Santa Barbara comic book shop Metro Entertainment launched a GoFundMe this past week to raise money while closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, joining the ranks of many businesses who have taken to the internet for support amid the health crisis.
Just over a tenth of the way toward its $50,000 goal as of April 24, the fundraiser organized by Bob Ficarra, store founder and owner, will pay for its bills and its two full-time employees working three to four-hour shifts on alternating days.
With no customers walking through the doors of its Anapamu Street storefront, Metro’s skeleton staff uses its shortened work days to catch up on inventory and paperwork that fell by the wayside when the shop was handling business, as well as filling the small orders it receives over the phone and email.
From individuals who have supported the GoFundMe thus far, to customers who have purchased gift certificates and ordered future comic issues, Mr. Ficarra told the News-Press that his store has experienced an “outpouring” of support from the Santa Barbara community. Many who have supported Metro with purchases since it shut its doors are the shop’s most dedicated customers, but Mr. Ficarra said the store has gotten no shortage of calls from new customers asking about what games and graphic novels would be best to entertain their kids while quarantined at home.
“We’ve got support from a little of everybody, and we’re very grateful,” he said.
Because it operated with an ethos centered around personal transactions and developing relationships with customers, Metro didn’t focus very much on online commerce prior to the coronavirus. Of course, social distancing and the store’s closure preclude such personal interaction from going forth, requiring the shop to bolster its online presence.
Whereas its website didn’t before have options for buying directly from the store, Metro is in the process of listing products it currently holds on its website and adding a way for purchasing them directly from the store’s inventory. On top of the business that it has lost for April, the health crisis’ expected continuation into the month of May takes away the most lucrative day of business for not just Metro, but comic shops everywhere.
The first Saturday of May, this year May 2, is Free Comic Book day, during which participating comic shops give away specially printed promotional comic books to customers free of charge. Recalling past years’ Free Comic Book Days, Mr. Ficarra said he would always start business by opening up the store to an around-the-block line.
Since the coronavirus pandemic led distributors to not ship out the celebratory day’s promotional books, Metro will not be observing the day by handing out any comics. However, the store will recognize it by hosting a Zoom call for its customers and anyone else who wants to join in, during which Mr. Ficarra will provide updates on the state of the store. Those who would like to participate in the Zoom session should express interest via email and message firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking toward the future, Mr. Ficarra has been trying to gauge how much Metro will be able to sell when restrictions are lifted as the coronavirus’ fiscal impacts on residents will still be raw and anxiety about going out to stores will likely linger. This he has done by contacting Metro’s regular customers, inquiring about how they’re doing, and if they envision they’ll want to keep buying comics in a few months’ time. This gives him a guess as to what demand for comics will look like once the dust settles, but the store owner admitted that estimating is ultimately “a crapshoot.”
During the time his store has been closed, Mr. Ficcara said that the American comic industry’s main distributor, Diamond Comic Distributors, has been of as much help as it possibly can. Four weeks ago, Diamond halted shipments of comic books to stores, which would have had to have paid up for them upon delivery. As Mr. Ficarra said, not selling any comics would have been better than losing money by paying for book shipments that he wouldn’t be able to sell in necessary numbers.
“If Diamond would have kept shipping, I would have been operating at a huge net loss and I would have had to make tough decisions,” he said.
Though Diamond has been helpful by stopping shipments and also allowing comic shops to adjust orders to more manageable quantities, Mr. Ficarra expects Metro will operate on a net loss for the remainder of this year, the store’s 29th. Calling the state of comic books prior to the COVID-19 outbreak “a golden age,” Mr. Ficcara hopes those days will come back once the crisis abates, in time for Metro Entertainment to celebrate its three decades selling comics in Santa Barbara.
“Next year is our 30th anniversary and we have a lot of big plans,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to put this behind us and celebrate like we want to.”