Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 125

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 43
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 13
Pat Donley: A former employee and a friend


In 1998, my tenant, Gary, who rented out part of my commercial building in Worcester, the owner of “The Halloween Outlet,” decided to buy a small retail plaza in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. He bought it at a reasonable price but several of the stores were empty. The plaza wasn’t in a particularly good location and it was hard to see from the main roads that went through the neighborhood. He jokingly suggested that I open another comic book and collectible store in one of his available storefronts. I politely declined his offer.

At about the same time, I got a phone call from Pat Donley, a former employee and a friend. He had left “That’s Entertainment” many years ago and had opened a comic book and collectible store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pat wanted to get married and raise his family near where most of his relatives still lived. I certainly understood. But after running his store during the “lean years” of the comic book industry, Pat was interested in earning more money to support his wife and children. He contacted me and asked if I would be interested in finding an opening in our organization for him. After some thought, I called him back and asked if he’d be interested in opening and running a new store in Rhode Island. Pat quickly sold his store to an interested party and convinced his wife to uproot the family and come back to New England.

I went back to my tenant, Gary, and told him that I was reconsidering locating a new store in his Rhode Island plaza. He offered me a reasonable rent on the space and I made it clear that I’d rent it on a month-to-month basis and I was not interested in making any long-term commitment. Gary was very easy to deal with and we shook hands on our agreement. No written contracts were necessary because we trusted each other. It was a refreshing way of doing business.

Before Pat arrived in Massachusetts my employees sorted through our massive inventory of back issue comic books and made a decent stock for our upcoming new store. They also selected lots of toys, trading cards and movies from our overstock. We had extra display racks and shelves available so we wouldn’t have huge initial set-up costs. By the time Pat arrived he sorted through hundreds of expensive “display” comic books and chose an assortment that would cover one of the walls of the new store. He also had to concentrate on finding an apartment for his family to live in partway between Woonsocket, Rhode Island and Worcester, Massachusetts. Pat found a convenient location, close to a small “downtown” shopping area, and with all of these details taken care of; we opened our Rhode Island store in early 1998.

I trusted that Pat could handle all of the assorted details that come up when you run a store since he had successfully opened and managed his own store in Pennsylvania. I had enough stuff going on in my “personal” life, so I knew I couldn’t be much help to Pat. My son, Adam, was halfway through his senior year in high school and there were lots of details to complete before his graduation. One of the graduation requirements was that all seniors had to “intern” for two weeks somewhere in a field of interest to them, preferably in the type of job they wanted to go into after college.

Mal and I discussed the many possibilities with Adam and we all decided that it might be fun if Adam could intern for my good friend, Kevin Burns. Kevin used to be a college professor in the Boston area and he had moved to California to take a job at Twentieth Century Fox. Over a period of a few years, Kevin moved up the corporate ladder and he was now a Vice President at the studio. Adam’s strong interest in theatre and acting seemed to make this a wonderful opportunity. Adam wrote to Kevin, offering his services for the two-week period. Kevin called Adam and discussed the details and soon agreed to let Adam work directly for him. Adam was very excited about this trip to Hollywood. Adam couldn’t really go out there alone because he was too young to rent a hotel room or rent a car, so I decided to go along. I hadn’t seen Kevin in quite a while so I knew that part would be pleasant. I did, however, have my doubts about Adam and I getting along for two weeks in a hotel room together.

Next chapter: The California trip.

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