and roulette tables. My cousin Steven also enjoyed the occasional “game of chance” so we spent many hours together at the tables gambling. By the end of our trip we both had won substantial amounts of money at the tables. Our wives enjoyed sightseeing and shopping. By the end of their trip, they had both spent hundreds of dollars on jewelry. It was a “successful” trip for everyone.

Chris came back from this seminar eager to work at promoting our stores and expanding our business. Chris worked with Diamond Comic Distributors and DC Comics to arrange an in-store appearance of Neil Gaiman, a relatively new comic book writer. Gaiman had created a new character called “Sandman” and DC Comics had been publishing the comic book adventures for less than one year. DC Comics believed that this comic book series would be successful if they could get comic readers to try it so they were very willing to spend some money and expend some effort to get the comic books into reader’s hands. DC Comics gave retailers one free copy of “Sandman” issue #8 for each copy that they bought. We were urged to be sure that these “free” copies got to the potential new readers so they’d get “hooked” on this exciting, well-written series.

All of the “events” that we planned for our Worcester location had been successful in the past but we had no experience running these kinds of events at the new Fitchburg store location. Worcester, Massachusetts was a huge city and Fitchburg was a small city with a high unemployment rate. We had no idea if the customer base and the mainstream population would turn out for an event of this sort. It was our intention to show our “new” Fitchburg customers that we didn’t just care about our larger store. Chris wanted this to be big! He also arranged to have Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of The Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Steve Bissette (a popular artist and writer of comic books) attend the event as guests. They all visited with the fans and did free drawings for the collectors. These professional comic book guys were also happy to come because it gave them an opportunity to visit with Neil Gaiman.

As it turned out, the event didn’t draw a large crowd but the hundred or so people who came seemed to really enjoy themselves. Just as importantly, the local newspaper wrote a half-page article with photographs about the appearances that promoted our store to the local population. Some of these people eventually came into the store or the first time because of this article and they’ve become regular customers. Every new customer is as important to us as our existing customers. We’re satisfied if we can get a few new customers from each event we plan. Chris was enthusiastic about planning future events and I knew that if we worked together, the events would be even more successful.

Next chapter: “Warning, Warning, Will Robinson!” Bill Mumy from the TV show of Lost In Space comes to the Worcester store!

A photo of Cassy, Adam, Mal and I, from an article by my old pal, Mike Warshaw, published in a magazine in 1988.