Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 163

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


The two major local newspapers finally ran articles and photographs about my eagerness to buy collectibles while I was set up for a week in the Belknap Mall in New Hampshire. With only one full day left of my rental time, I was curious to see what kind of results these two articles would have as far as motivating area residents to bring their items to sell to me. The previous six days had been profitable because of a few nice lots of items I was able to buy but most of each twelve-hour day I spent alone in my booth and it was boring.

I decided to get to the mall even earlier than I had been getting there because it took me about an hour to set up the toy display each morning. I assumed that we’d have a few more people than usual showing up with stuff for me to look at and I was happy that my wife, Mal, insisted on coming with me that morning. By the time we arrived at the mall there were already about twenty people carrying boxes and pushing shopping carts full of collectibles waiting for me!

Mal and I quickly arranged our display of collectibles in our booth and I began to look through the items that the people had brought into the mall. The first few had toy trucks and Matchbox cars. The next had some old magazines. I made offers on all of these items and the people were satisfied enough and they sold them to me. The next man had a very large plastic storage container filled with comic books from the 1960’s. I asked him if he had an idea of how much he wanted for the whole lot and he said he’d like at least $50 for the lot. I started to search through the container and found several interesting comic books that I knew I could sell for $5 to $10 each. Then I found a copy of “Amazing Fantasy” issue # 15 featuring the very first appearance of Spider-Man. It was only in “good” condition because of some creases on the front cover, but I knew I could sell this for about $750. When I offered the man $600 for just this one comic book he was shocked but he was very happy. It took me about twenty minutes to calculate my offer on the whole lot of four hundred comic books but when I offered the man $1200 for the collection he was thrilled!

As I was appraising and buying stuff from the people in line, I could see that the line continued getting longer as more people carried boxes and bags of old things into the mall. I wanted to hurry through some of the appraisals but I didn’t want to be rude to anyone, so I did my best to explain the true value of each and every item. One man, who was about 15 places back in the line, yelled up to me. As I looked at him he slid a group of 1940’s comic books out of a large envelope. I told him I’d get to him as soon as I possibly could but he said he couldn’t wait any longer. He’d already waited for almost an hour. I explained that I wouldn’t be set up in the mall after today and I gave him my business card and asked him to call me the next day. He assured me that he’d call. He never did. It still annoys me that there is a large collection of rare golden-age comic books sitting somewhere in the area. I should have gotten his phone number!

The crowd was finally gone by about 4 pm and I had large piles of merchandise piled up inside my booth. I also had a few good “leads” on potential additional collections that people didn’t want to bring into the mall. One of these consisted of almost 25,000 comic books from the late 1970’s-2000. I finally completed a deal on these a few months after my mall experience. These were not particularly valuable but I did eventually sell them all.

Overall, this buying experience was exhausting but it was a profitable venture and I have a few new friends because of it.

Next chapter: We travel to New York City to feed the homeless.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 162

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


The night before my last buying day in the Belknap Mall, the two major local newspapers ran articles with photographs. This is the article from The Laconia Daily Sun:

“Old Toys May Bring New Treasures.” By Lin Hourihan

“Who would have ever thought that taking such good care of his toys and comic books for over 40 years could have afforded him to spend $250,000 this week on those treasured collectibles?

“That’s just what Paul Howley, local collector and dealer, is doing at The Belknap Mall this week. He’s on a mission to hunt down comic books, old toys and games, old books and magazines, model kits, G. I. Joe dolls, Barbie dolls, and many other interesting items. He’ll tell you what your collection is worth and possibly might buy it from you.

“This is one hot collectibles dealer, owner of That’s Entertainment, New England’s largest collectible store located in Worcester, Massachusetts. However, Howley, who now resides in Gilford, has brought his business to the Internet through the wonderful world of Ebay and now sells internationally.

“Among his prestigious lists of accomplishments in his toy story is his winning the 1997 “Will Eisner Spirit Of Comics Award,” a beautiful cut-glass award and an international recognition for comic retailing. In 1996 Howley came in second to a company in Australia.
“‘It was great for us, and we had to prepare all of the documentation for it all,’ said Howley. ‘We’ve also been written up in INC.Magazine, a national business magazine, and I co-wrote the book, “The Toys From Uncle,” which is a take off from The Man From Uncle. That was my favorite TV show. I wrote the book in 1990 and was selling it for $9.95. But now it sells anywhere from $35 to $55 on Ebay,’ said Howley.
“Toy trends vary with the times, depending on the generation reminiscing of their yesteryears. The generation now recapturing those long-lost memories seem to be those people from the 1960’s and 1970’s.

“‘People generally buy in their childhood span. But things can change quickly. Two years ago Star Wars was the hottest thing in the business, now it’s slow,’ said Howley.

“‘Collecting toys is not as volatile as the stock market, but you do have to be careful on investments. We have a gigantic customer base that is based on the market right now, not on the future or the past,’ explained Howley.

“‘We’ve never had any cash problems. Now we’re a very successful company. Our website is www.thatse.com but we do most of our Internet sales with Ebay. That started five or six years ago. Three years ago that was the single most visited Internet site in the world. Now 16 million people use it everyday,’ said Howley

“This week Howley can be found in the center of the Belknap Mall, somewhere between his huge display of toys and collectibles others are bringing in for him to appraise. ‘I’m looking to spend $250,000 this week,’ he said.

“‘I don’t suggest investing in new toys. You can’t get anything more dead than Beanie Babies,’ added Howley.

“In addition to giving free appraisals and giving away free comic books this week, Howley said he is also looking for sports cards dated prior to 1975 and video tapes and music CDs.

“‘As a kid, I was very meticulous, and my room was very organized. My comic books were in order, in alphabetical order on the shelf. I still have many of the original toys I had as a kid. I played with the other kids in the neighborhood with my toys but no one ever touched my comic books,’ chuckled Howley.

“Included in his interesting collection of toys on display is the second Barbie doll ever made, now a $1000 value. If the doll was loose, it’d be worth $300, but the original box is key.

“‘I have the Man From Uncle attaché case. It was then sold to cash in on the James Bond era. It sold with this cardboard sleeve that most people threw away. In 1965 it was worth $9, now it is a $2000 item,’ said Howley.

“There are paint by number sets, dated from 1967 now selling for $250 and a model kit of The Munsters that sold for $1.98 in 1965 that is going for $2500 now. Remember the Batman card game from 1966 or the Kiss Colorforms from 1979? Well, they are going for $75 and $50 respectively.

“‘I was the first kid in my school to have a G. I. Joe. A G. I. Joe then in 1965 was $3. Now it is worth $75 and because I have it in the original box it is worth $150,’ Howley said.

“Howley’s store is in its 21st year of operation, now employing 12 full-time people who get a very good benefit package and profit sharing.

“‘Our employees are there because it is a career for them. Most of our employees have been there for ten years or more,’ said Howley

“‘I retired from the active day-to-day operation almost six years ago. I knew when I was twelve years old that I did not want to work past 40 years old. I have achieved everything I have ever wanted,’ said Howley.”

Next chapter: The results of these two newspaper articles.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 161

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


After several phone calls to the local newspapers in Laconia, New Hampshire, they finally sent reporters out to interview me about my interest in buying collectibles while I had my display of rare toys set up in the Belknap Mall. Both reporters asked the “right” questions and it encouraged me that it could be quite good for me if they really published articles about me in their newspapers. I had some success buying items already because of the many advertisements I had purchased but no advertisement is as effective as an article with photographs. Days passed and no articles appeared. Now my rental time in the mall was almost done.

Then, with only one day left, I checked both local newspapers when I arrived home from the mall that night. To my surprise, there were huge articles, with photographs, in both of the newspapers! The Laconia Citizen wrote:

“The Art of Buying and Selling Collectibles”

“Stanley and Dodie Pike of Belmont walked away with $141 in their pocket from Paul Howley’s kiosk-like display at The Belknap Mall for the sale of old photographs and magazines they found 15 years ago in someone’s trash.

“Howley, 45, of Gilford, has been a collector, mostly of comic books and toys, since he was a teen-ager. During the years, he has turned his fascination into a profitable career, and now, with his wife Mal, co-owns two collectibles stores named That’s Entertainment in Massachusetts, the largest in the country.

“‘I started off in the low end of the high-tech field, and when I decided to make this career change 21 years ago, my boss at the time thought I was nuts. Now, he’s probably working the same job, and I’m volunteering my time in my daughter’s school, serving on the school board, and doing what I love,’ he said.

“‘I explain to my kids (Adam, 21, and Cassy 16) I never have a bad day because I love what I do,’ Howley said laughing, ‘and I get paid for it.’

“Howley retired from the day-to-day operation of That’s Entertainment six years ago, having moved to Gilford two years ago. He explained that he has 12 full-time trustworthy employees who proficiently run the stores, allowing him time to dabble in the retail market as he chooses. Howley has been offering free appraisals at The Belknap Mall kiosk since Monday and will continue the service until Sunday. It is the first time he has offered this type of service locally, and he explained the items he has on display were shipped from his stores in Massachusetts where they will be returned upon the kiosk’s close.

“Those who bring items such as old books and magazines, model kits, G.I.Joe and Barbie dolls, old CDs and videos may have free appraisals on their treasures and opt to sell them to Howley.

“‘I have $250,000 to spend on these types of items this week, and I’d like to spend it all,’ Howley said. His business has been successful, Howley said, because of his honesty with people and making savvy financial decisions. ‘I choose to make a little money on items people buy rather than gouge them,’ Howley explained. ‘I would rather have them come back to see me several times instead of just once.’

“To prove this point, Howley told of one person who has been a customer for all of the 21 years he has been in business. ‘And now I’m starting to sell items to their kids, it’s kind of a scary thought,’ he laughed.

“As far as the financial decisions, Howley spoke of the purchase of the 20,000 square-foot building in Worcester that houses one of his stores. ‘It was during the 1980s, the building was on the market for $750,000. You can’t pay three quarters of a million dollars and sell funny books; it just doesn’t work that way. But my timing was perfect—about a month later, the real estate crash came into play, and I made the purchase for $200,000.’

“Howley believes his business has also thrived because he provides a service to people. ‘When I tell them their G.I.Joe doll, for instance, this one I bought while I’ve been here,’ he said, picking up the boxed doll, ‘is worth $225, I’m being honest. I offered them $150 because I know it’s an item I can sell tomorrow,’ he said. ‘To get the $225, they could post it on Ebay and sell it for that amount. The difference is, all that takes time. With me, they walk away with $150 ten minutes later and they don’t have to bother. It’s a done deal.’

“Howley said he really cannot say why people become collectors. “You’re either a collector or you’re not.’ But with him it started in 1959 with comic books and accelerated with toy items from the popular TV series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ‘I co-wrote a book called, The Toys From UNCLE. It was self-published and originally sold for $9.95,’ he said. Recently Howley has seen that same book posted for sale on the Internet for $35. ‘It’s become somewhat of a collectible itself,’ he said.

“Howley is especially proud of winning the prestigious ‘Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Award’ in 1997 which named That’s Entertainment the best comic book and collectible store in the world.

“‘It’s like winning an Academy Award, it carries that much significance in this business,’ he explained.

“Aside from the passion he has for the collectibles, Howley also enjoys the people-element of his operation. ‘I have a common interest with most everyone I deal with,’ he said. During the days he’s been at the Belknap Mall, Howley said he has had one gentleman visit the kiosk three times, not to do business, but to talk. ‘It’s been wonderful—I now have a new friend.’

“Howley’s plans for the future are to simply continue doing what he’s doing.

“‘It’s my passion, I love it. It just couldn’t be any better than it is. It’s been fun to spend the week here at the Belknap Mall. I’m sure when the week is over, I’ll have a lot of dusty old stuff. It’s great!’”

Next chapter: The other newspaper’s article.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part #160

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


I was sitting in the Belknap Mall in New Hampshire in the booth space I had rented in the center of the mall which was set up as a display of rare and valuable collectible toys, trading cards, comic books and model kits. My advertisements had been running for a few days in a few local newspapers and I was anticipating people coming in to sell me some interesting items. A few hours passed and no one came in with anything for me to make an offer on or to appraise. Mal, my wife, came by around noon to bring me a lunch and to see how things were going. I was disappointed that I hadn’t bought anything yet. Perhaps the local newspaper ads were just too small to be noticed.

When I closed up the booth at 9 pm, I hadn’t bought anything. The day had been wasted. Frustrated, I called the two major local newspapers the next morning to try to encourage them to write an actual article about my appearance at the mall and was told by both of them that they’d try to send a reporter out to interview me at the mall location. I suggested that they may want to send a photographer too because the selection of rare collectibles would make an interesting photograph for the upcoming article.

I returned to the mall and set up the booth display again. (I couldn’t leave such a valuable collection overnight in the open space of the mall) During the morning I bought some not very valuable record albums and some vintage Hot Wheels cars still sealed in the original packages. I paid $75.00 for the six Hot Wheels cars assuming I could sell them for about $125.00 for the lot. Since I didn’t have any samples of these cars in my booth display, I added them into a prominent location. Later in the day, these Hot Wheels cars caught the eye of two guys, Jim Blackie and Dan Schroeder. Both of them hung around and chatted with me about collectibles for a couple of hours. I would have been very bored if they hadn’t come by. (Both of these guys are still friends of mine many years later!) By the end of the day I had given appraisals and purchased everything that had been brought in to me including a few comic books from the 1970s, the Hot Wheels cars, some Matchbox vehicles, some record albums, and a very nice lot of original 1960s G. I. Joe dolls in their original boxes. I was disappointed that the local newspaper’s reporters never came by to interview me but at least my advertisements were noticed by some people. Some of the money I had invested in this mall rental would be recouped once I sold the collectibles I had just bought.

The next day I was surprised when my son, Adam, and his then-girlfriend, Alletta (who was staying at our house for a couple of days), stopped by for a visit. Adam was dressed up as a punk rocker. I was so happy that he was expressing an interest in what I was doing and took the time to come to see me that his outlandish “costume” didn’t bother me. Adam was constantly changing his appearance by dyeing his hair bright colors and he’d go from wacky clothes to conservative clothes depending on his mood. They stayed and visited for quite a while and it was very enjoyable.

The next morning, before I went to the mall, I called the editors of the local newspapers to remind them that I was still hoping they’d do a short story about me and they assured me they’d send a reporter that day.

Shortly after I got to the mall, a man and his wife came by to tell me about some vintage items they’d be interested in selling to me. They hadn’t seen my advertisements but had been referred by Karen Fogg, a fellow school board member and a friend of mine. This couple had a few things that interested me but I was not sure of their accurate current value so I suggested that they allow me to try to sell a few of the items for a small commission. They agreed to this and I told them I’d contact them sometime in the coming weeks to make arrangements.

Later that day, both newspapers sent their reporters out to interview me. The reporters also took several photographs of me with my collectible display. Neither of them could guarantee when these stories would appear in their newspapers but I urged them to hurry before my week was done! It wouldn’t help me if the stories ran when my mall rental was over! Two days later, the stories still had not appeared in the newspapers.

Next chapter: With only two days left of my time in the mall, the two newspaper stories appear.

Picture: My son, Adam, and his friend Aletta.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 159

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


While living in New Hampshire in the fall of 2000, I realized there had never been a good comic book store in the area and it occurred to me that there might be some nice, undiscovered comics and collectibles stored in the attics and basements of some of the older homes here. I met with the manager of a nearby shopping mall to discuss the possibility of renting out some space in the center of the mall, explaining that I didn’t want to sell anything there. I just wanted to buy collectibles that people would bring into the mall. I planned to spend some money advertising that I would be there the whole week to evaluate any vintage items that local residents brought into the mall. The mall manager was smart enough to realize that this could possibly attract hundreds of potential shoppers into this normally very slow mall so he agreed to rent me space for a few hundred dollars.

I wrote up some small and medium sized display advertisements offering to buy and appraise collectibles and brought the ads to the three local newspapers. With only about five hundred dollars budgeted for print ads I needed to be sure they got good placement in the newspapers. I didn’t want them to be buried with lots of other small ads. I suggested that they would be noticed more if they were placed on the upper right corner of the right-hand page and the ad salesperson eventually agreed to this placement. The ads would read, “Need Cash For The Holidays? We pay cash for: Comic Books, Barbie Dolls, Model Kits, Trading Cards, CDs, Records, Video Tapes, Old Toys and Games, GI Joe Dolls, Sports Cards, Old Calendars, Matchbox and Hot Wheels Cars, Beatles Items, Video Games and Video Systems, Star Wars Toys, and more. For free appraisals call Paul, or visit our booth at The Belknap Mall.”

These advertisements began their run the night before I was to be in the mall. Some small classified ads also ran a few days before my time in the mall began. Most importantly, I sent out press releases to the local newspapers and radio stations to let them know that I would be buying and appraising collectibles and that I had hoped to spend at least $50,000 while I was here. Two newspapers ran short articles about my upcoming appearance at the mall using mostly the information I had provided in the press release. One article appeared in the Laconia Daily Sun and it said:

“Local collector-dealer Paul Howley, (owner of That’s Entertainment, New England’s largest collectibles store) wants to spend $250,000 on comic books, old toys and games, old books and magazines, GI Joe dolls, Barbie dolls, and more during the week of November 6-12.
“Paul Howley of Gilford, New Hampshire, is considered by many to be one of the most knowledgeable collectible dealers on the East coast. His store in Worcester, Massachusetts was the winner of the prestigious 1997 “Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Award” naming That’s Entertainment the best comic book and collectibles store in the world.
“Paul Howley has been involved with the collectibles market since the 1960s, and in 1990 authored ‘The Man From Uncle Collector’s Price Guide.’ He also served for many years as an advisor to ‘The Comic Book Price Guide.’
“Howley’s business was recently the subject of a feature article in the national publication ‘INC. Magazine.’
“Howley will be available at the Belknap Mall in Belmont each day to make free appraisals and offers on a vast assortment of collectibles including comic books, old toys and games, Barbie dolls, GI Joe dolls, old magazines and books, sports cards, trading cards, model kits, Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, Beatles items, old calendars, CDs, records, video tapes, Star Wars toys, video games and systems, and much more.”

This was almost word-for-word from my press release!

On the first day of my mall space rental, I arrived early and set up my booth that consisted of four eight-foot long tables that I arranged in a square, leaving space for me inside. I used the tables to display rare and interesting toys, comic books and sports cards to give people an idea of the kinds of items I was interested in buying. Now, all I needed was for people to bring me things to buy.

Next chapter: Working alone at my mall booth from 9am-9pm makes a long, boring day.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 158

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


In June of 2000 my store in Worcester, Massachusetts came up with an interesting idea for an in-store event. Dave Hartwell and Ken Carson were both fans of the creativity of Frank Cho, a popular independent artist-writer who created the newspaper comic strip “Liberty Meadows.” He hadn’t done any New England appearances and they knew he’d draw a decent crowd if he’d agree to do a store appearance. On August 5th our store was packed with fans eager to meet Frank Cho. Frank drew sketches, signed autographs and visited with the customers for several hours. The event was a big success.

The summer of 2000 went by quickly and it was almost time for Cassy to begin her junior year of high school. She remembered the “last minute” frustration Adam had when he procrastinated in making his decision as to which college he’d attend and she didn’t want to repeat that. Cassy, Mal and I attended an exclusively Christian “college fair” in Concord, New Hampshire in the very beginning of Cassy’s junior year of high school. We had decided that it would be best if Cassy attended a Christian university because of our negative experience with the secular college where Adam had gone for his first year. While walking around the convention room filled with college representatives eagerly trying to entice the high school students to attend their colleges, Cassy found a booth that interested her. It was Palm Beach Atlantic University, a college from South Florida, who cleverly used their easy access to the beach and the warm weather to attract teens to their campus. It was also one of the very few colleges that offered a degree program in Musical Theatre. Most offered a theatre program and a music program, but not a musical theatre program. Although Cassy gathered information from other colleges at this college fair, she had pretty much made up her mind that she’d go to Palm Beach Atlantic University. Mal and I figured that Adam would end up living in Boston or New York City, Cassy would be in Florida, and we had planned to move to North Carolina. This way, we’d be halfway between them so it would be easy to visit them periodically.

At one time, Mal and I went on a vacation with our friends, Mike and Liz Verhoeks, to explore some potential areas of North Carolina for the near future. We loved the forests and hills there because it reminded us of the beauty of New England but North Carolina has a much warmer climate. I was eager to escape the harsh winters of the northeast. While we were on this trip, Mike asked,” Why don’t you consider moving to Florida?” Mal said, “I have no interest in living in Florida.” Although we’ve always enjoyed our many trips to Florida, it just didn’t seem like a place we’d want to live. Most of our trips were during the intense heat of the summers and we mostly went to the big theme parks where we spent hours every day on hot asphalt, mingling with large crowds of people. We preferred the rural setting of North Carolina.

In October, Adam turned twenty-one years old. We invited several of our New Hampshire friends and Phil Doreau, Adam’s best friend from high school, over to our home for a birthday party. Adam wore a t-shirt that advertised our comic book store and had a picture of Insect Man, the super-hero I created, on the front. This was the same t-shirt that Adam wore when he was a young child, but now, it fit him.

Now that Adam was twenty-one, I was eager to get him to go to the Foxwoods Casino with me. I had hoped that it would be a fun time of father-son bonding. Adam asked the manager of the restaurant where he worked for two days off and I was excited about the trip. At the last minute, Adam was asked to work. He needed the money and I knew it was more important for him to be a responsible adult than go to a casino. There’d be plenty of time for fun in the future.

By the middle of November I was very eager to go with Adam to the casino. I figured that if we waited much longer we’d be too close to Thanksgiving and then we’d be into winter. I didn’t want to make the three and a half hour trip in icy conditions. I pressured Adam to schedule his two days off for the next Tuesday and Wednesday because the minimum bets would be more affordable for a beginning player like Adam. Once Adam confirmed his days off I called the casino and arranged for an overnight stay in the hotel that is on-site. The hotel room was complimentary for me if I redeemed the “Wampum Points” I had accumulated during previous visits.

We spent two days at the Foxwoods Casino and had a great time. I won a few hundred dollars while Adam lost four hundred of my dollars. I didn’t mind giving him money to play, mostly because I knew this wasn’t going to be a frequent thing for him to do. He didn’t have enough money of his own to risk gambling and he knew better.

On our three and a half hour trip home, I finally took the opportunity to talk seriously with Adam about his future. After urging him to think and plan ahead for his life, I asked him the clichéd question that many parents ask their kids, “Where do you see yourself five years from now?” Adam replied, “I see myself married to Meridith and, hopefully, working in a job that I enjoy.” That sounded good to me.

Next chapter: I set up at a local shopping mall to buy collectibles.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 157

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 20
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


Although we had only been living in New Hampshire for two years we had made some very good friends. Through our involvement at Laconia Christian School and our church, we began to hang around with Barbara and Jim Foote and my sister Sharon and her husband Greg. We had also become friends with Mike and Liz Verhoeks. As you may know, it’s not always easy for couples to become friends. Many times, the wives may get along great but the husbands may not. In most of our relationships, our friends like Mal but I’m not as likeable. In this case, we all liked each other!

Mike and Liz owned Laconia Pottery, a retail store, selling mostly Victorian gift items and the hand-made pottery that Mike created. Mike had been a geophysicist for a major oil company but when that industry slowed down he decided to pursue his passion for pottery full-time.

One day, as we were visiting Liz at her store, Mal suggested that Liz should add rubber stamps and card-making supplies to her inventory. Mal told Liz about her experiences with her own stamp store and how much fun and profit she could have if she developed a customer base for these products. My comic book and collectible store had bought the remaining inventory from Mal and her partner Diane several years ago hoping to be able to continue the successful business they had developed inside of our Fitchburg location, but our employees just didn’t have enough interest to make this work. They had a huge sale to try to get rid of the inventory and eventually just packed up the remainder and stored it in the back room. I suggested that we could put the leftover inventory of stamps and supplies into Liz’s store with no risk to Liz. We’d share the profit on any of our old inventory. Liz seemed reluctant to try this, mostly because it wasn’t necessarily a “good fit” with the overall theme of her gift shop, but she decided to try it anyway.

I drove down to our Fitchburg store and was very disappointed to find that we only had a few boxes of leftover stamping stuff. Apparently they had sold most of the inventory when they had the big “blow-out” sale. Liz made some space for the inventory but because there wasn’t very much left to begin with, she didn’t sell much in the first few weeks. Mal offered to teach stamping classes in order to create some demand for the stamping products and within a short time the inventory began to sell. Liz conservatively ordered some new products and she was surprised at how fast it sold. There were times when customers would stand by and watch her unpack newly arrived stamps and accessories and buy them before she could even get them onto the store shelves. Liz became convinced that these products could eventually out-sell her inventory of gift items and she began to allocate more and more store space to stamps, inks, accessories and decorative papers. It still amazes me how little things, like Mal’s decision to open a rubber stamp store all those years ago, can change the lives of those with whom we later come in contact. The following story is taken directly from Liz’s store website:

“Stamping Memories was officially born in October of 2002. A new sign was hung under another sign, which for eight years had served to direct locals and visitors to one of central New Hampshire's most popular destinations, Laconia Pottery. What was originally established as an upscale gallery featuring unique gifts and fine pottery, The Gallery at Laconia Pottery began to change focus in 1998 shortly after owners, Mike and Elizabeth Verhoeks, met and became friends with Paul and Mal Howley. The Howley's had recently moved from Massachusetts to Laconia, New Hampshire, so their daughter could attend Laconia Christian High School.

“Mal Howley had owned a rubber stamping store located within her husband's large comic book and sports memorabilia store, That's Entertainment, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Prior to their eventful meeting, Elizabeth had no knowledge of rubber stamps except for those used to identify a bill as PAID or a check as VOID. Mal was an avid rubber stamper and when she showed Elizabeth some of the beautiful cards she had made with stamps, ink pads, and paper, Elizabeth was surprised and impressed. The Howley's suggested that rubber stamps might be a nice addition to The Gallery's line of merchandise because they were becoming quite the "hot trend" in Massachusetts. Mal offered to teach classes and do demonstrations at The Gallery so customers would see how to use the rubber stamps. Elizabeth was skeptical about how these "craft items" would sell in her shop but, after considerable thought and discussion with her husband, Mike, she decided that since Paul and Mal were such successful retail store owners in Massachusetts, and seemed genuinely interested in the success of The Gallery, she would trust their advice and try a few rubber stamps in the shop. It turned out to be the best business decision she has ever made--so far!

“What began as a small experiment in a new product line, slowly began to move the shop in a completely new direction. As the number of classes grew, the need for another instructor arose. Debbie Monell, a close friend of Elizabeth's and already part-time employee of The Gallery, offered to help Mal with the teaching. She was a fairly new stamper but had quickly learned the basics from Mal by attending regular classes. Her creativity coupled with her outgoing personality and her familiarity with the shop, made her a natural. She continued teaching classes and working part time until she accepted a position with Laconia Christian School in 1999. In May of 2005 Debbie returned to Stamping Memories as a part time employee.

“Now, an unforgettable seven years later, the Verhoeks' and the Howley's are the best of friends. The Gallery at Laconia Pottery is now Stamping Memories--one of New Hampshire's finest rubber stamping and scrap book stores. There you will find cabinets lined with hundreds of great rubber stamps, walls of beautiful paper, shelves of colorful inkpads, rows of embellishments--all that a rubber stamp or scrap book enthusiast could ever hope to find. Pride in the way inventory is displayed is key at Stamping Memories. Because it was formerly a gift gallery, some beautiful remnants still remain which give the shop its wonderfully charming atmosphere. From the many windows adorned with lovely European lace curtains, to the gorgeous silk flowers filling giant containers, Stamping Memories is truly a different kind of stamping and scrap book store. Visitors to the shop have been overheard describing it as "the nicest stamping and scrap book store I've ever seen". Owner, Elizabeth, simply desires it to be a pleasurable experience for each and every person who enters her shop.

“These days, classes are taught several times a week at Stamping Memories, with an emphasis placed on teaching proper techniques and developing creativity. Often students travel from many miles away to attend a myriad of classes taught by several gifted instructors who enjoy sharing their wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm with those who are eager to learn. Elizabeth is careful to select teachers who have a passion for rubber stamping and scrap booking and who willingly stay abreast of the latest trends and techniques. It is Elizabeth's goal to keep classes at Stamping Memories fresh and new with as much creative variety as possible in accordance with the ever changing world of stamping and scrap booking styles and trends.
“The store has experienced tremendous growth each year since adding rubber stamps despite a sometimes sluggish economy. The future continues to look bright. The additional emphasis on scrap booking is drawing new customers daily. An increased focus on family, since the national tragedy of September 11, 2001, has made scrap booking even more popular. People seem more interested than ever in preserving their memories for future generations and Stamping Memories strives to provide their customers with the best the industry has to offer.

Stamping Memories carries only the finest quality rubber stamps, papers and accessories. Elizabeth and her team are always on the look out for new and unique lines to add to the store. Occasionally they travel to other parts of the country to see what is in vogue and to network with other storeowners.
A visit to Stamping Memories is well worth the trip and it will most likely become one you’ll make as often as you can.”

Next chapter: Cassy makes a decision about college, even though she’s only just beginning her junior year of high school.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 156

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 20
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


As the 1999-2000 school year was ending, things seemed great. Cassy finished her sophomore year at Laconia Christian School with a straight “A” grade. She was also actively involved in a local abstinence program under the supervision of Julie Goetz from the Lakes Region Pregnancy Care Center. Cassy traveled to several local public schools to encourage the high school students to abstain from sexual activity and the students seemed to be open to Cassy’s “teaching.”

Adam was still working at the local “Friendly’s” restaurant while he was living with us but he really missed being around his friends in Rhode Island. He’d frequently drive to Newport to spend weekends with them and he’d come back late on Sunday night, exhausted and not too excited about going back to work. We talked about how important it is to enjoy your job. I tried to convince Adam to run a local collectibles show and we spent a day scouting the area for possible locations to run such a show. I wanted him to eventually have a reliable, ongoing source of income and since I had experience running collectibles shows, this seemed like a good idea. He also liked the idea that I’d be around to help him get started. But as we evaluated the different places to rent, Adam began to think that he’d prefer to run teen dance parties or “raves.” It took a while but I finally convinced him that the possibility of lawsuits because of injuries or other trouble wouldn’t be worth the risk.

I didn’t want to do all of the work necessary to start a collectibles show by myself. I was willing to do it with Adam but then he decided he didn’t want to put in the effort to run these shows either. I guess his passion just wasn’t the same as mine for collectibles.

Cassy had been dating a guy named John for about a year. Though she was only sixteen years old, she had true, strong feelings for him. (We couldn’t say much; Mal and I fell in love when we were only seventeen!) She was convinced that John was serious about a meaningful, long-term relationship. He was always respectful to Mal and I and he understood Cassy’s commitment to refrain from physical intimacy until marriage. He seemed okay with this until the summer, when the school took all of the male and female volleyball players to a volleyball camp in Pennsylvania. While they were away, John suggested that they break up. Cassy was heartbroken. John claimed “he wanted to get closer to God.” What he actually meant was that he wanted to get closer to one of the other girls on the volleyball team. Cassy felt betrayed when she realized that John wasn’t being honest with her. She cried a lot for many weeks. Nothing I could say to her could ease her pain and this made me feel helpless. As her Dad, I just wanted her to be happy and healthy. I was accustomed to being able to deal with any situation but now I couldn’t take away my own daughter’s heartbreak. What could be worse than this? We’d soon find out.

Next chapter: The left-over inventory from Mal’s rubber stamp store is put to good use!