Trish Rabbit of Third-Eye Comics in Annapolis. Photo courtesy Third-Eye.

The comic book business is surprisingly positive during the pandemic.

Offerings at a comic book store usually range in price from $3.99 (the average cover price of a comic) to some selected items as high as $3,000.

Like the sports memorabilia industry (see The Business Monthly, July 2020), comics are appealing to quarantined readers searching for things to do when shuttered at home.

At Comics to Astonish, which has locations in Columbia – and Eldersburg, Keegan Conrad, owner, said that while no new comics were published during the shutdown, the older comics definitely saw an uptick.

“We were selling older comics at a much faster rate than before,” said Conrad, who discussed what an important role the store’s new website played in that success. “My employee, Eric Saulsbury, and I focused on increasing the amount of product, and types of products, we had available online. I was working twice as hard, but we increased online sales by more than 200 percent from the previous few months.”

Conrad is continuing the transition to web selling, partially to brace for the future.

“If something like this happens again, we should be able to operate at full capacity,” he said.

While business before the shutdown was solid, the huge boon in online sales was offset by revenue lost within brick-and-mortar.

“Since we reopened,” he said, “we’re doing about 60 percent of our previous in-store sales.”

At Annapolis-based Third-Eye Comics, Steve Anderson, owner, has taken a different tack.

With 14,000 square feet of comics and games, Anderson said his store is doing fine.

“In our industry, like sports memorabilia, the customers value a brick-and-mortar store and we get [many] repeat customers,” Anderson said. “Once people find a good comic store, they get to know the staff and like the personal touch. I don’t think online translates, so that hurt us during the shutdown.”

Third-Eye tried new channels of distribution including curbside, mail order and delivery, which meant trekking to Washington, Baltimore, Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Third-Eye did just a fraction of its usual business during the quarantine.

“What was tricky was that we are a ‘bigger small store’ and we had to build systems and create a receiving center for phone calls, due to the new way we were doing businesses,” Anderson said. “We’d never done home delivery, and since we’re still short staffed (at 17 employees, down from 25), we phased it out.”

Today, Third-Eye is back to having “hundreds of people visiting our store every week,” Anderson said. “We’re doing well, though vendors are a little behind, but I feel positive that we’ll have a good year, all things considered.”

He said, “The takeaway is that people are remembering that they like going to stores, though they may not have viewed it as a leisure activity.”

Newer to the retail side of the business is To Be Continued (TBC), which just opened a road front location in Crofton, though Derryle Keith, co-owner, has been selling comics for 30 years.

He said the expansion from a smaller spot in the same center “has made a world of difference” and led to seeing “many younger faces.”

While calling Third-Eye “incredible at what they do” with its variety of games and toys, TBC tends “to stick to our strong suit, which is high-quality comic books,” said Keith. “We have a broad spectrum of Action, Marvel and D.C. Silver- (from the late 1950s to 1970) and Bronze-age (1970-1984) key books, which is the nostalgia nerve we shoot for. People are blown away by our selection, which is not the norm in the industry today.”

Since the shutdown, Keith said “Sales have been up for us,” partially since clients “know that the prices that they’re paying now won’t be going down.

He reports a spike in the classic-era market, more so than the “newer books” from the last 60 years.

Keith said the forecast for the industry calls for peaks and valleys, as it has in the past. “It’s been solid of late, but collectibles, as an industry, has seen a number of stores close across the country in recent months, based on location and the pandemic.”

He added, “Many people are just glad that there is now a store in Crofton and based on our early results, we’re hopeful as we move forward.”

By Mark R. Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | August 2020 Issue