Friday, June 11, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 109

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12
Chris: Our company manager


Since we had just recently moved one of our comic book and collectible stores from a deteriorating Main Street location to a much better shopping plaza, Chris, the manager, knew we needed to get some publicity to inform the community that we had moved. Chris had made a “contact” with a limousine driver who frequently drove football players from the New England Patriots. The driver was willing to act as an “agent” for us and he invited a few of the players to be guests at our new Fitchburg, Massachusetts store.

Since the football season was in full-gear, the only player who was available was Ty Law. He was unable to play because of an injury. Mr. Law agreed to spend four hours at the store to sign autographs and meet the fans for only $500 plus the cost of the limousine transportation. Surprised that he would be willing to make this appearance for such a small sum of money, we were thrilled to make this agreement. The low cost would allow us to give our customers the opportunity to get Ty Law’s autograph without charging any fee for it. We hoped we’d make our expenses back by selling our customers photographs, cards, football helmets, and footballs for Ty to sign.

My employees wanted this event to be a success but we didn’t have as much time to plan this as we usually did. Ty was only willing to come on November 18th and this only left us a few weeks to put this together. We contacted the mayor’s office and explained the situation to them and they offered to make an official proclamation honoring Ty Law and The New England Patriots football team. The Fleer Trading Card Company offered to get involved by sending us lots of free football and baseball trading cards to give away as prizes to the attendees so we decided to create an interactive event that we called a “Card Carnival.” During this “Card Carnival” there would be several types of games that the customers could play while they waited in line to get a free autograph. Fleer football cards had a “secret code” area on the backs of some of the cards for that year so my daughter, Cassy, would dress up as a gypsy at a special booth to “decode” these cards to see if they were prizewinners. My father agreed to dress in a type of military costume for a game we called “Pack Wars.” One of our employees would dress as a fortuneteller for a game we called “Cardnak The Magnificent.” We also planned games of “Card Flipping” and “Card Tossing.”

As this was all coming together to be a fun sounding event, we notified the local newspaper and they agreed to write a story about it, mostly because the involvement of the Mayor’s office seemed to give it some much needed credibility. This wasn’t just a store intent on making money; it was a fun, free event for the community.

When November 18th arrived, we were confident that we were prepared. The store looked great when we re-opened that night two hours after we had closed at our normal time. Almost all of our Fitchburg store employees were there and many of our Worcester employees also came to help out. My wife, Mal, was there to help with “crowd control” in case she was needed. My son, Adam, couldn’t be there because he had commitments at his high school. Cassy was there ready to play the part of the gypsy. My film making friends, Memo Salazar and Aaron Banyai, were there to videotape the festivities and they caught lots of the excitement on tape.

A half-hour before we got ready to open up the store again, we were told that there were a couple of hundred customers already lined up outside in the freezing cold, eleven degree night. I quickly called the local newspaper again and told them about the potentially huge turnout. They immediately dispatched a photographer and a reporter to get photographs of the waiting crowd and to cover the event because it would make a good local story. When we finally opened the doors, the huge crowd of eager customers streamed into the store. The noise level was very high with customers laughing and shouting as they played all of the games we had set up to help them pass the time while they waited in line to meet Ty Law.

Unlike our Worcester store, the Fitchburg store is a small store with only 2000 square feet so the store was really too crowded to allow the customers to shop for much merchandise other than the Ty Law photographs and other football items that we had displayed on the tables near him. We needed to keep the line moving because we had certainly exceeded the maximum number of people that the fire marshals would allow to be in the store at one time. Although many fans brought their own items for Ty Law to autograph, by the end of the four-hour period we had sold almost everything we had available.

Ty Law had such a good time that he “put in a good word” for us with other New England Patriots players and within a few weeks we had inexpensive contracts with several other players. Adam Vinatieri and Ted Johnson agreed to make an appearance together in January of 1997 for only $500 each. Shortly after the deal was made, The New England Patriots won the AFC East Conference and the price for these players went through the roof; however, all of the guys we had agreements with honored their commitments. These athletes were all nice guys and great guests.

Next chapter: My family meets The Monkees again!
Pictures: We have Ty Law of The New England Patriots football team as a guest at our Fitchburg store.

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