When Washington state's Stay Home, Stay Healthy mandate ordered all nonessential businesses to close, Comic Book Shop owner Craig Barnett knew he had to get creative. The bills were still coming.
After spending the first month of shutdown listing more than 3,000 issues from the store's rare comic book inventory on eBay (find them under the seller name lexcorp1), Barnett had an epiphany: Make the Comic Book Shop "essential" by selling food. In addition to its three retail locations — inside NorthTown Mall, in Spokane Valley and on North Division — Barnett owns CandyWorks, a specialty candy and snack store at the mall.
He and his team trucked seven loads of candy, snacks, drinks, nuts and more from the mall to the more centrally located store, now operating under a convenience store retail license. Staffers continued listing comics on eBay, and launched a new website to sell games, plushies, collectible figures and more.
"I built the website in like a day, and it worked really well for taking preorders, and people could buy online and pay with a credit card, or drive up and run their card in the store and we delivered out in the parking lot," Barnett says. "Transactions take longer, but it got the job done and let us stumble through."
Customers can still order online for shipping or curbside pickup, although all three locations have reopened for limited in-person shopping.
Other game shops in the area, including Uncle's Games and Merlyn's, offer curbside pickup and orders online or by phone. The Gamer's Haven in Spokane Valley, still prepping for a move downtown this summer, added local delivery.
Even with all of his creative workarounds, Barnett estimates the Comic Book Shop is still down about 18 percent in gross sales for the year so far.
"It's pretty devastating," he says. "I can see why some stores were run out of business and are hurting bad. But we've got a good relationship with our customers, and they have been incredibly supportive to us over the years."
While the region's game stores are back open, some of their big draws — in-person tournaments and events — are still on pause. Social distancing while playing a four-person strategy board game, for obvious reasons, is pretty much impossible.
"Now we've been getting questions, 'What does the road ahead look like, and when are events coming back?'" says Dylan Blackhorse-von Jess, co-owner of Dragon Parlor Games in Spokane Valley. "Events are huge, it's a lot of our draw."
For now, Blackhorse-von Jess says the store doesn't plan to open its gaming space until Spokane County has moved through all four phases of the state's Safe Start reopening plan.
"If we get other guidance, we'll update our policy," he says. "We'll be very excited when we come to a place where strangers can congregate in a social setting,"
It's a similar conundrum for the Gamer's Haven. Co-owner Bob Kelley says he looked into installing plexiglass barriers at gaming tables, but found it to be cost-prohibitive.
"I have been messaging back and forth with a rep at the Governor's Office to find out what we can and can't do," Kelley says. "I'll figure it out when Phase 3 is going to happen, but I'd rather not rush it. I want to make sure we're doing it the right way." ♦