Thursday, January 31, 2008


Wha....huh? How'd that get on here? Last I remember is a bearded guy in a white robe waving his arm at me and saying,

"These are not the droids you're looking for..."
Damn it, I did it again. Started a post yesterday, pushed the button today, but showed up on yesterday's date. Go there....

But just because I haven't missed a day yet, I'm posting one of the entries I've made but haven't posted before.

Before anyone takes umbrage at my characterizing service businesses as parasitic, remember that the stuff Pegasus sells isn't exactly necessary to the continued Existence of Mankind. (Maybe necessary to the continued creative Existence of Mankind, however....)

Bend being Bend, I've always figured about 90% of my comic customers are created elsewhere. They're incubated in bigger towns, and when they come to Bend, I snag them.

So for the next couple of years, if I can replace each lost customer with a new one, I'll feel very fortunate.

My break-even point at the store, currently, is nearly half of what I'm actually earning. Reading that makes my slap my head and ask, "Why aren't you earning a huge profit, dummy!" The reason is that I've have pursued all these newcomers, and all the sidewalk traffic I'm suddenly getting, by expanding my inventory.

So if the flow of newcomers slows, I'll feel it, both in my regular customer base and in my sidewalk traffic. Hopefully, since I've been through much worse, I can adjust my spending not to go into the red.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I'm calling it.

Game over, man. Dude, does the name Custer mean anything to you?

The psychology has changed. Positive to negative. It has shifted, overnight.

(Warning: when I talk like this, people assume we're having trouble. No, No, No. We're fine... we have so many ways to deal with the problem, so many more resources, so much experience at it. It almost feels like an old, unwanted friend, as in Simon and Garfunkel's Hello, Darkness. Doesn't mean I'm happy about it, though.)

There's an old saying: By the time a trend shows up on the front page of the New York Times, the trend is already over.

I'm going to add to that: When 60 Minutes does a show on a problem, it's too late to do anything about it. I think it is going to become nearly impossible to sell a house in the near future. But more importantly for me, I think this is really going to start impacting retail sales. Official recession, depression or not, in Bend I don't think anyone will be arguing the small stuff much longer.

I started noticing a softening in sales in the late summer and fall, but business actually ticked up in November. So then I began hoping the positive psychology would hold out through Christmas, and it sort of did, at least enough to convince me that even though we were down, it was probably more due to a slump in my product than a slump in the economy.

This month has been different, especially the second half of the month. Sure there was terrible weather, but I think that was just an excuse for people to stay home and not spend money, as if they needed an excuse. This last week has been pathetic.

So, starting next week, I'm shifting into the plans that I had expected to enact in January, but then got excited by my book and game sales and went and ignored.

Small signs:

Plentiful parking in front of my store.

Customers wanting to cut back, or leaving part of their preorders behind, or saying they'll be in 'later.'

Customers in the building trade actually volunteering that things are slowing. Talking about empty lumber yards. Not having work penciled in, into the far future.

Storefronts downtown staying unleased for more than a month. (Not very long, I know, but over the last few years they've nearly been leased before the lease sign goes up.)

Customer counts holding up, or even being higher, yet sales dropping, which says to me that people are still interested, but unwilling or unable to spend money. I've read that customer visits is a more reliable indicator of health than actual sales, so in that case I'm still healthy, and the Bookmark if very healthy.

Cold calls. Seem to be getting them every five minutes.

A plethora of advertised sales and clearances, and "Sale" signs in windows. (Does this actually work?)

Buildings that once were "For Lease," now being "For SALE, or Lease."

A huge increase in posts over on the Bendbubble2 blog, some of them actual realtors, some of them actual women!

People asking for jobs. Quite an increase. They're the non-serious, "Hey, you gotta job?" type so far, but still....

Person after person coming in the door trying to sell to me; cards, comics, books. Also a big increase.

The Bulletin daring to use a word like 'malaise,' and the Nugget using the words 'defy logic' to describe some of the real estate deals.

It's all starting to add up. At least enough for me. I probably should have stuck to my plans in January, but convinced myself to fully stock the store again. I'm fat and sassy, so I can afford to take a step back and let events unfold. I was hoping for big profits, but now I'll accept just staying even.

O.K. wrote the previous last night, woke up this morning to another snowfall, which pretty much is the last nail in the coffin of this month. I'm going to be down nearly 20%, which is the biggest one month drop in a long time.

Now about half of that drop can be totally explained. Last year, Gambit went out of business, I figured that American Sports wasn't long for this world and Anime Mountain, and I wanted to become a 'new' bookstore: all of which meant I spent a huge amount of money last year on new product. Which also meant, if I remember, that I actually lost a bit last year on this month, despite the higher sales. Which points once again to the fact that the biggest factor in profits isn't sales, but spending.

I went and added up all my expenses for February, and was astonished to find that not only do I have enough to pay all the bills in full, I'll even be able to make my double mortgage. This, after having a -- for me -- huge quarterly employee taxes payment and yearly SAIF payment. I'm pretty much used to the opposite phenomenon: having a big month and thinking I made a profit and finding I'm still short. This time I had a stinky month, thought I was at a loss, and find I'm even! Weird.

What it shows is the power of prior budgeting. I cut my reorders back several thousand dollars, and that plus the profits I didn't make, made up the difference. In fact, if I hadn't gone a little crazy on re-orders, I might have made money.

Finally, now that this is becoming real to me, I want to say this. This recession -- or depression, as IHTBYB puts it -- is going to hurt a lot of people. People out of jobs, people struggling to pay bills, people unable to sell their house for a better place, and so on. I take no joy in it.

But I think the quicker we face the reality of it, the more likely we are to make the necessary changes. And of course, the people who think it's all going to 'spring' back, aren't going to listen to anyone, anyway.

(p.s. I'm starting to actually get a backlog of entries; because I enjoy writing (blathering) and because maybe I have more time on my hands and because things are happening, baby. I've pretty much stopped bothering with the short snarky posts -- (like, what kind of numbskulls would cut the snow plowing budget in December because there hadn't been much snow?!) So....what do I do with it all? When is it too much?

I'm thinking one solution will be to dump it in the comments section. So far, I'm keeping the more generalized, less dated, posts back. If I dump them, you can read them or ignore them.
Bears hibernate in the winter, right? I've been a little late getting to my warm, cozy cave. I took one last ramble through the berry patch, and I'm dripping black berry juice, but I'm fat and my fur is sleek. Time to go to bed.

I really spent way too much money on product this month, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. The good news was that it was all re-orders, which I can change this very moment, whereas my base pre-orders are already low. Since I started slashing my pre-orders back in early fall, all the late product has worked it's way through and my orders are predictably low.

Sales this last Sunday and Tuesday were truly awful. Yesterday, I could look out my window and see multiple empty parking spots, which is something I haven't seen much over the last few years. For the first time in a long time, sales dropped below my low estimate range, which means I need to readjust my estimates.

Sad story about Prineville in the Bulletin. It's hard to revive a downtown. Towns all over America have been trying to figure out how to do it for decades now. Few succeed. Downtown Redmond has a long way to go, too.

One thing I wish reporters would quit saying; a few 'new' businesses have just opened, despite the loss of the old businesses, so there's hope. Well, these new businesses just haven't jumped off the cliff, yet. Give it a couple of years, and then it will be a sign of hope. The independent bookstore business is full of such stories -- Mainstreet Books, that has been around for 40 years is closing, but don't worry. Amy Lou has opened a little nest down the street, and she serves coffee!

The comment in the Sister's Nugget about how the housing market is affecting realtors and mortgage bankers...."flashes of activity that defy logic." Well, that is exacting what it is "flashes of activity that defy logic."

Not a sign of renewal or hope.

Hunker down and hibernate, business owners. Bears will survive the winter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bit of a discussion over on the bendbubble2 blog about whether the real estate agents are getting angry yet (as in the Five Stages of Grief).

I suspect they are very angry -- AND in denial about it.

I've never got the sense that real estate types are particularly introspective. Hell, we bubble bloggers think we're such a big deal, but almost every real estate person I've talked to has never heard of us.

Nor do they seem to be particularly analytical. Maybe that's what it takes to sell houses. Anyone with second thoughts wouldn't be very successful at selling. Unfortunately, anyone who isn't thoughtful isn't going to be very successful at negotiating the end of the bubble.

Same holds true of the majority of store owners I --very briefly -- talk to. Not a lot of information sharing. Not a lot of thinking or planning I can see. They keep their misery -- which you can see on their faces, by the way -- to themselves. I tend to vent, and then explore all options, and then think it to death. I tend to look for information in every form I can find, and I try things, and then I kick a box of cards across the floor. I share any information I have, and am grateful whenever another store keeper tells me anything of substance (which is rare.)

I think being open and candid and responsive is healthy, and it may be why I've managed to survive 28 years.

Monday, January 28, 2008

There is a common S.F. scenario where an entire chunk of real estate is transported, overnight, to a past time or an alternate universe; the Civil War, for instance, or the Jurassic.

Sometimes, I wonder if my little neighborhood has been transplanted to an alternative universe.

Word is, and it's just hearsay so far, is that less than 50 homes have sold in Bend in the month of January. As opposed to 135 last year, when most real estate agents where saying the bottom had been reached. "Prices can't go any lower!"

Now this is Bend, mind you, not Redmond which has been bringing up the rear in sales and prices over the last few months.

And yet, I read this about Redmond (Bulletin, Jan. 27, 2008):

"Vukanovich....plans to build a 300-home development that would be a mix of single-family housing..."

and if that wasn't enough.

"The developer of Woodhill Crossing -- who is planning to build 170 single-family homes, 180 apartment units...."

I could swear I was living in old high desert Central Oregon. Yep, looked outside and saw 6 inches of snow.

Anyway, they aren't worried because...."By the time we get our streets built and build houses, it will be 14 to 16 months. I can't predict what the market's going to look like. I've got to hope that by then the market will turn around."

You know, go out and start up your car, start driving your car to the gorge, say a couple hundred yards from the existing bridges, right there at the steepest drop, and hope they build a bridge in time for you to cross. (Sorry, the existing bridge is for existing customers.)

To their credit, the Bulletin puts some stark details at the front of the article: "...a Redmond real estate market that saw home sales drop 44 percent in 2007 to 419 homes sold on urban lots, and a median price that fell 2.7 percent to 253,00, according to the Central Oregon Association of Realtors."

I'll bet if you roll the drops and prices from August (sub-prime debacle coming to light) it would be much, much worse.

It's also fairly easy to look at historical trends on housing slowdowns, and as far as I can find, most of these slumps last between 5 to 7 years. So that 14 to 16 month window quoted above ought to hit at just about the nadir.

But then, I'm sure in the alternate world of real estate, things are different.
I recently got a letter from a friend of mine from up north. Jimmy Claus.

Hi, Dunc,

Well despite the naysayers, I'm going ahead with my air conditioning business. No one would loan me money, so I'm using credit cards, but I'm sure I can pay them back really fast.

Would you believe there are no air conditioning businesses up here?

Here's a little bit from my press release.

"S. Claus and Mrs. Claus are behind their son, Jimmy Claus 100%, in his trying to drag the North Pole into the modern world.

"I know something about dreams,' S. Claus said. 'I told him not to let anyone talk him out of it.'

Coincidentally, I also got a letter from my friend Sammy Lucifer. He's decided to start a heating business, and said something eerily similar:

"There are no %&%**^^#
heating %#@***^ businesses in #$$@!^%%$ Hell!"

(Sorry, Sammy L. is a bit more foul mouthed than Jimmy C.)

I wished them both luck, especially Sammy Lucifer, who doesn't take kindly to criticism. And I know they both will still have homes to go to, if it all falls through. (Though with Global Warming and all, I'm more confident about Hell's chances.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Parade is the most useless rag out there, I think. There was a question in 'Personality Parade' as to why Tim Burton had to use "so much blood" in Sweeney Todd. The answer, Burton wanted to make the film more box office.


From the Wikepedia:

The Grand Guignol (pronounced [gʁɑ̃ giɲɔl]) was a theatre (Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol) in the Pigalle area of Paris (at 20 bis, rue Chaptal), which, from its opening in 1897 to its closing in 1962, specialized in naturalistic horror shows. The name is often used as a general term for graphic, amoral horror entertainment.

At the Grand Guignol, patrons would see five or six plays, all in a style which attempted to be brutally true to the theatre's naturalistic ideals. The plays were in a variety of styles, but the most popular and best-known were the horror plays, featuring a distinctly bleak worldview as well as particularly gory special effects in their notoriously bloody climaxes. These plays often explored the altered states, like insanity, hypnosis, panic, under which uncontrolled horror could happen. Some of the horror came from the nature of the crimes shown, which often had very little reason behind them and in which the evildoers were rarely punished or defeated. To heighten the effect, the horror plays were often alternated with comedies.[5][6]

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Who earns the 'original' dollar?

I'm probably going to expose my economic naivete, here. But here goes....

Someone comes into my store and spends a dollar. He's a plumber. He got that dollar from a school teacher, who got it from a mortgage lender, who got it from a landscaper, who got it....

See where this is going?

When I was growing up in Bend, the original dollar came from the forest industry. The doctors, the dentists, the storekeepers lived off of servicing that industry. What's been strange about Bend for awhile now, is that there is no strong industry. Where does the original dollar come from?

We're like a microcosm of the American industry. Supposedly, our country can survive by being a 'service' and/or 'knowledge' provider. But no matter how I look at it, these seem to be parasitic industries. Service to who? Knowledge to who? The Chinese?

Let's take government and basic services out of the equation. Teachers, hospitals, utilities. Every town has to have them, so they are a moot dollar. Sure, we're a regional center, so we may generate a bit more of that 'original' dollar than lots of places, but mostly, I consider it neutral.

What's left?

Tourism is the biggest industry in Bend, I would submit. But tourism for most of the people working in that industry, is notoriously minimum wage. I would pick retirement as our second industry, ditto. Not to mention, most retirees are unloading possessions, not adding to them. And I would point out that the retirement aspect of Bend was tied to affordable housing; that is, baby boomers who could sell their house in California for a bunch of money, come to Bend to buy and have equity left over.

What else is there? I suspect that Bend has a high percentage of dividend, interest, trust, and house equity money. Also borrowing off of that house equity. This looks like it might be coming to an end.

Over the last decade or so, much of the 'original' dollar has come from the booming growth of Bend. Bankers and mortgage, financial advisers and accountants, real estate agents, house inspectors, builders, plumbers, etc. etc. etc. But this wasn't ever an original dollar. It was pulling in money from growth. It was pulling in the 'original' dollar from somewhere else. If the service industries are parasitic, this kind of income is downright blood-sucking.

It's crazy to think that growth can create growth can create growth endlessly.

Without the 'original' dollar.

If the growth was happening because Hewlett-Packard was building a manufacturing plant or Apple was building their computers here, that would be one thing. But growth for growth sake is asking for trouble.

Without the 'original' dollar.

When that comes to an end, (76 housing starts announced in December; 32 houses sold in Bend as of January 20th), where is the 'original' dollar going to come from? Starting a new business, unless you're generating a product that can be sold outside Bend, is simply adding another parasite to the host body.

I simply don't buy that we have enough new industry to cover our butts. I don't believe that we have enough people who can hold down high-paying jobs somewhere else, or work out of their home, to cover our asses.

Life-style? Whatever. We aren't really all that unique, and it pretty much is part of the tourism and retirement boondoggle mentioned above. We can only attract so many rich folks; we aren't going to have a rich person buy every house we have.

Too bad we couldn't have created an 'original' dollar industry. Maybe wasn't possible with our isolation, (no real four year college, no real Interstate).

But we should have seen it coming.
So now that you've read the preceding article, I do have some commentary on it.

Yes, the timing is a bit off, as you might expect from the writer who's only been here for 3 years. Gated communities aren't recent, and have more to do with the human impulse for exclusivity than for any real need.

I have no desire to go back to the Bend of under 20,000 population, much less the town of 13,000 I grew up in. To me, the golden age of Bend was around 1990. We'd finally recovered from the 80's recession, downtown and both malls were vibrant, even the 3rd St. strip was seeing a bit of renewal. Almost every category of commerce was being filled -- pre - category-killer -- by locals. The waves of newcomers were still of a mind of trying to fit into the local culture.

Then boom. Fred Meyer, followed by nearly every other national chain, and the cheapening of Bend began, with succeeding waves of newcomers simply overwhelming us.

What no one really understands is that the Powers that Be in Bend were traumatized by what happened in the mid-80's. Most of the promotional machinery that has so metastasized since then was created at a time when it was needed.

But once we opened that Pandora's Box, we couldn't get it closed again.
In Case you haven't already read this in the Bulletin today, or in the myriad of local blogs, I present the following with a hearty AMEN!

Bend’s short-sighted planning will have far-reaching effects
By Alistair Paterson / Bulletin guest columnist
Published: January 26. 2008 5:00AM PST

As a transplant to Bend from Kauai, Hawaii, I am struck by the similarities between the two communities. Both are about the same size, have approximately the same number of people and face the same growing pains and challenges, i.e. a rapidly expanding population base and an infrastructure struggling to keep pace with it. Additionally, they pride themselves on their natural beauty and their numerous outdoor athletic activities. Indeed, the prose in their respective tourist publications is so similar one might easily suppose it’s generated from the same source.

What puzzles me is why these wonderful places are so willing to surrender all the qualities that made them so special. There’s still hope that Kauai may retain some of its rural appeal, but Bend, based on its recent past, appears committed to a never-ending stream of new “community” housing developments. Even the most casual observer cannot help but note the large number of cheaply constructed tenement-style row houses that will certainly deteriorate into the slums of the future.

Somehow, developers have convinced the powers that be that these poorly conceived communities serve Bend’s best interest. While the real estate market was booming, their heavily promoted product was quickly snapped up by a naive audience of buyers easily persuaded that this would be their last chance to jump aboard the real estate express. With the continuing downward spiral of the market, however, these same developers are being forced to significantly discount their product. The result is that they cut even more corners in the building process and subsequently market the homes for substantially less money than they persuaded buyers to pay for them over the past few years. Potential buyers would have been well advised to remember the adage “the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price has disappeared.”

The situation has deteriorated so dramatically that across the nation Bend is perceived as having been vastly overbuilt and on an inventory versus population ratio, the amount of unsold homes on the market is among the highest in the country. It’s well past due that the overactive promotional glands of the visitor’s bureau, the chamber of commerce and the City Council be tempered by these facts. Any more development is not only ill-advised but practically suicidal, at least until current inventory levels have been significantly reduced and infrastructure improvements catch up with the recent population explosion. To even consider allowing Juniper Ridge to proceed under the current conditions is essentially nothing short of criminal.

Yes — planning for future growth is prudent and appropriate, but it’s also essential that the city take off its rose-colored glasses and accept the reality that Bend has a crisis on its hands. The visitor’s bureau spends $250,000 on its most recent advertising campaign but ignores the fact that, thanks to this thoughtless development frenzy, there is no longer even an attractive approach to the city. Anyone driving into Bend — according to current promotional materials the land of blue skies, powdery snow, elegant fare, snow angels and sleigh rides — will instead face clogged roads, urban sprawl, commercial strip malls, enormous billboards, a downtown with the worst festive lighting display of any resort area, and a city sharply divided between the haves and the have-nots.

In more than 30 years of general real estate, I’ve never observed such a lovely community with so many red flags waving at the same time. The current proliferation of gated communities is one of the first signs of a city in crisis, as these only serve to further polarize and divide a community that is increasingly losing all sense of its original appeal and ambiance. I know the people who live in these enclaves will object to this description, but it’s quickly obvious that the vast majority of their residents are recent transplants who escaped to Bend only to work toward the destruction of everything that drew me here originally. If indeed the tourist bureau’s promotional material is to be believed, why are gated areas a requisite at all?

The impact of such short-sighted planning coupled with a nationwide real estate crunch will have far-reaching effects for the city of Bend. I believe it will be at least four years before the median real estate prices return to those of 2006. It’s vital to remember that sooner or later, you reap what you sow, and if there is not an immediate perspective adjustment at every level of planning and promotion, then the only thing requiring more money will be a minor name change and new entry signage stating “Welcome to Bend — a gorgeous little community until greed took the lead.”

Alistair Paterson lives in Bend.

Friday, January 25, 2008

ComicPro, the comic retailer organization that started up a couple of years ago, released a position paper that requested the independent publishers refrain from selling their books at conventions before they release the books to retailers.

Seems reasonable to me.

Anyway, since I probably lose only a couple sales a year to pre-releases at conventions, I really don't have strong feelings.

What was interesting to me is how this relatively mild request set off a firestorm of controversy in the comics world. (For point of reference, 'direct' market is the non-returnable, but higher margin specialty market.)

All the comic shop haters came out of the woodwork.

Independents are a small fraction of the comic pie, and comic shops who sell independents are an even smaller slice of the pie, so convention sales are important to publishers. Why should we hold off, they ask, if so few of you retailers carry our product at all?

But then this punishes the few stores who do carry the product, and make it less attractive to them to carry their offerings.

I don't see that the advantage of selling early, is equal to subverting the retailer's ability to satisfy the customer, if just on a fair-play basis. But then, I'm a retailer.

But to me, this problem is just a smaller subtext to the bigger problem of independent books selling in the world outside direct comic book stores. And that problem is only going to get bigger.

The 'mainstream' comics, by which we mean mostly superhero comics from Marvel and DC, are still the vast majority of comics. But I think the trend is toward older comic buyers, who are not being replaced. So, in a sense, I think the direct market is doomed if they cling too tightly to the superhero comic model. I've gone way over to the independent book side, indeed, to all books, all illustrators, all kinds of material that isn't traditional to comic stores.

But the anti-comic store bias is alarming. I don't believe that the mass market will end up supporting the comic world anywhere near the level that the direct market does.

It's going to be a painful transition.

As the independent graphic novelists come out with their once a year offerings, it may be that the mass market bookstores will be more accommodating overall, at first. But I don't believe they can afford to lose the direct market. There are enough 'enlightened' shops like mine who carry a good cross section of graphics and cultivate interest, that I think we're at least partially responsible for creating enough interest for the mass market to carry them.

In other words, if the anti-comic shop people got their way, I think it would be the end of comics, independents and mainstream alike. I've been told that once again, the local Bend Barnes and Nobles wants to reduce their graphic novel section; two previous managers have come to the same conclusion, only to have the 'national' office order them to keep the section up. But what it says to me is that the local B & N isn't selling all those independent graphic novels. Whereas, I am. Or maybe I'm satisfied with selling two or three copies of an obscure book.

There is a whole raft of mid-list titles I carry that the mass market will never carry. It's too bad that the majority of comic shops can't be bothered to carry anything other than Spider-man and Superman and the ilk, who cater to fanboys, who keep dark and dirty clubhouse type stores. But those of us who are trying hard to create a more enlightened atmosphere shouldn't always be lumped in with the 'comic book guy.' We shouldn't be penalized because of what the majority of our compatriots do.

Bestseller lists don't tell the whole story. It comes out that the latest Naruto book sold billions at B & N, but only a few in the direct market. No doubt the local B & N sold way more than I did. But I'm carrying over 3000 other manga titles, and I keep them in stock, and long after the best-seller lists have moved on to other titles, as a specialty store I'm still selling that book.

The comic books store is squeezed in the middle by the dissatisfaction of publishers above us, and customers below us, who don't think we're doing the job. But things are changing slowly, and many of us are responding. I think the leap to the mass market, and/or the internet could be premature.

Meanwhile, I continue to mainstream my store just in case.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I've commented on the stock market the last couple of days. Since the market has actually gone UP since then, I'm done. To hell with them. I'll stand by my notion that they're just aliens funnin' with us.

In the REAL news of the day, what's left of our lumber industry, a mill in Prineville lays off workers. Central Oregon housing permits fall 52% in December. 76 houses planned for Deschutes, Crook, Jefferson, and Lake county combined. 76 houses.

Meanwhile, the Bulletin lets slip the little nugget that, with 2/3rds of the month gone, only 32 houses have sold. Let's say we double would still be the lowest total in many a year.

Commercial building however continues at a torrid pace. Orvis is going to wipe out one of the Old Mill Parking lots. Cascade Bancorp has a horrible 4th quarter but still managed to hide behind the 'total' year, of which I suspect they spent most of time juggling figures to look good.

A big chunk of land is bought from foreclosure. (Umpqua Bank again, boy we took them for a ride. I'd love to count how many visits a day they get at Northwest Crossing.)
The land is so cheap, the builders can build cheaper houses. Oops. No doubt, we'll see houses of equal dimensions selling for a third more half a mile away.

Meanwhile, for my cheap shot of the day, the parks department doesn't have any money to open or develop any parks, but they have money to build an a brand new administration buildings. You know, to administer all those parks they aren't opening or developing....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Redmond is planning for a future transit system.

I wonder if they need any buses? We've got some, cheap!
Because of the rowdy nature of some of these blogs, I find myself having to revisit my basic views about what's happening in Bend.

I grew up here. When I went off to college, in the early 70's, there wasn't even a bookstore. We still had only the Tower Theater, a small theater next to it that started off showing smaller films and then x-rated films, and a drive-in (ditto). A T.V. station came in around the end of my college career. (I had the seven year plan, flunk the first year, take two years off, and go back for another 4 years....) In other words, Bend was small. I'm not terribly nostalgic for the old Bend.

Two malls were built in the late 70's, and downtown nearly emptied out. It was starting to recover when the Reagan recession hit. And we stayed in a near depression until the late 80's.

Pegasus was established in 1980 by Micheal Richardson of Dark Horse, and I worked there from the beginning. I bought the store in 1984. It's always seemed to hit a ceiling in sales just below a real profitable, sustainable level, no matter how the city of Bend has grown, because of the declining customer base for what I sell, and the increased retail competition.

Still, all in all, I'm not anti-growth. I'm anti-stupid growth, anti-rude newcomers.

When I started this blog, all I saw was that they were building way too many houses. That's it. It seemed an obvious bubble. All the credit stuff has emerged since then, but hasn't changed the fundamental observation. I've shifted, somewhat, to more concern over the retail bubble.

As far as the Bulletin is concerned; it is a basically conservative paper which derives it's income from advertising. Of course it's pro-growth, pro-business. I wouldn't expect it to be any different. The Source has positioned itself as the 'alternative' weekly, with more new-agey, youthy tack, but it also benefits from the growth of Bend, and especially the growth of 'culture.'

I believe both papers think they working for the public good. The Source believes that closing the downtown streets for Festivals is a good thing. I don't.

I don't believe developers are inherently evil; but they certainly have shown themselves to lack taste and class, and not to be particularly bright in their planning. The old-timers, such as Hollern and Bauhofer, seem to have a bit more perspective, is all. I don't personally care for golf courses and gated communities.

I don't believe there is any conspiracy; hell, I don't think all these guys are that smart or smooth. I believe that money protects money. Birds of a feather flock together. Power corrupts. Don't need no evil planning for greed and stupidity and short-sighted to overwhelm our little town, creating a superficial and over-blown culture that may just implode.

And I'm ambivalent about the implosion, because I know that the innocents may get taken down along with the guilty.

The best we can hope for, right now, is some kind of soft landing; which is only going to happen if Bend truly is the unique baby-boomer magnet we tend to think it is. I'm lowering my estimates of that yet again. I think an 80's style recession has jumped from the 10% I was predicting earlier this year, to a 30%. I think the changes we'll escape without major damage has dropped from 20% to 10%. And it will be sheer luck.

Mostly, we'll muddle through. There is so much froth going on, that it may still be bubbling when a recovery begins. The commercial boom is going to cause some long-term problems, I believe, but it may just pull us through the worst of the housing bust.

I'm planning for lower sales. And watching it all with trepidation and awe.

Oh, I left out the city government. I think it was overwhelmed by the growth. We fired a competent city manager just when we needed him most, and for whatever reasons, the two city managers that followed didn't work out. They've made some bone-headed decisions, and there seems to be a snarled up mess in the bureaucracy.

The city council? Well, why would anyone run for such a thankless job? Nobless Oblige? Ego? To make connections? All of these motivations could lead to some pretty awful decision making. But we have no alternative, and paying them a living wage would just open up the process to other -- maybe worse -- problems.

I consider myself the outsider observer, for what it's worth. I don't have any inside knowledge. Just the viewpoint of a native Bendite who has run a business in Downtown Bend for the last 28 years. And who enjoys writing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We live in more than one kind of bubble.

Woke up this morning to see what the world stock markets did. In case you didn't know it -- and you might not, that's the point of this blog entry -- the world markets had a massive sell-off in the last couple of days. Down nearly 10% in some countries, which would be like the Dow dropping 1200 points!

Nothing on the front page of the Bulletin. Finally, halfway down the business page, the Bulletin takes notice.

Curious, I check the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the USA Today: sure enough, the lead story in all of them.

It's so bad, the Fed dropped 3 quarter points.

So the Dow is only down about 150 points as of this writing; after predictions it might drop 500 points.

Hey, we're saved!

So there is this drowning swimmer, see. And the rescue copter comes and throws him a lifeline, and drags him to shore. He gets up, and plunges back into the lake. Nothing to worry about, he will be saved if he gets in trouble...

I've decided that stock market people are an alien species, who have settled on earth to play funny games with our economy. They don't really connect it to humans -- it's all about graphs and alien jargon that only they understand, but since they change the meaning of the jargon, and morph the graphs to say anything they want to say, they even delight in fooling each other.

We mere humans watch all this activity with dismay.

I know that I'm supposed to invest my retirement in the stock market. I know that historically it's had the best return. But damn if I like investing in something that is so unknowable. I'll always suspect that those aliens are just funnin' me.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Over on Trading for the Masses' "Good to Go Pile", Jan. 19, 18:55, there is a little gem titled, "Manage Your Anger, and Spot Opportunities."

This guy is angry because the market isn't doing what it's 'supposed' to be doing. Traditionally, the stock market goes up in January, and especially on an election year.

The guy's angry, because it isn't happening. It isn't doing what he wants it to do.

He blames the media who "spark" panic. He blames everyone else, basically.

This is the equivalent of me blaming my customers for not spending money. A natural reaction, but absolutely pointless. It's like Phil Helmuth losing a poker hand and having a tantrum and blaming everyone else for not 'playing right.'

If this guy represents the thinking of stock market people, they're in for a rude surprise. What he says:

"Anger in general is an ugly emotion. It's not even an emotion, really, but a distortion of fear and anxiety that often plagues us. And when it wakes from its nightmares, it often leaves a trail of despair in our lives. But to say hello to it when it wakes, and try to soothe it with common sense and reality, can often lead to discovering new opportunities."

But if you read the context of what he's saying, he's saying that he won't let his anger at the naysayers change his optimistic approach.

And I'm saying, fear and anger and pain serve a purpose. Ignore them at your peril.

He's talking himself out of his anger. Which is fine, except that he doesn't use the exercise to take a fresh look at the market, only to reinforce his approach.

You know, the bubble in Bend was huge and unusual and pretty much a once in a lifetime event. Unless you're in a business like mine where bubbles are fairly common and short lasting, it's unlikely that any of the major players saw it coming. The anger phase is yet to come, I think.

There is probably yet another new generation of stock market people who have come along since the 'tech' bubble, who haven't realized that markets go down.
If the economic climate was rain clouds, here's what I see.

Inside the store, some of the merchandise is arriving a little moist. Stuff isn't selling quite as well as it was a year ago, due to internal conditions in the industries.

Outside, it's raining, and being in an old building that has sprung leaks before, I'm starting to get slightly concerned. Outside, in Bend, there is a huge difference between how many houses are being built and being sold, and the infrastructure that was created. A big rain storm, that is likely to surge and start flooding the roads.

Outside of town, I see huge black clouds, with lightning strikes. The national economy isn't looking too spiffy right now.

And just coming over the mountains are giant columns of threatening storms. Even the international economy is looking dicey, right now, too.

What do I see in Bend? New stores and restaurants, new buildings being built and still months from being opened, and new developments being announced.

Last March or so, I wrote a blog about there being a period of 'grace' in which to sell your house. Sell before Summer, if you can, I said. Do what it takes.

Well, I'm thinking we have a small business period of grace, at the moment. If you were thinking of opening a new business, think twice. If you were planning to to expand or multiply, don't do it. And if you have any way to cut expenses, do it now.

I went into this year with the plan to stick to a strict budget, even to the point of scheduling when and how much I could spend each week. That plan went out the window, almost immediately, as I restocked all the Christmas product in games and books.

So I fell off the wagon.

I'm going to try getting back to Spendthrift Anonymous here in February. It's not too late to start again. I need to listen to my own warning bells. My biggest threat is my own spending. It's hard when sales are weak not to immediately order things that you think might sell. But it's chasing sales, when I should be looking at costs and the bottom line. Hell, if I handle this correctly, I'll be able to spring forward just as everyone else is starting to feel the pain. A little foresight now, will help me get ahead down the road.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

My sister, Betsy, is visiting from Seattle, and she mentioned that she almost worries about 'getting lost' here. "The population was only 13,500 when I left here, you know."

To which I answered. "I just follow the old roads around, 3rd St., Wall, Franklin, Bond, Greenwood, etc. Everything else is just extra overlay."

I wonder sometimes if the newcomers really understand how much Bend has increased in size. I get the comment, like with my sister and Seattle, that towns are growing 'everywhere.' People just don't see the degree of difference.

Bend had a population of MAYBE 15,000 not so long ago, including 'metro area.' (By which I mean, there was NO metro area, really.) Now we have a population approaching 150,000 including a metro area. The town has grown by 10 times, which is not a normal growth rate, to say the least. That's Deadwood boomtown rate. And we know what happened to all those old mining towns when the goldrush was over.

And yet, old Bend is still here. The routes I normally travel are the same routes, downtown still is downtown, and so on. All the rest is froth, to me.

Once of the reasons I'm not so worried about a downturn is that my business was geared for a much, much smaller population. Less than 20,000 people. My square footage is the same, my overhead, while higher, isn't out of bounds of increases in costs of product, and my margins are probably better, and my inventory has grown also, so that is probably a wash. It's a shame that downtown landlords didn't make more of an effort to retain some of the older businesses, because they were the type of businesses most likely to gain from the population increase. Like a household sticking to their old budget despite a salary increase. If they get replaced by businesses that are geared to the higher population in costs and effort, then it's like starting all over, again and again.

Not to be insulting, but so many of my customers might as well be tourists for all they are aware of Bend, it's history and customs. The number of people who have lived here for five years and don't know we exist, for instance. If they buy something from me, they could just as easily have come for L.A. They are resident tourists, if you will.

I like that term. Resident tourists.

If they become a regular, they're extra.
One customer at at time.

It's sometime hard to explain to newcomers the dynamic of what's going on here. I've come up with a new saying: The people in the houses of the neighborhood you just moved into, have been here about 5 minutes longer than you have. The 'established' business you just visited downtown is still wet behind the ears. When everyone is new, no one really has perspective.

I can totally ignored those swathes of subdivisions; they need not impact much on my life, except I suppose when the roads narrow in the old part of town and they tail-gate me.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Saw two different programs yesterday with economic talking heads predicting the biggest recession since the Great Depression. The guy from Financial Armegeddon was on the Beck Show (hey, I was channel flippin'...). And the publisher fellow on the McLaughlin Group (yes, I watch it sometimes....).

LaPine wants to secede from Deschutes County. Oh, please? Would you?

The Bend Public Works Director decides to take the word of the salesman of the buses rather than his own mechanic who was sent down to inspect.

"Fuller said he decided not to talk directly to Pierce, even though Pierce said in his deposition he was waiting by his phone at home for Fuller to call. Fuller said he felt it would not be appropriate protocol for the director to call a mechanic directly."

I feel like inserting the words, "LOWLY" mechanic. How screwed up is our city government, anyway?

So, of course he took the word of the salesman. He probably actually talked to the guy. The mechanic? He's some peon on the bureaucratic ladder. What would he know?

So perhaps it wasn't about status? It was about 'protocol?' The whole point of the exercise is to get adequate information and to communicate that information and if you can't do that, then your procedures and 'protocols' are too constipated to be useful.

If they day ever comes that I feel like I can't talk to an employee, it will be a sign that my business is really messed up.

And, oh by the way? It looks to me like the City of Bend is going to be on the losing end of another lawsuit, so we can add the lawyer fees as good money after bad.

Friday, January 18, 2008

So, is there like a slowdown, or what?

(P.S. I ended up posting the other 6 rules for my bookstore on yesterday's date. Oops.)

Hey, it's only been 2 1/2 weeks! Like reading chicken entrails.....

For me, January is especially difficult to gauge. It's going to feel slower than Christmas, no matter what. I'm left with trying to remember what last January felt like.

Secondly, there are normal statistical variances. The smaller the store, the bigger the normal swings can be; Wal-Mart has so many stores, that variances are evened out. So, a 10% swing could just be happenstance.

Third, for my store especially, sales are often predicated on the product I carry. There have been many the time when sales in my store were going great when the rest of the country sucked, and vice versa.

I could give you sales figures, which are within the 10% variance I talked about above. I could tell you we're down about that much, but frankly, because I've been careful in my buying and because I knew that some of the product I was carrying was cooling, this is pretty much what I expected.

So it's really difficult to weigh all the factors. I also have Linda's store to compare, and the BookMark is doing great, which casts doubts on my 'feelings.'

So with all those caveats out of the way.

Are we seeing a slowdown?

My feeling, and it's completely anecdotal and unreliable is.....yes. I think things are slowing down.

I suppose what I'm really wondering is this: how many of the downtown business, heck Bend businesses, were over-estimations of demand in the first place? That is, I think even if the business climate was going swimmingly, many of these businesses were in for a bit of a surprise.

With a downturn, even a small one, I think they're in for a shock.

Something along the line of: they were expected 1000.00 a day in sales, which was never in the cards. If the business climate was positive, they might still have managed to sell, say, in the 600.00 to 700.00 range. Disappointing, but probably not out of the rationalizing range.

But if sales actually come in at say 500.00, that is going to really hurt. I've been totally surprised by how many businesses have opened in January or so late in December not to do them much good. Wow. Even in normal times, they have six months of slow business to look forward to...

I've always said though, that downtown Bend businesses are tenacious.

It's a slow process. Ask me in a couple of years.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

12 Rules, cont.

7.) On good authors, carry as many of their titles as possible. Yesterday, had a customer ask for the first Palahniuk book. Since I have every book he's written, I assured him that I had it in stock even when he insisted I didn't. Eventually, he found it. Point being, I knew I had it, because I have them ALL. And it didn't surprise me he was looking for the earliest one. B & N is probably going to carry the latest books of most authors, but probably not bother to carry them all. But I figure I already have a customer interested in that author, why not carry them all?

8.) Ask customers for their 'favorite' books. Did this at the beginning of the process, and it worked out really well. The first assemblage of new books was such that people trusted the selection, because there were so many titles in the mix they liked. I hit a few clunkers by asking, but not many.

9.) Ask customers to post capsule reviews on index cards of their favorite books. This fits with the above rule. People really respond to honest reactions.

10.) Carry a large selection of local interest. I'm trying, but this has been difficult because they are under so many different categories (history, travel,natural science, etc.) and because so many of them are out of print. Also, many of these books are put out by small presses that my wholesaler doesn't carry. But every time someone mentions a local book, I try to get it.

11.) Order from liquidators. I haven't started doing this yet, but eventually. Because I'm not concerned about best-sellers, but I am concerned with good books. If a good book shows up at a discount, makes sense to grab it.

12.) Don't be ashamed to mix cartoon, and prose, fiction and non-fiction. Look for themes and intuitive connections. Something that Barnes and Noble simply CAN'T do. For instance, putting the 'beat' authors together. Eventually, I'll have to to strictly alphabetize, I suppose. But right now, I enjoy sticking like-minded authors together. Sedaris next to Eggers next to Palahniuk, etc.

So far I haven't even started alphabetizing, but I've been arranging book thematically. Soon, I'll have too many books to do that to my whole inventory. But I'm going to keep trying to fit authors together, if possible, even if out of order.

O.K. Reading these over, maybe they aren't all that radical of suggestions. It's a matter of emphasis, as I said. I think the avoidance of Best-sellers is probably the most revolutionary proposal, and the one where I may be wrong. I'm pretty convinced that the trade paperback route is the one to go. All the rest of the rules aren't all that strange, but require an effort to be effective.

I'm just beginning this exploration, so I'm sure I'll find out some rules are more important than others.
12 Rules for my Bookstore.

I was going to call this: 12 'New' Rules for Bookstores, but when I vetted them with my friend who works in another independent bookstore here in town, he pretty much nodded his head to all of them, and told me his store was trying to do the same things.

I'll submit that it is a matter of focus or emphasis.

Nevertheless, I'll just say these are things I'm going to try in my store, but not try to assert that bookstores aren't already trying to do similar things.

I'll also admit, I can try many of these things because I'm not depending on new books to keep my store open. I have the luxury of trying some of these out, to see if they work.

With all the caveats out of the way;

1.) Carry both new and used books. I think this will be necessary in the future, so that stores can try to have the strengths of both models under one roof. You've got people coming in looking for books, already, which is the hard part. Why not give them the option?

Personally, I don't like mixing new and used together, like Powell's does. I think it brings the looks of the new books down, instead of elevating the used books.

But carrying them in separate parts of the store just makes sense to me.

2.) Stock trade paperbacks instead of hardcovers or mass paperbacks whenever possible. These are the over-sized paperbacks. Hardcovers are a bit of a pill, price wise, and become dated the moment the paperback version comes out. And this ties in with rule #3 below, in that most best-sellers are hardcover. Most worthwhile books eventually settle into a trade paperback size. These books take up exactly the same amount of space (by the spine) as the mass paperbacks, but have a better price point.

They look good, people who are serious about a title will buy them in this format. Average mass paperback is 7.99; average hardcover is 26.99; average trade paperback is 12.99. If the customer wants that title, he may balk at 26.99, but go ahead and buy the 12.99 version. He may want the 7.99 version, but he'll go ahead and buy the 12.99 version. Mass paperbacks are in every Wal-mart and Freddies and so on. Hardcovers can be handled better by Barnes and Nobles and Borders. Trade paperbacks are the perfect compromise for the smaller retailer.

With the added bonus that trade paperback exists for books with shelf-life. Mass paperbacks come and go, and so too hardcovers. Worthy books stay in print as tpbks.

3.) Avoid books on current bestseller lists. This is probably the biggest leap, and perhaps the most store-specific. I'm not a destination store, at least not right now, for books. I'm in a busy downtown and pull people in who are browsing. It may be less important for me than most bookstores to have the newest bestseller. But I suspect this might be more true for independent bookstores than anyone realizes.

This is totally counter-intuitive, I know, but I've found that I can't sell the hardcovers at full price, and the mass market paperbacks are blanketing the other stores. Sure, carry some of the best sellers, but order the minimal amount possible. I find that genre books, especially, sell poorly as hardcovers. Except, of course, when they are so big that anyone can sell them; Harry Potter, for instance.

This goes along with some of the other rules -- but after the title is through being a best seller, that is, it isn't appearing on the feeding trough at Costco, then maybe bring in a copy. By this time, you can bring in the trade paperback, which is what you want to carry anyway.

With all these rules, it's implicit that I will carry books that I think have shelf-life, and avoid books that become quickly dated. Trade paperbacks can be carried proudly for a long time.

One of the advantages of being an independent is that you can put a personal stamp on your store: Barnes and Nobles and Borders are going to be pretty much the same, everywhere you go, and inevitably are going to appeal to the lowest common denominator. They are, to be blunt, somewhat bland. So make a virtue of your necessity. Stand out. It's the difference between say, McDonald's and the Pilot Butte Drive-in.

4.) Carry all the classics, cult, personal interest/and/or books you like. This is where I think an independent store can stand out. Carry all the Steinbecks, Hemingways, and Austens. It's amazing that these books still sell, but they do. And they rarely last long as used books. I think it helps to have them all in one spot, undiluted by lesser known authors.

Cult books are authors like Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut, all the beat authors, oddities. Carry the full line. I'm not sure why the chain stores neglect these authors, but once you've found one, you'll just keep selling them. It's as if every new generation has to read Hunter S. Thompson.

And finally, be sure to carry all your own all-time favorites. I have so many favorites that I can fill a bookcase with just those titles, and nothing sells a book like enthusiasm. Chances are if you loved it, so will others.

5.) Be quirky and funky. You're a small store. You aren't Barnes and Nobles. You can let your whims decide. If it strikes you as funny, or weird, or interesting, chances are that it will strike other people the same way. People will remember that you carried a bunch of interesting books. They'll remember that you had all the classics and all the cult books they can't find anywhere else.

It was funny when Pushing Daisies did an episode on a Pop-Up Bookstore. They were being quirky, but it just so happens I have half a bookcase devoted to Pop-up books.

Just because.

Barnes and Nobles is looking for the huge seller. They are going to let the so-called midlist titles go, when given a choice. There are plenty of worthy midlist titles an independent bookstore can pick up, just by paying extra attention.

6.) Let titles perculate into consciousness. I have purposely avoided scanning the best-seller lists too much. I have very purposely avoided the American Booksellers Association's Book Sense lists, and/or Oprah books. When Linda and I visited bookstores on our trips, every one of them had the same books; when I got home, I realized they were on all the same lists.

(This is a bit tricky. Linda's store does extremely well with these books, which are nice looking, and still sell later. But they all have the same kind of politically correct flavor to me, all tasteful and consciously literary. So...this rule is for the beginning of my store. Eventually, I probably will go this direction, especially once I start returning books to the distributor. But for now, I'd like to focus on books which aren't the 'flavor of the month.')

There are so many books in the world, that you can be selective. So I kind of let books elbow their way into my consciousness.

It's not likely I'll miss the DaVinci Code because I'm not studying bestseller lists.

Yesterday, someone mentioned the new The Truth about Chuck Norris book. That just struck me as funny, and I ordered it. From a review: "It includes such humorous "facts" as "Chuck Norris's tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried" and "Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits,", as well as "Chuck Norris can charge a cell phone by rubbing it against his beard."

This may or may not be a bestseller, but I'm ordering because I'm aware of it, and because it fits the definition of rule #5 as well.

This is longer than I thought, so I'll finish up rules #6 - #12 tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

If you've ever been in my store, you know what my focus is on -- inventory, inventory, inventory.

To me the inventory dictates the looks of my store, the policies, just about everything. It is the one area of my store where I can exert total quality control. Service comes and goes; I'm depending on employees and experience and whether I or they are happy or sad, tired or peppy, and so on. Sure, I try. I always try to provide the best service I can. But good service -- being based on personality and emotion -- is something I always try for, but can't always guarantee.

Looks and ambiance? Again, I try. In fact, it's one of the more enjoyable aspects of being the boss. But decor depends on availability and cost and age of fixtures and space and landlords and so on.

Prices and margins? Somewhat at the mercy of suppliers and competitors.

Overhead? Completely at the mercy of utilities and landlords.

Of course, location is hugely important. But after 28 years for Pegasus, that's a bit of a given. (We often say, when people ask about advertising at the BookMark, that our location and the expense is our advertising....)

But what I carry, and how much? Totally under my control, baby. Just the way I like it. I've found the more good stuff I carry the better it sells. So it's up to me to find out what's good, and to keep it in stock.

Good inventory dictates the look and layout, the labor allocation, and in some ways is my advertising. My pricing policies of charging full S.R.P are dictated by the quality of my inventory. I want the regular price if I'm going to carry this much stuff.

So Inventory, inventory, inventory.

Everything else is window-dressing.

So for me, having a used bookstore has been a continually interesting, but frustrating, experience. Books come in, willy nilly, and I never know what I'm going to get. There are always surprises, always neat books I didn't know existed.

But one of the frustrating things about a used bookstore is that I can't control the inventory -- what comes in is what comes in. (To my wife's store, by the way, which is where I get my books from....)

So part of my thinking about carrying new books is that I CAN carry that book that everyone is looking for. I CAN carry that favorite book that I want to recommend. I CAN carry that cult classic that has dropped out of everyone else's stores.

For instance, on Friday, I had customer ask me, "I don't suppose you have any Hunter S. Thompson, do you?"

"As a matter of fact, I'm trying to carry his whole oeuvre."

So he ends up buying two books, and saying that Barnes and Noble is only carrying one H.S.T's books.

I get the same sort of feedback on authors like H.P. Lovecraft, or Philip K. Dick, or Vonnegut or Kerouac and many others.

I'm not sure why that is. I can think of a couple of reasons. One, is that the other stores are indeed carrying these books, and the customer just couldn't find them or clerk was unable to find them. Or the customer just didn't know how to ask. This is sadly common; I nearly beg people to ask for what they want, and sometimes, almost half-heartedly, they'll finally say, "Oh, I wanted this book, but I doubt you'll have one has it."

And of course, I do. But that person nearly walked off with the impression I didn't.

Anyway, the other theory is that these books are long in the tooth in the publishing cycle. That is, when they were first reprinted, all the chain stores carried them, but as time went on, other books supplanted them. Maybe on a scale of 1 - 10, they were still selling in the 7 range, but dropped off the current list in favor of a book that had the potential to be an 8 or 9.

Well, a 7 is good enough for me. If it means doing a little work, finding a copy that isn't current but still in stock, maybe filling in all the author's works instead of the just the latest or greatest, so be it. Looking for authors that have a following, but don't currently have a best-seller, would seem to be obvious.

Unless the book is completely out of print (and I am COMPLETELY ASTOUNDED by how many great books are out of print) I can exert real control by getting it in. There is a creativity in what I order, and how much, and how I stock them.

I'll have much more to say about how I intend to order new books over the next few days.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm probably speaking out of turn here. Perhaps Bend's government has gotten so big and complicated that they simply must hire consultants. But to me, every time they hire a consultant, it's a failure of leadership. Every time they hire a P.R. firm, it's a failure of leadership.

You want to know how to budget? Set your staff to draft three budget scenarios: a best case scenario, a middle case scenario, and a worst case scenario. Set your budget for the worst case scenario, with options to spend more money in the middle case scenario, and with the money from the best case scenario to be saved for the next budget.

There. Job done. Can I have 35 thousand dollars now?

Consultants seem more to do with ass-covering. See...we hired a consultant and this was his advice and it turned out wrong, but we were prudent.


I know this. I don't go out and hire an outside 'expert' every time I have a problem. Can't afford it. And I would trust my own knowledge and instinct over any outsider I can hire.

And I think once you've hired a consultant you've written a blank check. Any consultant will automatically assume that any idiot who has enough money to hire him has enough money to spend on further studies, and will write his recommendations to achieve that result.

Set a city employee to the job? He'll get it done as fast and efficiently as possible, because he gets his salary either way. If he does it wrong? Well, that's were leadership and accountability take place.

To me, hiring outside consultants for problems like Mirror Pond, BAT, budgets, and Juniper Ridge means you don't trust your own staff to do the job. Fundamentally, it's punting the ball, passing the buck.
Conventional wisdom leads to conventional results.

If you are in a industry that isn't doing so well, then doing it like everyone else in the industry wouldn't seem to be the way to go about it..

Both used and new bookstores are struggling right now, and I'm pretty sure it's because they haven't been able to get beyond the 'usual' way they've always done business. People tend toward the idealized bookstore, the YOU'VE GOT MAIL bookstore, perhaps forgetting that at the end of the movie, Meg Ryan is turning out the lights.

It's especially revealing to me that many of the old, mainline, established and even famous bookstores are having the biggest problems.

Oh, many bookstores have added the interactive elements, readings and book clubs and such, many bookstores have become computerized, and many bookstores have online presences, but to me those are add-ons, they aren't the core of their business. The core is books and selling of books. If the core is weak, all the add-ons will be for nothing.

No, not for nothing. Actually, the add-ons, the value-addeds, cost time, money, energy and space. Ultimately, they often create burn-out. Sounds great to have a bookstore that sells tea and crumpets, with tables and sofa's, until you get that guy who nurses a cup of tea for hours, spilling crumbs all over everything, and falling asleep with loud snores on the sofa.

I've got a pretty good idea of what I think bookstores are doing wrong, but I won't know for sure until I've done it differently myself for awhile. Perhaps there are no answers, which will mean indy bookstores will be permanently marginalized, or at least until some genius figures out a new way.

I've always recommended the book, Growing a Business, by Hawken, but -- to be honest --the real reason I discovered it's virtues was because I'd already been in business for several years before I read it. I could appreciate its wisdom. Because I was proscribed by a lack of funds, I avoided many of the mistakes he talks about, but not all of them. But one especially values advice after one has already discovered for oneself that its true.

It's called experience.

I think almost everyone who goes into business follows bad examples; very often the businesses they are replacing, without thinking about the fact that the business they are replacing is perhaps gone for a good reason. Newbies are susceptible to the hangers-on in the business world who will try to sell them on 'status'; the best of this, and best of that. More advertising, more money spent on Image.

Almost all new stores, in my opinion, make too little effort on inventory, and too much effort on everything else. And they don't work the store 60 hours or more a week themselves, which would keep them out of much of the above mentioned bad habits.

I saw it first hand with sport card shops. They came and went like Mayflies. And if you asked why they were doing it they way they were doing it, the answer was almost always, "Because the store I used to go to, that I liked so much, did it that way."
It's how entire industries can become suicidally competitive and dysfunctional.

A store has to fight the tide, in fact, to do it differently, because suppliers and manufacturers are set up to cater to all those other -- dysfunctional -- stores.

Fortunately, there are almost always others who are fighting the tide, and sometimes you can ally with them.

In the sport card industry, I decided it was insane to constantly send my money off months in advance to get product that was almost always late, almost always in higher quantities than I wanted. All for what? -- 12% savings? And yet, I wasn't aware of any other card shop who made that decision. I snagged onto a distributor who supplied cards as a sideline to non card shops, and survived when most other shops disappeared.

I think the bookstore industry is at that stage right now. Some drastic steps are going to need to be made. And what I see, just like I saw with sports cards, are changes that are always a little too little, a little too late.

I'm not sure what the answers will be. I'm going to try a few things, and see if they work.

In a day or two, I will talk about a dozen factors I'm going to concentrate on.

I have a couple of unique advantages: I'm in a busy downtown district, and I don't need to depend on books to survive. I also have some unique personal advantages; information from a thriving used bookstore, lots of personal experience in ancillary product, a weird rain man memory for titles and authors, and a lifetime of reading all kinds of books.

And the biggest advantage: knowledge and experience that one can dare to do it differently.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Yow. I need to stay away from the sugars so late in the day. No more donuts after dinner. I dreamed last night that I was trespassing on estates down by the river and lecturing the owners about how Bend used to be, and all about my mother, Libby, the gardener, and her aesthetic sense.


Thing is, Old Bend wasn't all the great. It couldn't provide me with a job with living wages;I was lucky to create the one I have. I kind of like the anonymity of a larger city, and the arts -- even if I don't partake of them much myself.

And I want to avoid lecturing on this blog. But...well, that's kind of why I have it, right? So....come and listen or not, it's up to you. Hopefully, it will sound less like hectoring, and more like gentle prodding.

Meanwhile, I've finally found a show this season I really like: the new Terminator series, Sarah Conner Chronicles, was great. The second part of the beginning is tonight on Fox at 8:00. Be there or be square. Don't let another Firefly, Veronica Mars quality show get crucified by American frakken Idol!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

About the revenue shortfall for the city that started in early 2007, and which caught city officials by 'surprise:'


Look, I started this blog in December, 2006, and I was a relative latecomer. It was pretty clear to anyone paying attention that there was going to be a slowdown, if it hadn't already started.

I know that both Paul-doh and I blogged the irony of the city raising their fee structure just as building was slowing.

This is going to sound harsh, but the only explanation to me is that city officials and media were so close to the real estate community, which was desperate to keep the illusion of the ever expanding Bend alive, that they simply refused to see what was happening. They saw the housing bubble bloggers as alarmists, and preferred to believe the "Bend is Different" folk.

This is a case where I can't let them off the hook, because I was actively blogging about these very issues at the same time this was going on, and it took an extremely obtuse mentality to not see the slowdown coming. Hell, they had access to the real numbers, which were clearly showing a slowdown, but they kept guzzling the kool-aid.

I've said it recently; they need to scale back their grandiose plans, and concentrate in building some available industrial land, or even more basic, fill the huge number of potholes we're going to have.

Hint to the city planners: we're about to have a bunch of potholes. Don't let it be a surprise.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

My manager, Pat, was asking if Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer were the same book, and I was telling him that Huck Finn was a much more serious book, about racism, and how at the end of the book Huck thinks he's damned for liking Jim, for taking Jim's side, going against all his own upbringing. "He thinks he's gone to the Dark Side, but really he's on the side of the Force."

Customer pipes up. "This is the only place I can go to that uses Star War's metaphors to explain classic books."

That really cracked me up.

But then, all books can be explained by Star Wars metaphors.

I had a college professor who told me I had a 'facile' talent for writing -- but she wasn't being complimentary. Still, I knew what she meant. It allowed me to be a B student, with no effort, rather than an A student with effort.

Pat tells me I use some word he's never heard every day. No one ever tells me that; I think with my beard and glasses and my professorial manner, people seem to expect it. My blond little wife uses big words, and everyone calls her on it, even though she owns a damned bookstore....

But that is the great thing about owning your own make your own rules.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The truth starts to emerge, or at least something approximating the truth. All Christmas season I repeated the notion that no one knows what the real sales levels are. It was all guesses, within a rather large margin of error. It was just wanking off. Spin. Nonsense.

So today, it's reported that most the of the big mass market chains did pretty poorly. Now they tell us, when reports really can't affect anything. Even these figures are probably massaged and manipulated: either up or down, depending on what their motives are. But since the news is buried on the second page of the business section, 11 days into the new year, they are under the radar.

These figures should be front page news, folks. They're really rotten, and almost surely will result in a recession.

Only two stores on the chart were actually up; Costco, at 7.0% and Wal-Mart at a measly 2.7%. Down 7.5% at Penneys, 6% at the Gap, and 5% at Target, and just about every other store.

They blame the calendar and the weather. Well, screw that. That's lame. I never fall back on those excuses because THEY ARE ALWAYS THERE! in one way of another. You can ALWAYS blame the weather and the calendar, so why bother?

But the real news STILL hasn't come out. "....sales rose 2.7 percent at Wal-Mart, whose relentless price-cutting appeared to resonate with anxious shoppers."

"Relentless price-cutting...." I'm sure that did wonders to the bottom line. 2.7% won't even cover inflation. If you had to cut your margins to get even that much of a boost, you did pretty poorly.

For whatever reason, the chains have decided to lower everyone's expectation. After all, they can blame the housing crisis and the imminent recession. Time to cover all your bad decisions with lame excuses.

But it's all spin, as far as I'm concerned.
Rather spare activity on the bloggin front, these days. Not sure what that signifies.

My own expectations for sales at Pegasus are pretty low. I decided that anything within 10% of last year would be acceptable. But that was before I started spending again. If I spend the way I did last week, I'm going to want to at least match last years sales.

After getting carried away ordering new books last week, I decided that it didn't make sense to neglect the rest of the store, so I reordered games, graphic novels. I'm back to being "fully" stocked.

What with all the bad weather, and especially with delayed shipments (almost every order since the week before Christmas has been late between 3 days and a week, which kind of hurts, especially when customers have been told that something is going to show up, even when I tell the customers that weather and holidays may delay....), I feel my sales are pretty good. Only one really horrible day.

So I got 3/4ths the new book shipment in yesterday. I put all the young adult books into their own bookshelf, to make room, and.....pooof!....the books just seemed to fade in the woodwork. It always amazes me how you can get 3 huge boxes of books, file them away, and they seem to disappear. There is, obviously, a cumulative effect, but it's never as dramatic as I'd wish.

I've figured out how the make the space changes in the store in 4 stages. The first two stages I can pretty much do myself, the last 2 changes I'll need a bunch of help. There is no real urgency, but it would be nice to get it all done by Spring Break, which gives me about 8 weeks. So, one stage every other Sunday, ought to get me there. Depending on the availability of shelves.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

There is an article in Slate, about "Ghost Malls", which I've reprinted in full below my commments.

The commercial bubble in Bend is still expanding, probably because much of it was planned in the midst of the housing bubble. Lots and lots of retail yet to open in Bend over the next couple of years. But, to me, this means it is even more dangerous in the long run.

I wish some intrepid reporter would investigate the per capita retail footage, but whatever that footage is currently, it is inexorably growing bigger.

This is second-hand, but from what I'm hearing, leases for retail in downtown Bend are still rising rapidly. What's even more interesting, leases in less desirable areas of Bend, along 3rd St. or Greenwood, for instance, are also rising. In fact, the proportions are narrowing, which - I really hate to say this, but foot traffic is hard to argue with -- it makes downtown Bend a relative bargain. I'll be watching the space for the Wild Women to see how long before it's filled -- a month or less wouldn't surprise me, 2 or 3 months would be interesting, and more than that would be alarming. If I had to bet, I but heavy odds on the first option.

The Tea shop has opened next to the bakery on Bond, and there is a new dress shop going in where Bandy's was, and so on. I think we've got a long way to go before things slow down. And yet....that's no reason not to sound an alarm now. The same way the housing bubble could be ignored when it was in full swing, so can the retail bubble. But if the fundamental underlying factors are whacked, then eventually it will catch up to us.

I can almost hear people saying, but Bend is different. We're a local hub, and so on.

Yeah, we're different. Just like with the housing bubble, we're worse.

It's probably going to take years to play out. If we're lucky, the national economy as a whole will rebound before the commercial bubble pops. It's always going to be more difficult for stores in Bend to succeed. Not because of the high leases, because healthy stores can factor that in. No, the overall business climate can't absorb too much of a slowdown. There are alot of businesses that are simple miscalculations, but then those businesses always exist. But you can only slice the dollar so many ways before you start feeling it.

I've got a feeling that my theory that MY STORE does well, when other stores are doing badly, is about to be put to the test. The weather has really slammed the foot traffic equation. I wonder what the newly opened stores are thinking. The next six months are going to be interesting, for sure.

.moneybox: Commentary about business and finance.
Ghost MallsIs retail real estate about to crash?
By Daniel Gross
Posted Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008, at 10:26 AM ET
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

So far, America's real-estate agony has been confined largely to the vast residential sector. Commercial (office buildings) and retail (malls, strip malls, big boxes) real estate have held up rather well, even though those markets were propelled by the same factors that sent housing into orbit: easy credit, an abiding faith in perpetually rising asset values, and misplaced optimism about economic expansion.

But when the economy slows and threatens to go into recession, it's usually bad for all classes of real estate. And when the slowing economy is led by pooped-out consumers, it's usually disastrous for the tenants of malls and strip malls—and for their owners and lenders. All of which suggests: Get ready for the ghost mall!

The retail real estate market has already started to slow. In the third quarter of 2007, 7.4 percent of retail space nationwide was vacant, according to Reis Inc. A vacancy rate of 7.4 percent isn't tragic by any means. But it's the highest level since 2002, and it's up from 6.8 percent at the end of 2005. The third quarter of 2007 marked "the tenth consecutive quarter of flat or deteriorating retail occupancy at the national level," noted Sam Chandan, chief economist at Reis Inc., in a recent report. Thanks to continuing growth in supply and flagging demand, there was about 140 million vacant square feet of retail space in the third quarter of 2007, up from 124.4 million vacant square feet at the end of 2006.
Click here to find out more!

Malls aren't turning into haunted houses just yet, but they may be on their way, thanks to the recent wholesale shuttering of national retail chains. (This column's long-standing guiding principle has been that when a naturally observed event happens three times in a relatively short time-frame, it's a trend. Like, for example, egregious right-wing hacks getting richly undeserved columns in large-circulation print publications.)

First came CompUSA, the electronics retailer that managed to make Carlos Slim Helu, one of the world's wealthiest men, a little less wealthy. Helu spent more than $800 million to buy the computer and electronics chain in 2000. But after years of losses, the Mexican billionaire threw in the towel on the brick-and-mortar business. Last month, CompUSA announced it would shut down its remaining 103 stores. The week after Christmas, Macy's, whose 850 department stores frequently anchor malls, announced it would close nine large stores in Indiana, Texas, and Ohio.

The trend continued in the first week of January. Last week, Pacific Sunwear said it would close 154 stores of its urban clothing unit, demo, "as soon as is practical" and would also shutter its nine One Thousand Steps shops.

Like Pacific Sunwear, Talbots had sought to expand its market beyond its core consumer (in Talbot's case, women over the age of 35) by introducing new retailing concepts, including Talbots Mens and Talbots Kids. But last week, Talbot's, having concluded that the kids (and the men) aren't all right, announced that it would shutter its 66 Talbots Kids and 12 Talbots Mens stores sooner rather than later.

Taken together, these closings amount to a tiny fraction of the nation's retail space. But they're indicative of a larger retrenchment under way, one that is likely to continue. America's largest chains—from Wal-Mart to Home Depot, from Starbucks to the Gap—are all in slow-growth mode in the oversaturated domestic markets. Circuit City and Sears are just two national retailers who may find it necessary to shrink their national footprints in 2008. And with consumer spending having slowed, it's much more difficult for landlords to fill newly vacated space.

Since many of America's largest mall owners are well-capitalized firms that built or acquired their properties decades ago, we're unlikely to see the carnage that has befallen publicly held home-builders. But signs of stress are emerging. Centro Properties, an Australian real estate firm that has made huge acquisitions of American malls at inflated prices in recent years, is now holding a clearance sale on its own properties.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Spent much of yesterday measuring the store, seeing if my ergonomic vision was crazy or not.

Amazing how something that I basically came up with in my sleep was right on. To the inch. And that's the trick, because if I'm off even an inch, nothing fits. So I'm just going to believe that my sub-conscious has been working on this for some time, and was just waiting for the day when I was ready.

When I design correctly, I end up subtracting by addition. That is, I'm going to really expand my capability, and yet only lose one moribund display. If you had asked me last month, I wouldn't have thought it possible. I think the new design is going to make the store look cleaner and crisper. Give me the capacity to pretend I'm both a new bookstore and gamestore, without losing anything I'm already doing.

Like I said yesterday, all due to the miracle of white laminate bookshelves.

The downside. I need 25 new bookshelves, which at full price would run about 1250.00. That's if they have them in stock. And a massive amount of moving. I'd love to just be able to wave my hand and have it done. It doesn't really look that hard to do, but I know that it will really cause chaos for awhile.

So, I'm sitting on the idea for the next few weeks. Keep my eyes open. See about bookshelf availability. Then hire four young husky guys to do all the moving for me.
I'm determined to just direct the labor this time: it's very hard on a guy's ego to watch everyone else lifting without pitching in, but my back and 2 hernia operations later and 55 years old, and fuck it, I'll be macho by NOT doing it. Though I'll probably spend and inordinate amount of time explaining to the workers why I can't help. February is one of our slowest months, so the damage to business will be minimal if I plan in advance correctly.

This is also a bit of a statement that I'm sticking to this location if at all possible. Instead of looking for solutions outside the current space, this is an attempt to do what I want with the space I have.

I was standing there in the entryway, tape measure in hand, staring into space when customer Todd walked in. "Oh, oh," he says. "You're changing things again, aren't you?"

Every six months. Don't know why. But it keeps things interesting.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

My subconscious decides, and my planning doth but follow.

I started reordering books last night I'd sold over Christmas. I found that just about every book I sold was one I still wanted to stock, and then I decided that if I was going to carry 3 Hunter Thompson books, it made no sense not to have Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. If I was going to carry On The Road, by Jack Kerouac, I should also have Big Sur and Dharma Bums. It didn't make any sense to have a couple of Burroughs books without carrying The Naked Lunch. 2 Vonnegut books? Why not 5? 3 Tom Robbins books? Why not 5?

And so on.

I knew it was starting to add up, but every book I ordered had a good reason.

At the end, I ordered 2000.00 worth of new books, which completely blew my budget.

I waited for buyer's remorse, but it didn't come.

All those books have sold. All those authors have sold. Based on what sold, I know what else to bring in.

In other words, I've decided to go for it. I'm going to be a full-fledged new bookstore, albeit a quirky one.

Same thing with board games. I reordered all the boardgames I sold over Christmas, and decided to expand the selection. Going onto, I looked at the list of the top 120 games and realized that having more than half of them was an achievable goal, which wouldn't break the bank.

I've experimented with new books and boardgames for a year now; I wasn't certain that people would take us seriously. I wasn't certain they would sell.

I think they've been validated enough to go ahead and make a full commitment.

For just a bit more cash, relative to what I've spent in the past on product like anime and manga and graphic novels, for instance, I can have a very respectable selection of both books and games. I've got people coming in off the sidewalk willing to buy.

So, I'm basically going for it.

I slept on it, and woke up with a bunch of ergonomic ideas. I think I've figured out a way to rearrange the store again that won't detract from what I'm already carrying, and yet accommodate the new stuff.

Weird. It's like a general who burned the bridges behind his army, and then figured out a way to win.

The funny thing is, much of the possibilities of both my store and the Bookmark revolves around a happy accident, something you'll never find in books about business, something no one would think of.

Affordable bookshelves. Clean, crisp, functional, modular and available at prices that don't kill us. The designs of both stores are highly predicated on the simple availability of these shelves. The mass market has produced bookshelves that cost less than raw wood and nails, and look much nicer.

And if these all sound like rationalizations to do what I want to do, and find reasons later, that's probably what it is.

The same instincts that have led me into trouble over the years are the same instincts that have kept me in business, that have helped me become profitable. And vice verse. I pretty much can't ignore them.

And I can't ignore the fun factor. I enjoy the challenge.
Pegasus End of Year Review: #8.

The final key on my register is for Graphic Novels, which is all comic material collected in book format. Both last year and this have seen small declines, but this is after several years of double digit growth. I set out to have 'every' good graphic novel, and while this is impossible in a store my size, I've gotten pretty close. A large selection of independents, as well.

The decline comes from not explosively expanding all the time. And I think that manga books have plateaued, which makes sense. I could fill my store with manga, and sometimes it seems like I did.

Between them, comics and graphic novels represent about 55% of my total sales. Probably 5% of that is illustrated material that I'd have as a bookstore in any case, so I figure 50% is pretty close. Same as it was the year I started; comics have always just got me halfway there.

I feel good about my selection of comics and graphic novels and I just need to keep it up.

Monday, January 7, 2008

West side traffic. Seems to me the problem is correcting itself as we speak. Has it even occurred to them that growth may not happen? Leave it go.

So they had to close Mount Washington Drive because of accidents. Let's see; I want to pick a street where I'm most likely to find a high percentage of newcomers in huge S.U.V.'s. Which street would I pick?

Is it just my imagination, or are there a lot fewer passengers waiting for BAT? I never see anyone waiting by the Forums Center, anymore. Sure the weather is foul, but that should be part of the cost vs effectiveness ratio, right?

Seems like a bunch of retail buildings that up to now were "For Lease," are suddenly "For Sale or Lease." Which makes them much less attractive from the lease standpoint. (New owner wants your space for his own're in trouble.)

We are entering a new retail phase in Bend. Christmas is like a gravitational force to warps all results. The next 6 months are going to tell the real story. My own instincts, in spite of what the experts are saying, is this will be a wet, snowy, cold winter, just like the ones we used to know. Five or so years like this would really change some thinking. And people will have to slog through the snow to get to us.

Dammit, we need more restaurants downtown! And how come women can't find anyplace to get clothing? (There's only one handbag/purse store. Shameful.) Just noticed an "olive" store. An Olive Store? Come on, that's just too general. I think it should be either a black olive or a green olive, pitted or unpitted.

Treefort is open. They have really cute 'ugly' dolls in the window. Those may turn out to be their best-selling item....

I looked into windows this Sunday. All these stores look so sparse to me. But then my store is way too full. Still, as a customer mentioned, "The less product they have, the more expensive they are likely to be."

I love all the macho accouterments to the men's salon. Motorcycle in the window? PHrroooommmm...
Pegasus End of Year Review: #7.


This category has been a continuing evolution since the beginning. I began, as you might expect, getting the mainstream Marvel and D.C. toys, as well as the biggest pop-culture licenses, such as Star Wars and Star Trek.

I found out fairly quickly that the mass market simply dominated that part of the world. I'd get the toys at prices higher than I saw at Target, and I'd get them MONTHS after Target, and so on.

So then, I tried to get the slightly off the beaten track licenses, but these had all the above problems as well as being even less popular.

The final straw, I remember, was getting a case of Planet of the Apes toys in with a retail price on the box itself which was lower than the price I was charged!

Finally, I decided that if it was Hasbro or Toybiz or Mattel, I'd pass. With the big exception of Star Wars, but even here I just order one case of each release.

So I have this bizarro world where the public expects me to have Spider-man or Batman toys, of the mass market type, and I don't. (I do have the 'direct' market toys, which are usually much more detailed but also twice the price.) DC offers some great looking toys, but...they just don't seem to sell.

Statues I got into because I figured out a way to carry them without breaking the budget, but they sell very, very slowly. These figures, as well as the very expensive toys such as my R2D2 trashcan, are almost advertising.

I think, in fact, I drew the wrong lessons from mass market toys -- that I couldn't compete in any sideline that the mass market was doing. I'm finding with new books, that isn't true. Maybe cause I can order exactly the books I want, and they have a retail price that makes sense, unlike toys where I get what selection they chose and have a minimal markup.

The only 'big' boy I still carry consistently is MacFarlane toys, and there I stick mostly to the fantasy toys, or the Spawn toys.

But as all this was happening, the toy selection got bigger and bigger, to the point where now I'm often offered a single boxed toy, instead of a case of random toys, and that's what I get. Gives me a wide variety of product without a bunch of shelf hugger singles.

The Japanese toys are still a dilemma. There is a huge demand, but there is also a huge variety of licenses. If I take a scattershot approach, it's so diffuse as to be meaningless. If I pick a license to carry, almost invariably I get the question, "I see you have Naruto, but do you have THIS Naruto." Not workable. I chose to get the small boxes or blister packs, that sell in the 5.99 range, but those aren't really moving. And I chose to get the 'bad girl' toys, which at least are kind of cool and attractive, and which sell occasionally.

If I had more room, I might try a shattershot approach with really, really cheap Japanese toys if I could get them. The problem, like mass market toys, is that if they aren't attached to a big name license, people just look at them puzzled. If they are attached to a current big name license (whatever is currently popular on the Cartoon Network) then the mass market carries them.

Meanwhile, the designer toys started to sell a little this year. I'm probably still ahead of the curve, here, but not as far ahead as I was a year or two ago. I'd like to beef up this section, and I can do so on a steady basis. Plus, they are just so cool to look at. I just try to ignore all the people who ask, "What does this belong to?" Hey, it exists for its own reason. Get over it.

I forget to mention that toys are another one of those products that sell from people off the sidewalk, like books and games. So another area to maybe look to increase.

The sales were up 6.3% last year, so I see that as 'steady as she goes.'