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Thursday, May 07, 2020 

How comics stores in Austin prepared for reopening as Corona restrictions are lifted

Community Impact Newspaper in northern Austin, Texas reports on the situation of local comics retailers:
Early industry numbers show comic book retailers are finding themselves in a position similar to Emerald Tavern.

According to publisher market shares data from Diamond Comic Distributors, sales of comic books and graphic novels throughout March dropped more than 8% compared to March 2019.

To make matters worse, Free Comic Book Day—an annual event attended by approximately 1.4 million Americans last year—was postponed from its original May 2 date. More than 2,000 comic book stores participate in the event every year, according to Diamond.

“It’s like our Christmas where we prepare for that and expect for it to be a very large event,” said Drake Siegel, purchasing manager for Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy in North Austin.

Free Comic Book Day is one of hundreds of events local gaming stores have had to cancel or postpone during the coronavirus pandemic. These businesses host community events for novice and veteran hobbyists alike, who gather to play board games with friends, role-play in adventurous campaigns and paint miniature figurines.

“Our secret sauce is the combination of all the things we do. We are really a community built around our hobby,” Weidner said.

Despite the governor allowing them to open up their stores, most gaming and comic book stores are choosing to keep that community at a distance—for now.

Open for business

Most gaming and comic book stores across Austin took a pensive approach and did not open until May 4. Those few extra days, the owners of those establishments told Community Impact Newspaper, were necessary to prepare their businesses for browsing customers and the risk of coronavirus that comes with them.

Titan Moon Comics in Cedar Park reopened May 4 with a limited capacity smaller than the 25% capacity bar set by the governor. Assistant store manager Haley White said a maximum of 10 customers at a time can enter the store to shop, and social distancing will be required for those inside the store.

On top of that, Titan Moon Comics is sanitizing the store on an hourly basis.

“Two employees will go through at a time and sanitize the store top to bottom. We use a disinfectant spray and make sure everything is wiped down,” White said.

In North Austin, Dragon’s Lair is also capping the number of people inside its store at one time to 10, but that includes employees.

“It will be closer to five customers at a time,” said Siegel. “We’ll be encouraging people to take advantage of our curbside [service,] as well as shipping.”

The two comic book stores face a unique challenge in sanitizing inventory as customers come in and browse through comic books, board games, paint for miniatures, dice and more. Dragon’s Lair has purchased equipment to sanitize products handled by customers with ultraviolet light, but the store is also asking customers to collect anything they have touched and bring it to the counter, even if they do not intend on buying it.

“The concern of being able to keep up with the customer and how much they’re interacting [with inventory] played a strong factor in narrowing down our target number even further [than 25% capacity,]” Siegel said.
They're right to be responsible and concerned with health standards at their store, and it's impressive they feel so strongly about it. I certainly hope that by the end of the summer, this whole crisis will be largely over and everyone can feel more comfortable about going to the stores for buying products as before, without having to feel too concerned about illnesses. And that specialty stores won't have to worry about "distancing" potential customers.

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