Customers embrace superheroes and more as Metro Entertainment reopens its doors
Defeating COVID-19 sounds like a job for Superman.
“Hopefully Batman would be in his Batcave and Bat Lab, creating some antidote as quickly as possible,” Bob Ficarra, owner of Metro Entertainment, told the News-Press recently at his comic books, games and toys store. “I hope that would be a solution he would resolve, or something in Superman’s Kryptonian blood would have antibodies for solving this pandemic.
“That’s what I wish would happen, but unfortunately, reality is different from the superhero universe,” Mr. Ficarra said. “I hope for the best. My fingers are crossed that somebody would have a solution as fast as possible.”
As the world works toward a vaccine, there are signs of hope toward economic recovery, maybe one of heroic proportions in Metro’s case.
Mr. Ficarra and store manager Jim Tourville have seen a lot of business since the state in mid-May allowed them to let customers re-enter the Anapamu Street business during the recent reopenings.
Like other Santa Barbara County businesses, Metro requires customers to wear masks and maintain social distancing, said Mr. Ficarra, who, like his staff, wears a mask and gloves. “We clean repeatedly.”
Customers have been walking into the store on a regular basis.
“Business has been surprisingly good,” Mr. Ficarra said.
In that sense, Batman has already helped to save the day.
“Honestly right now, Batman is our bestseller,” Mr. Ficarra said about the comic books. “Batman just introduced a new character similar to Harley Quinn called Punchline. It’s red, red hot.”
Mr. Ficarra said Metro Entertainment, which he started in 1991 in Santa Barbara, suffered a big loss of revenue when it had to close after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shelter-in-place order in March.
“We’re such a hands-on, client-focused business where people like to come in, people like to visit and people like to get our suggestions,” Mr. Ficarra said. “Business had been down really significantly.”
But Mr. Ficarra said Metro Entertainment survived, thanks in part to community support that raised just short of $10,000 on a GoFundMe page. He added that customers also showed their support in other ways, including purchases of gift certificates.
“I wanted to make sure we had money to pay our bills, pay our staff, before government help came,” Mr. Ficarra said.
He applied immediately for the Payroll Protection Program, but didn’t receive the $15,000 loan until May 5.
He said he has been able to maintain his staff of eight people. “I wanted to be able to retain everyone and keep them on the payroll. I wanted to help my staff as much as possible. We probably have the best staff I’ve ever had here.”
Before the reopening, Metro Entertainment took orders over the phone and by email and provided curbside service, deliveries and shipping. Mr. Ficarra said the most popular items were those that helped people fill the time while stuck at home: puzzles and traditional board games such as Monopoly.
He added that he is continuing curbside service, deliveries and shipping for customers who prefer to buy products in that manner.
Others like to browse the store and thumb through the adventures of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Supergirl and other heroes.
And Mr. Ficarra said Metro’s recent reopening has benefited from State Street’s recent conversion into a temporary pedestrian promenade.
Since reopening, business has been steady with weekdays being almost as busy as pre-COVID-19 weekends, Mr. Ficarra said.
Mr. Tourville, the store manager, observed that trend as well.
“I would say from 11 to 7 (the store’s hours), for six of those hours, we have people browsing,” he told the News-Press.
“It’s been great. It’s been good to have everybody coming back in again,” Mr. Tourville said. “So much of what we do is talk to people. It’s difficult to do business over the phone as we did when we had curbside pickup.
“People want to know exactly what the condition of the (comic) book is,” he explained. “They want you to recommend a game if they don’t quite like the one they had in mind.
“It’s really great to have people have the ability to browse again.”
Among the customers browsing on a recent day was James Wellman.
The 45-year-old Solvang resident told the News-Press that he missed the store and its staff. “The people are awesome. Everyone’s been super friendly.”
“I know a lot of people in town who are customers. They missed it too,” said Mr. Wellman, who’s a fan of Marvel comics such as the X-Men books.
Elsewhere in the store, Leo Ramiz told the News-Press why he liked Metro.
“I really like the comics,” said the 12-year-old Santa Barbara resident, who wore a T-shirt stressing his love for anime’s Dragon Ball Z. “They are a great value. They’re in great condition. They have good pricing.
“This is my favorite store,” he said. “It has a bunch of genres.”
One reason for Metro’s longtime popularity has been its game nights. Before COVID-19, large groups of customers sat around long tables, met each other and played games five nights a week.
Mr. Ficarra said he doesn’t know when he will be allowed to resume the tradition.
“That’s the big unknown,” he said, noting customers are eager for the games.
“If we need to and have to, we’re going to get big Plexiglas partitions so there’s a physical barrier between people to play the games,” Mr. Ficarra said. “I hope they happen during Stage 3 (of the reopenings), but I don’t know.”
For now, fans are thrilled to buy their favorite comic books, which usually are written, drawn and designed far in advance of the day they hit the shelves.
But Mr. Ficarra said he expects COVID-19 will eventually appear in the heroes’ storylines or maybe in comic books devoted to the pandemic.
“I expect the pandemic to be in the comics somewhere.”