Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Whither goest....

In the September 28th edition of Time, Rupert Murdoch is 'hailing the prospect of devices like the Amazon Kindle displacing newspapers a process he estimates will take about 20 years'.

I've been thinking a lot about the future of comics and books. There's a pretty good essay over on ICV2 about that from retailer Steve Bennett.

He points out a couple of pertinent issues.

One: the medium of comics and books will continue, if not the delivery system.

Two: retailers are the 'middle-men', and are dispensable.

Both of these points resonated with me because of my experience over the last 26 years with other product where the middle-man was eliminated.

When I first started to carry anime, DVDs were just starting to make an appearance. There was a well-established videotape market. I had a choice of waiting for the anime to come out in DVD, or completely stocking up on tapes.

Unfortunately, around that time I read a story about 'adoption' rates for new technology. I think the example they used was cassettes over 8-tracks, and then CDs over cassettes; and it seems to me that the timeline was more than 5 years, something like 10 years.

So I went with the video tape's.


Never listen to 'experts'. I've decided that each technological change happens twice as fast as the previous technological change.

So I started from scratch, and replaced hundreds of titles with DVD's.


Almost from the moment I restocked, 'downloading' of anime became the preferred method among the aficionados. They would take the original Japanese shows and sub-title them; which are called 'fan-subs.'

There were a couple of unusual features with anime which sped up the process. One, the retail price of anime was high; 25.00 to 30.00, sometimes for just an hour of episodes. Secondly, there was a long lag time between the original showing in Japan and the commercially translated version for the American market.

I'm currently trying to liquidate my anime stock, as well as the ancillary manga stock, for roughly half price.

The second example of a squeezing of the middle-man is -- you guessed it -- sportscards. At first, my job as a specialty store 'middle-man' was impacted by the chain stores, and once that downward spiral started on prices, it was taken over by the netstores, where it festers today. Most product is cheaper than the original release price within a short time.

Oh, the collectors still want me to do all the non-moneymaking aspects of being a full-service middleman; trading, buying, pricing, selling ancillary product, talking to them, praising them for the great "pull" they got from what they bought at Shopko.

I politely decline.

The one advantage that both books and comics have over sportscards is a reasonable margin, which is clearly marked. You can put it out for sale at "Suggested Retail Price," and have a reasonable chance of selling them The reasonable margin allows you to carry more product that may or may not sell.

When it becomes unreasonable, we'll have a problem.

Pricing is one thing, the delivery system is another.

Here I can only go by my own instincts, and it's a huge subject. Suffice to say, I think I'll make it to the end of my career. More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

They own us.

Well, it looks like all those 'profits' I was talking about belong to the IRS. You know how I was so proud of myself for paying off all the credit cards and lines of credit?

Well, that was profit, even though I didn't 'see' any of it.

Went to see our accountant yesterday, and between us, Linda and I owe a bunch of money. Pretty much wipes out the savings. The taxes are due on October 15th (these are 2008 taxes).

I swore when I started the store that I wouldn't get worked up over taxes. They are what they are. I wouldn't try to avoid them by exaggerated expenses or try to minimize my income. I didn't want to play games. I want my ethical life simple and straight forward. (I've tried the same approach to my blog -- straight-forward and as honest as I can make it.)

A profit is a profit.

It still hurts. I still suspect that small businesses bear a unfair percent of the burden. But I'd rather just take my lumps and move on.

I still have Christmas to try to make a profit. But I really need to slow down my buying of product.

I've got 18 boxes of material coming in this Wednesday -- about 3 times the normal. Most of it is the 'sale' stuff I was buying earlier in the month. I also have a few hundred new books coming in any day now.

I pretty much blew out my budget this month. Spent over twice what I originally intended to spend. Typical 'feel good' peak buying. Usually punctuates the end of a good cycle.

I'd like to say that I knew the month would be good, but when I made the orders I really didn't. As it turned out, about 2/3rds of the overspend was actually covered by the results.

I'll still be carrying debt through the end of the year. But manageable debt. Should have it all cleared away by January 1.

I figure it's better to have three months to try to sell this stuff than one month.

But I need to get back to thinking about just maintaining again.

There is a weird sort of pride in how much I owe in taxes -- because it reflects a couple of businesses that have actually begun to generate some money. Linda is going to try doing a monthly stipend to the IRS, instead of quarterlies. I'm thinking of making a monthly stipend as well, but to my own savings account. We still haven't pulled very far ahead in our earnings -- but our debt is down, and our taxes are caught up, so that's better than most of our career.

Strange how the last two years have been the best two years we've ever had. It seems like our stores reached maturity just as the economy went into the tank. Wonder how we would've done without the downturn.

We may be poor, but we play hard.

Wired Magazine has published a map of America showing the prevalence of the Seven Deadly Sins.

.....See if you read it the way I do......

It looks like Oregon is at the lowest end (a bland tan) of all the sins but 2, Envy and Sloth. (Apparently, the valley ranks high in robberies and such.)

Eastern Oregon is clear of all the sins but one. Which is colored in at the HIGHEST LEVEL (a blood red). Go Ahead. Guess which one.

'Sloth' is defined by them as:

"Expenditures on art, entertainment, and recreation compared with employment."

In other words, Poverty with a View. Heh.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Flock you."

"Flocking' behavior lands on social networking sites" says an article today on USA TODAY. It's talking about the social benefits of online behavior, and isn't really about blogs.

But still....

I think of my blogging and my bulletin board activities as being surprisingly social.

Writing this blog has been an unexpected pleasure. I love to write, but I've had no outlet until this came along.

The blog has been more sociable, in a strange sort of way, than I expected. "Familiarity at a distance," is the way I phrased it early on, but it's been a bit more than that. People's personalities come through surprisingly accurately on their blogs and on their comments. I really do feel like I know them.


I was reading another blog which showed pictures of 20 different S.F. writer's offices, and felt an unexpected twang. Now....I told myself when I stopped writing novels that I wouldn't second guess myself -- and I knew the day would come when I'd be tempted to second guess myself.

But I thought long and hard about it when I made the decision; and I decided it was either the store and my family or -- writing.

Those writer's dens looked kind of cool. Some were zen-like in their purity, others were big messes.

But my office would've been a golden cage, even if I been wildly successful. I would've stayed isolated my whole life.

Being in the store has been good for me. It has socialized me, opened me up. And it has also been an unexpected pleasure -- that is, here at the latter half of my career it has become less a stressful, overwhelming place and more of a relaxed, enjoyable place. I just had to survive this long.

And like I said above, I've found my social life through the business, and surprisingly, online. It's probably obvious to most young people who use the social networks, but there are opportunities online I never would've expected.

So writing fiction online -- and not getting paid for it, no longer seems like a waste to me. I'm seeing it as more and more a realistic option. Especially since the biggest hangup I had about my novels was trying to market them. I really hated the whole process.

It's just a matter of writing....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

simply interesting

Interesting little factoid that may or may not have any meaning but which caught my eye.

The bank that failed this Friday, Georgian Bank, got a 'Cease and Desist' on Aug. 31. Bank of the Cascades got theirs on Aug. 27. So it can happen fast, folks.

The stock keeps bumping along at around 1.20. The Cascades Business News even reported that some local investment firm was buying -- though even they admitted it was 'high risk.'

The Bulletin had an article about 'challenged' banks; ending with the remark, "If nothing else, these sites are simply interesting for seeing where banks stand in these interesting times..."

"Simply interesting." Sounds like what you say after a disastrous blind date.

What none of us can see, I suppose, is how the BOTC's deposits are holding up amongst all the 'interesting' news. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the BOTC's performed spectacularly because they took high risks -- they are crashing spectacularly because they took high risks. None of this "who could see it coming" stuff washes with me. I for one saw it coming....and planned my business accordingly.

Bend's housing has crashed, but if we are lagging the national market, we have some ways to go. But the real danger for local or regional banks are commercial loans, and those -- locally -- have just STARTED to come due.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Weekend musings.

As a follow up to yesterday's post about Magic, the boxes are currently selling on e-bay for 120.00 each. Figure another 10.00 for postage and handling. I've never seem prices that high on a new release. I offered boxes to customers for 125.00 (retail is 145.00) yesterday, but no one took me up on it.

What will happen is that I'll not sell for the first few weeks, as usual, because in Bend it takes time for the truth to set in. In Portland, say, you can bounce around between five or six stores and find out that they're all high, and realize the truth. Then go online, and confirm the truth, and then go ahead and buy. In Bend, they'll wait -- sometimes until it's even harder to get and more expensive. Happens every time.


Children's Museum closure. I'm pretty sure spending every dime you have every year is not a very safe plan over the longrun.


Turns out this street closure isn't the Fall Fest, it's a Downtowner's October Fest event. They will be closing the streets next week, as well. Once again, it seems they have brought in a new event. Seems to me, they are adding one or two new events per year. I figure at that rate, the weekends should be booked completely in another 10 years or so.

Was talking to a fellow store in Ashland and he said they only close the streets a few times a year.


Passed my original sales goal on Thursday, and have another 5 business days. Of course, just about every dime from those 5 days will go toward merchandise. And then some.

But the store is extremely well stocked. And I can attribute the higher sales pretty clearly to that fact.

My sales goal was to match last year, so this is already the first month since July 2007 that I've been 'significantly' higher than the previous year on the same month. (I had two other months in 2008 that beat the previous year by very marginal amounts, but none in the last consecutive year.)

I've always maintained that my sales started dropping in August 2007 almost exactly the moment that Bear Sterns hit the headlines. The experts all pick later that year, November or December, but I'm here to tell you it started a bit sooner.

Then another extreme drop in September of last year, almost exactly the moment that Lehman Brothers hit the headlines. So TECHNICALLY the bottom for me was probably last month. Or so I'm hoping. Last September was so dreadful, that I was in fear that if we were lower than that, there were some dismal times ahead. So at least we've escaped that fate. I think.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Will experience pay off?

O.K. you guys, you can watch me make a bet, a bit of a gamble, based on experience and instinct. If I'm wrong, I'll own up to it. If I'm right, you get to watch me make a bit more money than normal.

Wednesday night, I got a call from a customer in Redmond. He wanted the newest Magic the Gathering brand.

"Are you pre-selling Zendikar boxes?" he asked.

"I'm selling them for 100.00 in advance."

"I want to buy 6 of them..."

Uh, oh.

"I think you might be better off buying that many boxes online," I ventured.

"No...I checked."

Double uh, oh. Thinking fast, I said, "I'll sell you 5 boxes at that price." Right instinct, but I wasn't draconian enough. 3 boxes would've been better.

After I got off the phone, I called my supplier and sure enough, the boxes were selling for slightly less than I'd just sold them. I ordered enough more to cover the 7 boxes I pre-sold so far; without making any real money on them. I half hoped he wouldn't show up, but he did.

But I still had the original number of boxes I intended to sell.

Which was more or less twice as much as I'd ordered of the previous release, 2010. Core sets had never sold well in the past, but when I saw there was a demand, I was able to scramble and get just enough in just often enough to never sell out at regular price.

I thought about it some more, and got on the phone and ordered another case of Zendikar at the higher price. If I sell all these cards at regular pack price, I make basically the same as I would've made selling boxes at lower prices.

Then this morning, I wake up to another alarm. Turns out, Magic has inserted 'Alpha' cards into the packs. They've never done this before, though it's an old trick in the sports card world.

I called my supplier yet again. "Are you having a feeding frenzy?" I asked. "Can you sell me any more?"

"We've been beating them off with a stick," she said. "But I can still sell you one case....we'll be out by the end of the day."

"I'll take them," I said. Just then, the Man walked by. I've been buying from Roger for over 20 years now. He was the only reliable distributor back when sports cards were hard to get. We went through sports cards and pogs and beanie babies together. "Is Duncan ordering yet more Magic?" I heard him laugh in the background. "How much does he want?"

Um, I'd got on the phone thinking I'd order as much as 10 more boxes -- 12 more boxes makes two cases. "I'd love to get two cases," I said.


"Good man, Roger. We've been through the wars...."

So my experience and instinct tells me I really can't get TOO MUCH of the new magic. Plus, I'll be able to maintain the regular pack price. If I get it all, and it doesn't sell like I think it will, I'll have more or less a half years worth of product.

This is one of the reasons I wanted cash in the bank. So that I could take advantage of these kinds of situations. I'm might have gambled ordering this much in any case -- but I would've been very stressed and nervous about it.

My intention is to tell people: "I'm selling Zendikar for regular retail price by pack. For the foreseeable future, I won't be any higher and I won't be any lower...."

I think I'll have enough, and if I sell through, it will be a nice boost to my business; like 3 times my normal magic sales. If I'm wrong, I'll just not need to reorder much in the future....

The tendency in these situations is to take a 'wait and see' attitude, or to order conservatively. But if you wait, it's usually too late. There's just too much smoke in this product for there not to be fire.

We'll see...

The following is a bit more perspective, but really inside baseball, so you may want to skip it....

Back in 1992, I was still reeling from my drop in sports card sales. But early in the year, I started to get rumbles about this player named Shaquille O'Neil. Phone call after phone call.

I was still in the sports card mode then, even after having had my head handed to me, even after getting cases of cards I couldn't sell. I got on the phone and ordered all the 1992 basketball cards that anyone would sell me. I called on every favor, used my long time contacts to beg for more.

When the 1992 cards showed up, they started selling out almost immediately.

I raised prices, I raised prices again. I kept them there, no matter how many people complained.

See...I'd just had the experience of selling cards for BELOW retail price for years and years, and then....the prices dropped through the floor and my customers abandoned me in droves. I wanted a little of my own back. Nor was I concerned about 'future' business anymore. Customer loyalty had proven weak when confronted with half-priced product from my competitors. (And in hindsight, I really can sympathize with the customer -- why would anyone pay twice as much just to keep me in business?)

But the same held true for me: why should I sell for less than I could get?

So...I had the cards. I charged the price. I pulled myself out of debt -- temporarily, and arrived at the conclusion that:


Flash forward 17 years.

I've been sticking to retail prices on my product for about a decade now. It's been easy to do, since none of them are 'fad' product. Sometimes there are little mini-spurts, but mostly I've been able to stock the store without resorting to higher prices to slow demand and/or buy product at higher than wholesale.

There is nothing really wrong with it -- prices are something the customer can accept or reject.

But I didn't like doing it -- even if it's perfectly valid (you know, "supply and demand?") So I built my store over the last 17 years with 'retail' pricing in mind. I wasn't going to be a discounter, nor was I going to charge more when the demand warranted it.

So even with the new demand for magic, I'll be sticking to regular price until I sell out.

Just doing business stuff.

Well, this month has turned out to be anything but easier.

Usually, after school starts, I can count on a couple of very slow weeks, and a bit of recharging. But my store has continued to generate summer level sales through the first 20 days of September.

Not that I'm complaining.

Unfortunately, I kind of wasted the last two Sundays off. If sitting around and reading and napping is a waster. I can feel my batteries recharge a little with one day off, but I can feel them recharging not quite enough. I think I probably need two days to really do that.

Turns out my comic orders are due next week, and I have an appointment with my accountant early Monday to do my 2008 taxes (due Oct. 15. yeah, yeah, I know....). So this Sunday is going to be: get up, do the taxes, rest a little, then do the comic orders.

The season premieres of my favorite shows are a bit of distraction, as well. But I'm just going to DVR most of them for the time-being. I haven't seen a movie in a month in a half.

Yesterday was one of the first really slow days I've had business-wise this month. 3000.00 worth retail in books showed up. About 80% of my order. To make room, I boxed up my audio books, and the history section, and the leftovers of my experiments in non-fiction; design and home, gardening, cooking, photography, science, etc.

I'm going to embrace the "fiction" part of my store.

I do have a kind of all-purpose non-fiction shelf near the register -- books by Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, etc. Pop culture themes. Quirky science. Art of all kinds. Humor.

I'm going to just give the boxed up books to Linda.

Anyway, with the opened shelfspace, the new books all found a place. Amazing how 3000.00 worth of product can just kind of blend in. But they are ALL good books, and I know I have them in stock and I know I can sell them.

I'm pretty sure that part of the reason the store was slow yesterday was because I was distracted putting away books; but I decided I couldn't wait. I've got another shipment of twice as many books showing up any day now. (Twice as many books, but not as much money.)

I also have 3 other orders of material arriving -- two of the shipments are unexpectedly delayed by a week. Mistakes like this seem to happen more often when I'm active buying -- I'm not sure if it's just mistakes happen and because I'm doing more ordering more mistakes are happening. Or because I'm feeling a little overwhelmed and just not being clear in my ordering.

Anyway, I'm just figuring that this is early Christmas ordering.

2/3rds of it is already paid for because this month has been so good. That was a happy accident, and I'm grateful for it, but I fully expected to have to pay it off at Christmas.

Just the nuts and bolts of store operation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

29 percent?!?


I have to say it.

I don't believe that 29% of the houses in Bend are vacant. Not even close.

That's ridiculous.

I'm so pretty.

From Financial Armageddon:

"According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, many successful entrepreneurs have similar traits and characteristics, including:

* Persistence
* Desire for immediate feedback
* Inquisitiveness
* Strong drive to achieve
* High energy level
* Goal-oriented behavior
* Independent
* Demanding
* Self-confident
* Calculated risk taker
* Creative
* Innovative
* Vision
* Commitment
* Problem solving skills
* Tolerance for ambiguity
* Strong integrity
* Highly reliable
* Personal initiative
* Ability to consolidate resources
* Strong management and organizational skills
* Competitive
* Change agent
* Tolerance for failure
* Desire to work hard"


I can't believe they left out handsome and charming and funny.

Comings and Goings update.

Two changes.

Lola's, which I caught in the Source, and Volcano moving in across the street from me....


Lola's 9/23/09
**Volcano Wines 9/15/09
Singing Sparrow Flowers 8/16/09
Northwest Home Interiors 8/5/09
High Desert Frameworks 7/23/09
Wall Street Gifts 7/--/09
Ina Louise 7/14/09
Bend Home Hardware (Homestyle Hardware?) 7/1/09
Altera Real Estate 6/9/09
Honey 6/7/09
Azura Studio 6/7/09
Mary Jane's 6/1/09
c.c.McKenzie 6/1/09
Velvet 5/28/09
Bella Moda 3/25/09
High Desert Gallery (Bend) 3/25/09
900 Wall
Great Outdoor Store
Luxe Home Interiors
Powell's Candy
Dudley's Used Books and Coffee
Game Domain
Subway Sandwiches
Bend Burger Company
Showcase Hats
Pita Pit
Happy Nails


Ivy Rose Manor 8/20/09
**Downtowner 8/18/09 (moving into the Summit location)
Chocolate e Gateaux 8/16/09
Finders Keepers 8/15/09
Colourstone 7/25/09
Periwinkle 6/--/09
**Tangerine 7/21/09 (Got word, they are moving across the street.)**
Micheal Cassidy Gallery 6/15/09
St. Claire Coffee 6/15/09
Luxe Home Interiors 6/4/09
Treefort 5/8/09
Blue 5/2/09
**Volcano Tasting Room 4/28/09** Moved to Minnesota Ave.
Habit 4/16/09
Mountain Comfort 4/14/09
Tetherow Property 4/11/09
Blue Moon Marketplace 3/25/09
Plenty 3/25/09
Downtown Doggie 3/25/09
**King of Sole (became Mary Janes)**
Santee Alley
Bistro Corlise
Made in Hawaii
Stewart Weinmann (leather)
Kebanu Gallery
Pella Doors and Windows
Olive company
Pink Frog
Little Italy
**Pomegranate (downtown branch)**
Pronghorn Real Estate office.
Speedshop Deli
Paper Place
Bluefish Bistro

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jung in waiting.

Told Linda there was a N.Y. Times article that she needed to see.

"They've found a little red book by Jung."


I had to laugh. "That's a very Jungian response..."


Speaking of 'slack' in the economy. Outside the downtown core, I'm seeing commercial space that's been available for one, two, three or more years.

I know when I inquired for a couple of those spaces a couple of years ago that they were way, way too high in rent price, in my opinion. Wonder if they've come down.


Interesting. The Bulletin effectively buried the unemployment story in the article on benefits extension.


Chuck from the Downtowners was in to tell me that they would "try to keep a sidewalk corridor open" to my store during the Fall Fest. See, with all the drinking going on, they're closing the street to minors.

Well, I've always joked that I should serve alcohol to see if most of my business is adults, and I guess this way I'll find out.

Wonder out the other businesses on the street feel about this. Most of them aren't oriented toward kids....and I wonder if that's why they chose Minnesota. I'm sure places like Goody's and Leaping Lizards wouldn't have agreed to an adults only scene...


I'm going to make one of my rare political observations on this blog.

I've never paid much attention to the workings of Congress on particular bills. So it's been interesting the watch the mess they make trying to pass a health insurance reform bill.

If something approaching a health care bill doesn't emerge from Congress, I'm going to come to the conclusion that Congress is owned; lock, stock and barrow.

And that we as a country are well and truly screwed.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Overwhelm them with choice.

Once again, I'm asking myself why my store is doing so relatively well in a down time.

I think it's because I overwhelm people with choice.

I have so much stuff, that people can't NOT find something they like.

That doesn't keep 80% of the people from walking out the door without buying something, but that's just because they're buttheads. (Look, Martha, he called his customers buttheads! No, I didn't. I called my non-customers buttheads. ;>)

Anyway, that's the policy I've been pursuing for that last eight years or so. Fill every nook and cranny of the store with intriguing product.

Not to be too obvious, but it's mistakes that kill small business. Either big mistakes or an accretion of small mistakes. In the case of Pegasus Books, about 10 years worth of mistakes both big and small, and another 10 years of working off the consequences of those mistakes.

It's not that I don't keep making mistakes; but they come with less frequency and less damage these days.

That's why I think Linda's store was successful from the start. We had 20 years of mistakes that we could avoid. It sprang into being a fully thought out and functional store, with a workable business plan and policies, and reasonable costs and realistic estimates. We had professional experience and an easy manner.

If you can survive the 20 years of mistakes, the experience is worth just about everything.

In my own store, I've got a pretty good idea of what sells and what doesn't, and at what price. I know when something is a bargain, and how long it will take to sell, and whether it fits the mix and whether I can have a smaller or bigger margin and where and how to display it.

I often get asked, "What's selling really well?" My usual answer is, "Nothing is selling a lot, everything's selling a little." Which is really true. Gone are the fad days. Last fad I was in was Pokemon, which peaked at Christmas 2000. I don't really miss them, frankly, though I'm prepared to try to make money if one comes along.

I had a regular come in, who asked me, "How can you get away with so much stuff that doesn't sell?"

Well, my answer is: Everything sells. Well, most everything. It may take 5 years, but eventually just about everything sells. I have toys that have yellow plastic; which is probably a sign that the toy has been in the store for more than 5 years. But I have very few yellow plastics -- and even they sell eventually, just because no one else has them.

When something gets taken downstairs to storage, that means I've decided that it will never sell.

I have maybe one or two boxes of dead toys. I have hundreds of boxes of back issue comics and sports cards and entertainment cards. That was because the market shifted, and I shifted toward a new retail model. These would probably sell if I had a way to display them, or the time to sell them online. Meanwhile -- they are in storage.

People who haven't been in my store for a few years, are always surprised by how much stuff I have. Anything that came in since they came into the store last is 'new.' For tourists, most everything in the store is 'new.'

That's one of the reasons I'm downtown.

I've just ordered a ton of stuff when my store is already packed. But that is part of the process of constant changing of product mix -- ordering both quality evergreens and cheap liquidations and blending them. So much stuff that anyone coming in the door will see at least one thing they simply have to have.


9/22/09 UPDATE.



"More than 9,000 people have lost jobs since mid-2006. Some 29% of homes are vacant."


***9/21/09: KTVZ.COM.

"Much-sought signs of economic recovery proved elusive for Central Oregon in August unemployment rates released Monday - which were up yet again in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties.

Deschutes County's rate rose 0.6 of a point to 15.8 percent last month, nearly double the 8.3 percent rate of a year ago. Crook County's rate increased 0.4 of a point, to 18.8 percent, while Jefferson County's rate jumped 0.8 of a point, to 16.4 percent.

"I was really hoping things would hold steady, but we lost jobs in all three counties," said Carolyn Eagan, state Employment Department regional economist in Bend.

"Any job gain we had in Deschutes County in July, we lost in August," Eagan said.

What's more, Deschutes County's civilian labor force actually dropped for the first time this year, by about 200 people, to 86,918, meaning some people either stopped looking for work, or moved elsewhere. That's the first such drop "in a very long time," Eagan said."

***9/6/09: BEND BULLETIN.

"...tourism for the last fiscal year fell 9.5% in unincorporated Deschutes County and 14.4 percent in Bend..."


***9/4/09: BBC NEWS.

Economic crash in Oregon boomtown
By Adam Brookes

*The population of Bend quadrupled in under 20 years - from 20,000 to 80,000.
*Between 2001 and 2005, the median value of a home in Bend rose by 80%.
*By 2005, work was getting underway on 700 new homes each month.
*But when the US slumped, Bend crashed. The value of a home fell 40% in under two years.
*And unemployment nearly quadrupled from around 4% two years ago to 15% in the summer of 2009.



29%. Largest two year shortfall in two-year state budget by percent.



Top 10 Overvalued Housing Markets, 2009 first quarter

City Price Percent overvalued
Atlantic City, N.J. $243,600 44.1
Ocean City, N.J. $302,100 33.8
Wenatchee $247,100 29.3
Longview $192,600 26.6
Honolulu, Hawaii $614,500 25.7
St. George, Utah $197,000 25

Bend, Ore. $240,800 24.9

Bellingham, Wash. $288,900 24.2



Third highest jump in unemployment.

"About 15 percent of people living in Bend are unemployed, up from about 8.8 percent last year this time. Bend's jump was third-highest in the nation of any sized city, according to the report."


***9/2/09: KTVZ.COM.

"Central Oregon ranks sixth in the nation in overall homelessness rates and third among rural communities, according to a report just released this week by the National Alliance to End Homeless."

CoCs with Highest Rates of Homelessness (per 10,000)
1. Detroit, MI 216
2. Mendocino County, CA 161.3
3. Monroe County, FL 146.9
4. Portland, ME 116
5. Santa Cruz, CA 111.7

6. Central Oregon 110.5

7. Merced, CA 109.3
8. Santa Barbara, CA 106.1
9. Boston, MA 98
10.District of Columbia 96.6



Unemployment Rates for Metropolitan Areas
Monthly Rankings
Not Seasonally Adjusted
July 2009

341 Bend, OR Metropolitan Statistical Area 13.9

(#341 out of 372 Metro Areas.)



Unemployment Rates for States
Monthly Rankings
Seasonally Adjusted
July 2009p

47** OREGON ** 11.9


***6/17/09: NEW YORK TIMES.

Slump Dashes Oregon Dreams of Californians

"Now the Californians who contributed to Oregon’s growth are in some cases adding to its economic struggle. As of May, Oregon had the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation, at 12.4 percent, behind Michigan. California, which has not released its May figures, ranked fifth in April.

While some other states with high unemployment, including Michigan, have seen their labor forces shrink, Oregon’s labor force has grown. Economists say some of the growth appears to be driven by people who moved here with money they made in California, whether from real estate or stock market investments, and expected to get by but now must look for work."


Monday, September 21, 2009

Sociable rats.

The Bulletin had a hard hitting article on those rats on Wall Street in the business section today -- no, wait. They don't have a business section on Monday....those are real rats.

Should have known when the lead-in said "Rats are adorable, pretty clean."


I know I've already posted this once, but it bears repeating: From the Chicago Sun-Times:

"Though bookstores represented only a fraction of the total, their closings are forecast to jump 500 percent from last year, to 400 stores." Maybe a fraction of the total closings, but for bookstores I believe that would be over 10%.

Still haven't got a handle on the status of 'used' bookstores. Anecdotally, there are lots of comments from tourists that their local used bookstores have closed. Common wisdom is that they 'must be doing well because of the great recession.' I suspect that usual forces are at work, only more so....


The only Emmy award that interested me, was the one for Micheal Emerson for Lost. If he hasn't won before, it's about time. I love it when a bit actor takes over a role so thoroughly, they have to write him into the series...

Meanwhile, I have to decide whether I want to continue certain series: both House and Heroes having two hour premieres really is too much. I keep wanting to like Heroes, and I keep sort of hating it. And House has been so formulaic and so re-run that I think I may skip it, too.


Finished The Foreign Correspondent, by Alan Furst. I can't believe I hadn't found this writer before. He reminds me of Hemingway, a bit, only less mannered. It was surprisingly subdued in it's derring-do, which only made it more believable. The writing and the characterization made it compulsively readable, even though the actual events were more realistic -- muddy and inconclusive and sideways. I'm going to have to order his books new, since I don't see his books used all that much.

Picked up a Stephen Greenleaf 'Tanner' mystery, set in mid-1980. These are like little time-capsules set in the era he wrote them, from the early 70's on...

Speaking of which, I've added Rex Stout to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler on the 'essential mysteries' bookshelf. Now if I could just order the Travis McGee stories by John D. McDonald. Why aren't those in print?


Stealing another retailer's words. The owner of Meltdown in N.Y. about manga,

"That time (when we order any and all manga) has passed for us. We are left with 2,000 over-stocked books and we learned a lesson. We’ve since curbed our appetite for taking risks on unproven titles and are just stocking the greatest hits now.

Nowadays for us, it’s all about getting books that appeal to the more sophisticated readers out there and figuring out how best to cater to them."

Well, exactly.


I've ordered absolutely everything I wanted for the store. I'm treating it as my Christmas budget; I'm just getting it in a little earlier than usual and giving myself more time to sell it.

When I ask myself, do I think what I've ordered is too much, (?) the answer is -- 'no,' over the long run, probably 'yes' over the short run. That's why having cash is a good thing. I don't have to worry so much about the short run.

This month has been so good, it's at least possible that I'll have 2/3rds of it paid for upfront by sales over projections. That would be keen. But I'd have to continue for the next 9 days what I've managed for the first 16 days, and ...well....I don't expect it. I always have a drop off at the end of the month.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Contrary this!

"You weren't open on Sunday," a regular customer said, exasperated. "I always think that businesses that aren't open 7 days aren't doing well..."

As you can imagine, this sent daggers into my heart. As I feared.

"Then again," he says, "Owners who work 7 days a week also worry me. They start to look like their businesses."

That made me laugh. "...start to look like their businesses...."

Despite feeling somewhat overwhelmed, despite the one day off not quite being enough, I'm going to go to the end of the year, and if I do that, it makes sense to go until next summer. I keep looking at this simple fact: my profits equal my former employee wages.

And I've loved having that cash in my accounts, both as a rainy day fund and as a cash-flow enabler.

Beside, hiring someone right now wouldn't help with the stress one bit. In fact, for the first few months it would ADD to the stress. It's only until after they are accustomed to the store that employees help relieve the burden instead of adding to the burden.


The whole 'expert' stock brokers thing is giving me a giggle.

Now that all the optimists have joined the pessimists, a few of the pessimists are becoming optimists, and being accused by the former optimists of being optimists while most of the pessimists remain pessimists and newbies like me see nothing but pessimists with a few optimists who used to be pessimists.

Or something like that.

Meanwhile, most of the pessimists see everyone else as optimists and most of the optimists see everyone as pessimists. Whereas I, who be a newbie deluxe, see almost exclusively pessimists who are having cognitive dissonance recognizing that all the former optimists have joined them as pessimists and therefore the former pessimists are no longer contrarians.

That about right, Jesse?

Homeless? What homeless?

Wow, the Bulletin really doesn't like the Homeless Capital label. It argues that since the survey that declared Bend 6th in homelessness, and 3rd in rural homelessness was based on a single day survey and didn't really account for the marginally housed, it wasn't accurate.

Real homeless are 'out in the cold.'

But if the survey standards were the same everywhere, I think that puts us right back where we started, no?

In other words, everywhere else had the same standards. Making the survey equal across the board.

It's like trying to argue that an unemployed person really isn't unemployed because he's building a shed for his parents. And that only our local guy building the shed is employed, but not everywhere else where the same thing is happening.

Or am I missing something?


How much am I allowed "Told You So's?" Juniper Ridge has been a disaster from the beginning, with much needed money thrown away on a pipe-dream. We're going to hear all winter how there aren't enough funds to operate basic city services. Wouldn't those millions come in handy now?

BAT? From the start, I've maintained this was a sleight of hand. Something that Bend could never afford before suddenly because affordable -- by buying cheap buses that turned out to be lemons, but living off the temporary funds of a housing bubble.

But Bend has never really supported mass transit. Nor will it, just as it will never vote for a sales tax or a to pump their own gas.

So we're left with a system that will be a constant drain on already dwindling revenues.

Apparently, we'll just keep doing that.

And we'll keep paying the interest on the more or less worthless Juniper Ridge where the only tenants got such good deals (and who were already local business, for a net gain of --- zero ---) that we aren't generating anything there, either.

Businesses that overreach or which are unrealistic go out of business.

Bend projects just keep getting funded by government debt.

Worthy projects? Yes.

Viable? No.


I realize very few people will agree with the following.

But having charity events based on gambling is like having a fundraiser for alcoholism by having a beerfest.

I really have visceral dislike of gambling. I think it's a bad thing to do.

I always wonder how many addicts they are creating for these 'good causes.' Kind of a vicious circle.

Let's see. Let's have an event which encourages gambling, for which we use to proceeds to help say, 'the homeless.'

A certain number of people who gamble become addicts, losing their jobs, families, and eventually their homes.

So becoming homeless so that they may be helped by gambling.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Getting new stuff is fun.

I dreamed of rising floodwaters; not slowly rising, but torrents of gushing streams.

It's been a long time since I let loose the spending reins, and I'd forgotten how much work it is to deal with an influx of product. I spent about 2 hours just trying to fit a batch of new boardgames into my space -- because they're all different sizes and shapes, it was a jigsaw puzzle. But I was determined to make them fit, and eventually, after much trial and error, they did.

It takes time to receive and process and organize and price and stock and deal with the empty boxes and packing and also deal with the normal store stuff. I'd forgotten I had an employee last time I was dealing with so much product.

My UPS driver is going to hate me. Just ordered 300 new books, many of them hardcover and all the rest of them trade paperbacks. I don't know how many boxes that will take, but probably dozens. Of heavy, bulky boxes. Over this weekend, I intend to order at least a hundred more new books from a different supplier.

The day goes whizzing by, too. Which is good, I suppose. I got a batch of books in a day or two ago, and I looked up and saw one of my regulars standing there, and I said, "You aren't going to stand there and watch are you? I hate that?" I heard a voice pipe up from the other side, and there was a couple smiling and saying, "We want to see, too."

I chuckled, cause I knew how they were feeling. "It's like Christmas, every day. What's in THIS box?"

Eventually the store will fill up again. Probably I'm the only person in this here world that sees any gaps in my store, but they are there and itching to be filled. Then Christmas, and then another long slow hiatus between Jan. and June. This plan of attack worked wonders last year, so I expect it to work again. In fact, last year, I was still ordering stuff into late spring, and I don't think I'll have to do that this year.

I've decided to give up on audio books. (See previous entry: Reading is not a group activity.) And I have a few miscellaneous non-fiction books that simply aren't moving: cooking, history, gardening, architecture and design, photography. I got these when I was still experimenting, and I'm going to bequeath them to Linda's store.

This will make more room for fiction books. I have the quirky, weird and pop-culture non-fiction, and a section of mainstream art books, which I'm going to expand a little.

Sales have remained good two/thirds of the way through the month, so much of the new stuff is already paid for.

This is fun.

They didn't buy it to leave it alone.

Speaking of "only the paranoid survive." I can't believe how many people believe Disney and Warner Movies are just going to leave comics alone.

They didn't take over these companies (or divisions) to do nothing.

Iger from Disney has said, "There will be no Disneyfication of Marvel."

You know, when the new boss comes in and announces, "Don't worry, nothing will change," it's time to start worrying about change.

"But they've left Pixar alone," several people have commented.

Pixar is a giant compared to Marvel. Huge moneymaker. Someone pointed out once that no studio in the history of movies has had more than 3 or 4 hits in a row. Pixar has had, what 15? 20?, in a row without a real flop.

Who's going to mess with that? "Yes, Sir, Mr.Lassiter!" you say, if you have any brains.


"What do you mean you only sell 50,000 Iron Man comics? What's wrong with you people! This was the biggest hit of the summer!!!"

"Er....comics don't sell all that well."

"Why not? Why are you wasting your time on some podunk shop in Bend, Oregon that only sells 8 copies.....don't they have a Walmart? A Target?"

Bottom line, the corporate bigwigs have taken over comics; what they'll do is anyone's guess. But I don't believe it bodes well.

Reading is not a group activity!

Yet another person has walked in the door asking for a book they know nothing about.

"Is it fiction or non-fiction?"

"I don't know...."

"You don't know?

"It's for a book club."

So the only reason they are buying the book is because everyone else is buying a book?

You know... that's been bugging me for awhile now.


Nor is reading having some other guy -- an actor usually, giving you all the emphasis and the nuance and the inflections of a story when they read it to you. I want that author's voice for my own. I don't want it filtered by someone else!


O.K. O.K. I'm just kidding. I do actually understand why people listen to books. And I do see why people want to discuss the same book with each other.

So really, I get it.

But it's not for me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Change of strategy.

I was planning to try for a small profit over the fall season, Sept., Oct., Nov. It would have been 30% smaller than what I did in August alone, but a profit nevertheless.

I've decided to go a different route.


First, because the store is doing so well, and Linda's store is doing even better.
After a couple of years of not hearing compliments from the customers, I've been hearing tons of compliments. "Cool store." And the compliments are coming from my target potential customers -- middle aged couples, and 20/30 somethings. I want to keep reaching for that audience by supplying what they're looking for.

We're on a roll, right now, at a time when others are struggling and I think it's a good time to put the hammer down. My instinct is that customers are looking for places that not only are surviving, but thriving. Maybe not consciously, but I'm pretty sure they're tired of "Liquidation Sales" and "Going out of Business" sales. I'm betting they want a store that doesn't have the whiff of desperation.


Secondly, the off season is when my suppliers offer their best deals. If my intention is to build my book stock, then it's important that I take advantage of every opportunity. If the books keep selling, it makes no sense not to keep getting them.


Third, I've begun to notice certain gaps. Toys sales are way down, and it had become obvious that my minimalist approach hasn't worked. I was ordering single toys, instead of full lines of toys, and while it's kept the appearance of the store up, it hasn't resulted in many sales.

Thing about toys is, I can pick up large batches of toys that are slightly 'out of date' and still sell them over a longer period of time. I almost have to overshoot toys orders to garner sales, and the best way to overshoot is to buy them at a major discount. If I get them at twice the normal discount, I can take twice as long to sell them or alternately, sell half as many, or in a pinch, sell them for half price.


Fourth, I have the cash to spend. I have enough for taxes and for my safety margin, so it's time to test the proposition that I can spend a few thousand, then replenish my cash position, and then spend and then replenish. I've never done this before, mostly because I didn't have the cash to spend. I've always wanted to see if such a tactic would work.

If it doesn't work, I still have Christmas ahead to recover. But I have a feeling that spending what would have been pretty paltry profits on consequential product is more useful right now.


Fifth, I'm bored with just babysitting the store. Yes, it resulted in the best profits of my career, but it was agonizing to pass by opportunities for growth. With this month doing so much better than I expected, I'm going to loosen the reins just a bit. Makes going to work more fun, makes working more busy.


Sixth, the major changes in my industry have once again reinforced the importance of diversifying the store's inventory. Books -- of all kinds. Stories -- of all kinds. Art -- of all kinds. This is the future of my store.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Life in Art.

Had a customer ask if I had any books on Looney Tunes animation. Strangely, I did not. (How did that happen?)

Then he offhandedly mentioned that he once drew the Dennis the Menace strip. It was pulling teeth to get all the info out of him. Humble to a fault. He said he was Hal Ketcham's assistant for about 5 years. Then he went to draw his own syndicated strip for 30 years for King Features.

Well, this is the big time, but once again I had to draw it out of him. He drew a strip called PONYTAILS. So O.K. As I'm talking to him, I google him, and up he pops.

"So you're Lee Holley?"

"Why, yes."

"Wait, I think I just read something about you...."

We talked some more (he said, "I invested well,") and he left.

Dang, but that rang a bell. I googled it some more, and sure enough there is was on one of Pegasus Linked blogs, Journalista, on Sept. 1, 2009, with a link to a site called Cartoon Snap which had this to say:


"Meet Ponytail from cartoonist Lee Holley!

"After a long career of drawing cartoons for Warner Brothers, ghosting newspaper comic strips, and drawing the Dennis The Menace Sunday page, Lee Holley got his own comic strip in 1960. It was about a teen girl named Ponytail, and it’s drawn in a fun and breezy cartoony style that just dances and sings all across the newsprint. A couple of years later, Ponytail starred in new stories published in Dell comic books."

It's a small world.Too bad I couldn't have tracked that down while he was still standing there; it might have made his day.


A friend found four of my "For Sale" books on the sidewalk around the corner. How pathetic do you have to be to steal .50 and 1.00 books? Maybe too pathetic. They must have changed their minds.


Going to the doctor for routine checkup this morning. I think I'm not supposed to eat or drink anything, but I'll be damned if I couldn't at least get a cup of black coffee. Otherwise, operating my car might be dangerous.

I still wish I didn't have to go to the doctor every year just to renew my cholesterol medication. I'm exactly the same as last year, dammit.

But...they don't make any money just renewing prescriptions....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Obvious headlines.

"Officials suspect economic woes caused some families to leave area." Bulletin, 9/16/09. think?

Question. Who's going to buy all the empty houses?

Here's where I'll insert my usual notice of Building Permits. There were 12 in Bend in August. Down 60%. What may be even more alarming, there was only one more permit for all the rest of Deschutes County -- which Sisters, Redmond, and LaPine. One.

Of all the predictions made a couple years ago on BB2, the idea that the population of Bend could actually drop seemed the most outrageous.

Doesn't seem so outrageous now, does it?

I must admit, though, that I'm getting a bunch of people in Pegasus who have "just moved here." I don't have the heart, anymore, to ask them if they have a job.

The local economic growth guy (Lee?) was quoted as saying he thought Bend would recover before the rest of the country. Whereas, I think that exact opposite.
For us to recover, we need to winnow down the housing inventory. For us to recover, we have to create some jobs. I've been saying for a couple of months, I do think there will be a wave of 'good' news following September, as the statistics begin to 'improve' over the abyss that was last fall.

I'm pretty certain that this month will be the first month I'll beat last year, for instance. But I don't really want to jinx it with half the month to go, so pretend I didn't say it....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Baby's back in my corner.

Linda just came into the store.

We had a big hugfest while a friend was watching. A little embarrassing, but too bad. We really missed each other. We had both figured out that it was the longest we had ever been apart -- nine days.

I started actually getting kind of excited about her return last night. She walked in the store with a big, big smile.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. just makes it even more clear that our relationship is pretty darn solid and loving. How cool is that after 26 years?

Sorry, to gush. But my sweetheart is home.

Sometimes I just can't believe how lucky I got meeting her.

When the extraordinary becomes ordinary.

We've had a momentous couple of years, both in Bend and in the wider world. But once the shocks wore off, we were back to the drudgery of digging ourselves out of the hole we dug. No fun in that. So we're back to the gambling by Wall Street, and they have rewarded themselves for having survived.

One of the reasons I reinvested in the stock market last month is because I was certain that the stock market 'wanted' to go up.

I have a feeling the economy is like an old rickety building that some house flipper has bought and slapped on a new coat of paint, laid in a cheap new carpet and a couple of other eye-distracting flourishes and called it good.

Meanwhile, the dry rot is still eating away at the foundations.

Still, such a house may stand for a long time, still keeps out the rain (mostly) and maybe the cheap rent lets you save enough money to fix it up later. We can hope.

So we muddle through and hope that the easy quick fixes are enough.

Letting nature take its course...

I wrote the blog entry below on June 25, 2009. I never posted it because I was afraid it was a little too much 'customer blaming.'

But in retrospect, it seems rather mild. And it shows where my mind was at the time. And most of all, there is a happy postscript I can add. Look for it following the post below.



I've found, over the years, that sometimes letting go of a problem will actually solve the problem.

I'm hoping for that.

I mean, it's idiotic for me to try to influence people's behavior.

First thing I can do, is try to change MY response to that behavior.

If that fails, then I need to change the conditions that created the situation. By removing product, or moving it out of reach, retracting a 'service' that no longer works, eliminating procedures that aren't cost effective. Doing it badly is worse than not doing it at all; if you have an option of replacing it.

For instance, I have about 5 signs with the 'designer toys' (art toys, if you will, usually quite a bit more expensive and fragile than what most people think are toys) saying, "Please don't touch."

The signs are almost universally ignored.

So I'm going to take the signs down and hope for the best. Either I'll have acceptable shop-wear, or I'll put them behind glass, or I'll stop carrying them.

Same with the kid's books.

There are couple of intermediate steps I can take, which I've used in the past. For instance, I bag about half of the art books that are face out, giving the subtle message that I care about condition. This has actually worked pretty well.

In conjunction, I can create 'sacrificial lambs.' I have a bin of cheap sports cards for 1.00 a pack which the kids can dig into; and boy, do they. I wince sometimes when I see all the opened packs and the damaged packs, but that's what they are there for. Better them, than the 5.00 packs.


I have a selection of classic kids books upfront, titles like The Learning Tree, and Where the Wild Things Are. They have dustcovers, and are easily damaged.

I buy my books, non-returnable, at minimal mark-up, and usually pay on that very day.

But I live in a world where 99% of the books are sold in outlets who can return damaged books.

So, I have to accept that damaged books will happen. I figure if roughly 20% are shopworn past saleability, (or half my profitability) I'll just drop the kids books altogether.

If I also drop Pokemon and Yugi Oh, that pretty much clears out the younger kid stuff in the store. I don't think I'm averaging a pack a week, theseadays. That market has moved to the mass market, I think, or died, or moved to stores that have figured out how to still do it.

I'll see if it's workable, first. I don't want to throw out the good with the bad.


Meanwhile, I've got two shelves of used kids books -- I can either increase those and direct everyone there or drop them altogether and give up on the 'kids' market.

Remember, I can't turn a used book into a new book, but it's easy to turn a new book into a used book. I'm going to direct the families and kids to the used books as much as possible, because I don't care as much if they get handled roughly.

But like I said, the impression seems to be that if I am going to carry kid's books, I should expect damage. I'm unable to change that perception.


I have to bow to the reality of what is, not what I wish it was, and if I have to explain -- ham-handedly apparently sometimes -- that we can't do what Walmart does, then I'm going to seem defensive and accusatory, when I don't intend to be.

Meanwhile, my 'kids' comic section is roughly four comics wide, about 1 square foot, these days. Archies, Simpsons, and some of the younger DC and Marvel comics. They sell slowly, but I just leave them out, in whatever condition they become, until they sell, or don't.

On the other hand, both Marvel and DC are going to 3.99 cent comics and it takes but a moment of rough handling to make them unsaleable to my regular customers. Almost all of them are rated Teen+ (PG13) or above. DC has a very small percentage with the comics code. Marvel does have a A (for All Ages), but it is unpredictable. A title may be an A one month, and a T+ the next.

In a nutshell, 90% of what I sell is to adults, who are readers or browsers. On the other hand, 90% of the adults think I sell to kids and collectors. I find even I lapse into this frame of mind -- it's hard to change the perception of 20 years, even though it's not been true for about 10 years.

Plus, I think the content is confusing and not very interesting to younger kids -- or even teenagers. It's just the way the market has developed. I try to direct them toward collections of comics from 20 years ago, which I think is what they are looking for, and sometimes they might buy a back-issue from the era, but mostly they walk away confused that comics aren't what they expected. (Both parents and kids.)

I'm not sure what I can do about that. Comics are what they are. I don't have a time machine.

Any kid who really wants to commit to the whole Marvel Universe or DC Universe will find plenty to like -- but how can that be accomplished? Believe me, I try. Just as I try to get the average adult to consider comics as legit. It's a steep hill, let me tell you.


It isn't, as the parents seem to believe, that they are 'collectible' but that I want nice condition comics for customers to read.

I've almost dropped out of the 'collectible' market altogether. 99% of what I sell is 'reading' copies to active readers. Much of them 'sets' and graphic novels.
Collecting, as I say, is what happens after they leave the store.

Collectors come in and don't find what they want. (Golden age and silver age and hot covers and short-prints and convention issues, etc.) But to try to capture that crowd means I can't do as good a job with my regular readers. (Money, usually much more money, and space devoted to 'collectibles' takes away from money and space devoted to readers.) About 12 years ago, I chose to let go of the 'collector' market.

Which was a conscious decision on my part. Too variable, too selective, too price resistant a crowd for me -- because of the internet.


This selling of new product to active readers and casual browsers is really working, but causes consternation to those who collected comics 10 or 20 years ago and don't realize the world has changed.

It reminds me of my sport card experience. I sold the most cards when people didn't realize they were selling, from 1984 to 1990. I'd get asked all the time -- "Do these really sell?"

Then almost overnight, the impression flipped, and everyone thought I was making a fortune, just about the time I started losing money.

Sports cards were pretty much a moribund section in my store from about 1993 thru 2003, but most casual observers had the impression they were selling great! -- especially in the earlier part of the decade.

Public impression #1 (circa 1985): Sports cards barely exist, and are just playthings.

Reality #1: Sports cards were turning into big business.

Public impression #2 (circa 1995): cards are a money maker and worth lots of money.

Reality #2: they stopped selling for me, and I lost lots of money.

I know people think I'm exaggerating when I say kids don't buy comics. But I'd have to say it's moved from probably 75% under 20 years old when I started in 1980, to less than 10%, probably less than 5% today. If you go below 12 years old, it's probably less than 1%.

I have two shelfholders under 20, an 18 year old and a 17 year old. They are what I would call 'active.' Everyone else is pretty sporadic -- I can't quite fit what people say to me about what their kids read and what I actually observe.

Public Impression #1: Comics are for kids.

Reality #1: comics sell to an average age of 30 years old, are a sophisticated artform at the peak of creativity.

Public Impression #2: Comics are 'collectible' and 'worth money.'

Reality #2: Collectors come and go, and have moved mostly online, but readers have stayed.

I never buy comics, except from wholesalers, and would tell anyone who is 'investing' that they should buy an IRA instead.

The breaking point seemed to be in 1995, when so many collectors and investors disappeared, leaving the real comic lovers.

I slowly built back on that basis; collectors come and go, but readers stay.


Before anyone writes to tell me that comics and cards are worth money, and are collectible, I concede that this market exists, that it has moved mostly online but that there are stores that do well with that market. What I'm saying is that I changed MY business model away from that.

But the public has no way of knowing that, I guess. And if I try to say it, it sounds like I'm trying to discourage them. But it's just the reality of what I actually sell.


If I just stand back and let people do what they do, it's a moot point, I guess. I'll decide at the end of summer what's worth doing and what isn't.

Things get dropped from my store when they stop working. When singles became more of a hassle than they worth, especially pokemon and yugi-oh, I simply removed them.

If it gets to the point where I'm neither making money or having fun, I've found I'm better off dropping the whole line and moving on to something else. readers....has always been a joy to me. In 25 years I've never been inclined to drop them or even cut back. I've just tried to integrate other forms of fiction along with them.

I just wish the reality of my store experience -- that I sell comics and books and toys and games to the 20 and up somethings, matched the impression that people seem to have, which is that I must be mostly for kids. At the same time, when I say I sell mostly to adults, that doesn't mean I wouldn't like some kid business too. It's just reality.


So in a sense, I'm saying it's up to the customers whether I continue to carry some of the stuff I sell....I'm going to step back and see how it works out.

I'm simply going to stop trying to influence customer behavior ("Please be gentle!" "Please look but don't touch!" "Comics aren't just for kids, anymore!" "Please ask for help in getting down the games!" etc. etc.) They too often take offense.

Instead, I'm going to adapt to what the customers actually do.

I know a lot of you are going to say, if that's the way you feel, why don't you get out of it. But I do have many fun people come in who buy that stuff -- usually adults, but still -- and I see no reason to let the worst decide the best.

If my non-interference results in adequate sales and acceptable damage, I'll continue carrying certain things. If not, I'll start displaying something else in that space, instead.

I'm going to be easy.




Well, you know what? I succeeded in letting it go. I changed a few things, but mostly I changed my attitude. I let the customers alone, and the result was pretty good. Less damage than I expected. No conflicts at all.

Ironically, I'd been very concerned with conflicts all through June, and had tried my best to avoid them, and yet there were several incidents. Thus the frustrated tone on the June 25 entry.

But once I let go, I stopped having problems. I let "Duncan be Duncan." In a sense, it wasn't so much letting go of all concern, but letting it out in little ways, instead of trying to bottle it all up. As time passed, my little frustrations began to fade.

I've even picked up a few kid customers.

I did change a few displays. Put the designer toys up higher. Bagged some of the kids comics. Got rid of the 1.00 packs.

But the rest of the product I thought about dropping, I'm going to keep.

Mostly though, I politely let the kids go their way, hoped for the best, and concentrated on people I knew were customers. And that worked.

It helped that I had a good summer, and that the store is functioning well. But mostly, I just needed to find a way to adjust my attitude to the new realities.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Eight Things That Would Improve on L.O.T.R's.

Great movies. I read in one review, there is about 10% too much cheese factor.

In twenty years, I figure they can go back and do a digital remake of Lord of the Rings. Keep most of what's there, but change a few things, and make additions.

Look, as long as it was nearly so faithful, it's too bad they didn't go all the way and film the whole book.

1.) Split the epic into four movies to accommodate the changes; Tolkien meant it to be one book, and the trilogy was a publisher decision in the first place.

2.) Add the Tom Bombadil and Barrow Downs parts, and finish with the Scouring of the Shire, and the proper end of Wormtongue and Saruman. You could also do the Caves sequence in the battle for Endor...I mean Elderas. That would make all the movies a new experience.

3.) Bring in music and poetry. Hey, everyone else would hate this, but this is my 'perfect' movie.

4.) Solidify the Army of the Dead. The green glowing flow was kinda disappointing. I would've loved an army of clanking skeletons. That would be Awesome.

5.) Tone down the elve/dwarve humor. Hey, I know he was trying to lighten the tone, but there was enough humor in the book. The body count was in the books, so I'd keep the "That still counts as One." But I'd lose the dwarve tossing.

6.) Shorten the goodbyes. Wow. I wanted the hobbits to just kiss and get a room, if you know what I mean.

7.) Amp up the whole Ringwraiths on Weathertop sequence. I wanted them to be more awesome looking. And have Frodo be the hero he was in the book, charging the Ringwraiths instead of cowering on the ground.

8.) Changes I would keep. The way Jackson telescoped the whole Ringwraith chase. The way he telescoped what was always the hardest part of the book, the Trudging through Mordor. (And while you're at it, add the line about how being caught up in the orc troop, got them closer to their goal.)

Everything else? Leave it be.

There was one plot element that really leaped out at me this viewing. How did Shelob's stinger get through Frodo's Mithril?

My second Sunday off...

I took the full day off, instead trying to redo my subscriptions. Pretty much wasted the day, but felt fully righteous. Went on a Lord of the Rings marathon. Watched about half of it on cable, before I got annoyed enough with the full screen and commercials and hauled out the DVD's.

Oh, and watched Strange Days which is a movie I always really liked, but which everyone else seems to hate. Set in the turn of the Millennium, (2000), and made in 1995, it rather amusingly has it's clunky high tech futurism. (S.F. movies always seem to underestimate miniaturism.) In the background are news reports of such outrageous things as, gasp, 2.00 a gallon gas!!

I'm picking up on my reading. So for this month I've read, The Scarecrow, by Micheal Connelly. Change of pace from Harry Bosch books. A laid-off reporter, going for one final 'screw-you, bosses' major story.

The Stone Canal, by Ken MacLeod. I've read these all out of order, so a bit confusing. Complete world building, with computer advanced humans accelerating into near gods, leaving ordinary humans behind.

Hard Freeze, by Dan Simmons. I think Simmons' S.F. and Horror is better than his hard-boiled detective. (And I mean hard-boiled -- has to pick one of two gangsters to take with him on a undercover mission, shoots the other in the eye...) A quick read.

Halfway through an Alan Furst, The Foreign Correspondent, who's an author other authors always refer to admiringly. Set in pre-WWII Paris among the Italian resistance. This is "Casablanca" territory, and I'm really enjoying it.

Running out of coffee, so been stretching out a thin gruel. Enough to stave off the headaches. I count on Linda to do all the shopping. I still get a little nervous alone in grocery stores, which after all this time is kind of strange, but there it is. Don't have a problem when Linda is with me, just alone.

I figure this week will be the dead week that always happens at the end of 'retail' summer. So, I'm going to kick back and enjoy it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A slug in the garden.

That's me.


Dreamed I went to work today (my new day off.) I was all fumble-fingers and inept and overwhelmed. Retailer anxiety dream -- the buttons on the calculator just get smaller and smaller, every time I turn around I knock something over, people get disgusted and leave.

I need this day off, I think.


I got a gander at the floor-plan of a very very very expensive house. Such self-indulgence! So out of proportion! Do the very rich just lose all moral compass?


An intriguing tidbit about the new head of DC comics. She was the person in charge of shepherding J.K. Rowling's licenses through Warner Brothers.

A Harry Potter comic, anyone?


The giant Redmond Home Center is having it's Grand Opening?

Could they have picked a worse time?


Amazing how many people ask for super-hero stuff, but aren't the slightest bit interested in super-hero comics. They like the idea, I guess. But I've found over the years that such requests are usually a little too specific. Decals? But not those decals. T-shirts? But not those t-shirts. Posters? But not those posters.
And so on.

When Marvel went bankrupt in the late '90's they dumped most of this stuff for pennies on the dollar, and I picked up a bunch of it. And no one wanted it, even at half the price.

Oh, hell. Let me throw that open to the world. You all are into Batman and Superman and Spider-man? Right?

Not unless you've read a comic you're not.


Every morning, Panga and Linda have a little hugfest. I wake up finding Panga draped over Linda's shoulder.

Then every evening, Panga seeks me out and demands my lap. Linda and I joke that she has split the day in half for us.

This morning, Panga wanted me to give her the hugfest. She's a big girl, nearly 20 pounds, and she always wants more cuddling than my arms can stand. When Linda is gone for more than a few days, she'll walk into the middle of Linda's office and meow loudly.

I know how she feels.

Linda is such a constant presence in my life. Always supportive and nice. Always willing to listen. Always a cheerful, bright nature soul. For the first few days she's gone, I keep feeling her there anyway. And then, the house starts to feel empty, hollow. Me and the cat look at each other saying, you aren't enough, bozo.


Looks like Linda has resolved her sister's situation in S.F. for the time being. Lois apparently said, "You did good," to Linda, who had felt so overwhelmed by it all. The guy at the bank said, "You're lucky. Because your sister prepared, it only took you a couple of days. Most people keep coming back for weeks and months."

We'll see. I sort of expect a call after Linda gets home. But for now, Lois is in a safe place.


Another article in the paper about how people are cutting back to "needs" rather than "wants" in purchasing.

Again, I don't think I'm seeing that. What I'm seeing are people who quit buying because they lost their jobs, left town, or had hours cut and expenses increase. They quit buying anything.

But the people who are still buying are still buying books and comics and such. So the focus shouldn't be on this idea that cutting back is somehow voluntary, but should be on the fact that they really are broke.

I don't know. The whole frugality argument seems like a red herring. Not the true cause of the downturn; nor real evidence that people have really cut back.

The frugality argument makes it sound as though we can't recover until the consumer starts spending again, instead of on the real culprit of unemployment, under employment, diminishing wealth, and low wages.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bonus week.

We got an extra week of retail summer this year. Even though I'm going to be closed 4 Sundays this month, from this point forward, I need do only the same per day average as last year the rest of the way to match last year's sales. For the first ten days of this month, I've been able to match July and August sales.

I don't expect this to continue.

The late Labor Day, and the (mostly) good weather have kept the good times rolling.

We closed Linda's store the last three hours yesterday, and it will be closed today, with a sign, "Family Emergency." (When I had a panicked friend come into my store, I amended the sign, "Linda and Duncan are fine...") Linda is still in S.F. ironing out her sister's difficulties, and Kent couldn't work. But even with a short day, he did one and half times a normal days business.

I don't normally express this sentiment, but I am thankful for the good business that both stores have done, because I know just how bad it could've been. I'll know by the end of today what I've spent for September, which gives me a sales goal to work toward. It's amazing how often I hit my goals, and I think it's because I'm trying. I'm hoping to make an extra profit even in the slow months.

I keep saying 'extra' profit, but it's not really that. We have plenty of taxes and bills to pay, so it ain't really 'extra.' Still, it's better than we've done in the past.

The Point of Sale computer is sitting on my counter and has become -- for the time being -- a very expensive net browser and computer. It'll still happen, just not right away.

I'm going to redo my subscription list on my home computer this Sunday (one of those put-off tasks that needs to be done.) I LIKE my system, and it works, and I DON'T like the POS subscriber system, so I'm going to do it my way. I still want the POS to keep track of sales and inventory, however, which after all is it's main purpose.

I'm also going to continue to do my pre-orders and re-orders the old way, at least for the time being.

The POS will still pay for itself with the inventory control -- but I'm so close to the end of the year, I'm thinking I might as well make it my year-end inventory count.

The biggest danger is I lose my contractual 'help' from Diamond; it is already almost timed out, but the adviser said he'd give me more time. And then Linda left town for two weeks, and there is no way I can get the inventory done without her.

Still, the potential is all still locked into the hardware and software, even if it isn't being used. I think I have enough friends and customers who are computer savvy that I can figure it out when the time comes.

I figure if I ever want to sell the store, way, way down the road, it would be almost essential that I have POS in place. I have the inventory in my head, but anybody else would have a harder time of it.

I still like paper and pencil, but I must bend to the future.

And my experience with online ordering has been so beneficial that I know further progress is needed. Hell, I think this blogging has been helpful. So I'm not dismissing progress, despite my luddite instincts.

But I am taking a vacation from progress.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Diverse ecosystem.

While I didn't see the changes in the comic market coming, I was prepared for something to change.

Diversity is the best response to change. Flexibility, not depending on one habitat to keep you alive. These thoughts have been at the basis of my planning ever since sports cards gained an 85% share of my store sales and then almost took me out when they plunged.

I'm already headed in the direction I need to go, so the changes in the comic market are manageable as long as they come at slow enough pace that I can morph. It isn't in anyone's interests to pull the rug out from under the entire industry. Not that it couldn't happen. I have no faith in MBA short-term corporate thinking. I've watched TSR nearly destroy RPG's; Topps and Upper Deck nearly destroy sports cards, and quite definitely destroy entertainment cards. I've watch the book publishers give it away to Amazon and Barnes and Nobles; I've seen Marvel and DC decimate the comic market. Over my career, the toy companies have made Walmart the biggest toy seller in the world.

But all this is good for us little independents, right? That's why there are less than 1000 card shops left, why there are only about 3000 record stores, less than 3000 toy stores and less than 3000 game stores, and about 3000 comic shops. I always ask people to think about that. Out of a population of 350,000,000, there are probably only about 15,000 of us who still own businesses that make a living from books, games, toys, cards, records and comics.

O.K. maybe I'm off, but I could be off by double and triple and it's still an amazing thought. The mass market owns the market, folks.

These 15k or so people seem to be the irreducible minimum; those of us too stubborn or too stupid to give up. In bookstores, there is always some starry eyed newcomer to take the place of all the shops that fold. Nevertheless, there were over 7800 indy bookstores just 5 years ago, there are only about 3000 today. But all that exposure at Costco and Walmart and Amazon and Barnes and Nobles and Borders has been good for us, right?

Now -- to hear the comic people talk like that. It's very dispiriting. But I will do what I know is best for the store.

I've made my accommodations with the mass market on books, toys, games and cards. I go around them, or over them, or under them, or whatever it takes.

But much as I appreciate the income from these sidelines, they ARE sidelines, and unlikely to become more than that. I'm well aware that my store has survived because I can sell comics and graphic novels like no one else around here, and I've not been shoved aside by the mass market.

Do I think comics in the mass market will work? Maybe, but probably not. By the time they figure that out, it may be too late for the direct market. It could be like sports cards, where sales skyrocketed in the mass market for several years after my sales started to decline, and then began their long slow inexorable crash. As they crashed out of the mass market, there was very little independent infrastructure remaining to pick up the slack.

You destroy your base of support at your peril.

Predictably, most of the commentators I've read think that exposure of comics to the mass market is just dandy. Most of them are non-retailers, but there are many retailers that think this too.

I think they're foolish. But I'm not going to argue the point. This argument has been going on for 20 years, and all I know is that I have survived and even thrived with the thought that the mass market isn't my friend.

I know what I think I know, and that is the way I'm going to plan it.

Just being a storekeeper.

I've been taking refuge in the routine. Which is probably boring to you guys, but comforting to me.

I'm not worried about becoming stale -- I think there's more than enough change headed my way over the next couple of years.

For the time being, I'm taking satisfaction in both stores functioning well. Showing up for work, doing my opening routines, playing a little too much solitaire. Getting up and doing a little cleaning, taking enjoyment in talking to the customers. Catch up on my reading.

I always have that itch to shuffle things around, to experiment, to enlarge and expand and otherwise improve.

I've been fighting it.

There's a time for that, and then there is time to just let things be. Linda's store is a great lesson to me. She has stuck pretty much to the same things since she started 6 years ago, and her growth has been steady. I don't think I've ever gone more than a year or two without throwing my store into disruption.

All for a good cause, of course. Some of my earlier, more ambitious changes (opening four stores, for instance) didn't always work out, but I think I had to try them at some point. Once I got spanked and learned my lessons, I wasn't as likely to replicate them. But most of the changes I've made over the last 15 years or so have been helpful and necessary -- even bringing in new books and boardgames in the last couple of years....

I want to winnow down some of the product in the store, slowly, naturally. Which helps add to the bottom line at a time when I need it. It is very hard for me to reverse course -- after all, I've been adding product at a furious pace for probably 9 years now.

It's sort of like living off the food in the fridge and pantry for awhile, other than fresh foods, with the intention of replenishing with more up to date product. Ironically, this is happening at a time when I probably have more money to actually buy product than ever before.

I still see great potential in new books, but I have enough titles for the time being to accomplish what I need. I'm sort of saving up titles and ideas -- waiting for the right moment to restock.

All the changes in the comic industry makes me feel that I've been going in the right direction. I've always felt that no one product should be more than 50% of my sales, and right now comics and graphic novels are about 50%. At the worse, there will still be some comics produced, and probably more than enough graphic novels.

So it's time to let the store function on it's own, with me there to tend to it. (Beast that it is....)

There are the usual dreaded but expected spot shortages. You can't run a 'just in time' store with a long-tail inventory and not have spot shortages. But I'm taking care of them by constant small reorders, instead of big weekly reorders. It takes a little longer to show up, but I'm getting exactly what I need.

My Sundays off are turning out to be different than I expected. It looks as though the first four Sundays will be used strictly for 'catch up' on stuff I've been putting off. Which I suppose only reinforces that I needed the time off. It is away from the counter, at least, and I don't have to put on my 'store face' so to speak. Hopefully, I'll catch up and be able to use my days off for something more relaxing.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Marvel and DC: Do no harm.

Last week, the big bombshell was Marvel being bought by Disney.

This week, DC announced structural changes, bringing the comics division under the control of the movie division.

Which sends cold chills down my spine.

There is a bit of history here.

Back in the early 90's, comics had a good, old fashioned bubble. Got big for a couple of years, lots of speculation; variant covers, shiny covers, short prints, the whole playbook.

When sales took a big hit, all the comics shops were scrambling to survive. It would have been tough, no matter what happened.

But Marvel panicked. They blamed the distribution system and the retailers for the declining sales. They decided they could distribute direct to the retailers themselves.

It was an utter disaster. Turns out distributing hundreds of titles a month to thousands of shops wasn't as easy as they thought. It had the effect of taking an already deflating bubble and popping it.

DC's reaction was even more harmful. They decided they would go exclusive as well, and the remaining distributors fought for their business. Image and Dark Horse, the third and fourth largest comic companies followed suit. There was one major survivor, Diamond Comics, who won, guess what, by making the best deal with the comic companies, a lower percentage.

When Marvel came crawling back to Diamond, there were less than 25% as many comic shops left, as well as only one distributor. Kind of a recipe for constantly declining sales. Less shops, means less exposure and so on.

This new development looks like a replay. An overreach and an overreaction to a already weakened market.

I hope they'll remember the golden rule for distribution -- do no harm.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Time of life.

As candid as I try to be for this blog, you may have noticed that I don't talk about personal and family troubles all that much.

You may also have noticed that I've talked about "change" a lot lately.

Linda has a sister in S.F. who is suffering from some major health issues right now, and my wife has had to jet down a couple of weeks in a row for three or four days to try to deal with them. They've kind of escalated -- into what I would call a 'worst case' scenario.

When Lois made Linda the executor of her estate and gave her power of attorney, we didn't think much about it.


This is turning into something really major, something we can't easily resolve. All the choices are pretty gray, and none of them are appealing.

Linda had planned to spend about 4 days down there, but last night I told her it made no sense to keep flying back and forth when things aren't settled. I found an e-mail this morning that she is going to stay another week.

I really feel for Linda, who had no idea this was coming. It's been difficult to line up the social workers and insurance folk and doctors and lawyers and nurses and all the rest.

From all indications it is only going to get worse.

I'm leery to give Linda too much advice. It just seems to add to her pressure, but I know after a difficult day she wants to talk for awhile on the phone and let off a little steam.

These health issues just seem to be lining up one after one in the near future, with parents and siblings. Just that time of life, I guess.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hodge podge thoughts.

So far, my days off haven't been days off, much. We got a notice from the city to cut back the trees and shrubs overhanging the sidewalk. That took away last Sunday. Then on Thursday, got a call from the landlord to put the boxes of books in the downstairs area into my storage rooms.

I knew that I was bending the rules a bit by stacking them along the walls, but I was hoping to get away with it by stacking the boxes neatly. So I went yesterday afternoon, and hauled a ton of books into my storage. When I looked at it, I estimated 2 hours -- IF I didn't get sidetracked.

It's easy to get sidetracked, to see all the other tasks that need to get done, but I held to my resolve and it took two hours exactly. Then....I started some of the other tasks, and that took another couple hours. I was dripping in sweat. Not used to hard physical labor these days, and here were two weekends of it imposed by outsiders. It was good for me.

Still, I've always been interested in this ability I seem to have to measure time, space and energy intuitively. Don't know where that comes from, but it's a handy talent to have for a store keeper.

Whenever I work downstairs, I feel overwhelmed. I think I've mentioned that my Dad is a certifiable hoarder, but I've never felt I was one because I keep my living space pretty tidy. My store is packed, but that's because it results in sales. And all the stuff in the basement is stuff that -- if anything -- gains value over time.

Still, there is so much of it, I wonder if there will ever be a time that I can really deal with it, or will it be left to my successor, or the ultimate liquidation sale.


There's a price to pay in this 'new productivity' that the media is talking about. There were several headlines last week about the Orwellian concept that the companies were doing well, and the employees were doing poorly. But look at me? I'm making more money, but only by working the store by myself. This cannot stand, folks. You can't work your workers to death.


Maybe I don't understand the term 'contrary investing.' But it seems to me that everyone, every single expert, including Warren Buffet is negative about stock right now. Isn't that the very definition of contrary? I'm all in, and everyone thinks I'm crazy. Isn't that a good thing?


When the Weeners or Weenies or whatever the fans of Ween call themselves were in town a couple weekends ago, they actually spent money in my store. How do I know they were Weenies? Heavily tattooed and 18ish. Wearing mostly black and overlarge brown shorts. Apparently, my crowd.


End of summer. Sorry, HBM, but for retail it really is the end of summer. Septembers are better than they used to be, because my clientèle has gotten older, still there is always a steep dropoff. I have to be careful when I start running out of things in late August that I don't order too much, only to have the product arrive into dead time.


Another article on the New Frugality in the Bulletin this morning. I'm still dubious of this concept. I do believe that financially stressed people cut back on spending. I'm not sure I believe that they will continue to cut back if they aren't stressed any longer. I know that's what they'll say and maybe believe, but not what they'll do.

I was worried at the start of this recession that I was permanently losing comic customers -- I lost about 10 or 15% of my subscriptions very quickly. But over time, I've gained new subscribers -- new blood. I traded customers who were willing to quit, who were -- if you will, somewhat jaded -- for customers who are discovering or rediscovering comics and are excited by them.

There has always been this neat equilibrium -- that I lose regulars, or that I gain customers. Sometimes it doesn't happen at the same time, but eventually the equilibrium is regained.

Which I attribute to the strength of the artform itself, and my own steadiness of staying open day after day in the same place.