Life, and retailing, is hardly normal in the age of COVID-19, but workarounds and soldiering through have become the order of the day.

Collector’s Paradise, with three Los Angeles-area comic-and-game stores, has turned over every rock in looking for workarounds, and is finding its way through.  Owner Ed Greenberg shared some of his tips and tricks, and how if you look for the light, you’ll find it.

All three Collector’s Paradise store sites are rentals.  Greenberg owns none of the properties.  And yes—you CAN negotiate rent.

"One guy reduced rent by $1000 a month for a couple months.  One guy deferred 25% for a few months, with the balance due in January.  One guy deferred half the rent for three months,” Greenberg says.  The key is… you have to put your hand up and let your landlord know your business is not business as usual.

"I sent a letter to all three landlords basically saying, ‘We’ve been with you for X amount of years.  We’re a strong company with three locations.  We don’t want to be closed, but we have to, and we want to be here when we all come out of this, so I need your help,’" Greenberg says.

Greenberg got prompt responses and positive results to all three letters.  "If you don’t send anything out, if you don’t do anything… they’ll never know just where you are financially," he says.

Greenberg advises applying for all grants and loans, "even if you don't think you will need them," he says. Some, he definitely needed.

"We got PPP money, which allowed us to pay employees and continue selling online, curbside, and mailing books to customers.  We got the SBA loan, and have not used it, but having $150,000 there in case things go south and we need it has allowed us to be bolder and take more chances on new ideas knowing we have things covered if it does not work out."

Collector’s Paradise got money from BINC, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, and from publishers and creators.  TKO Studios sent payments to stores when readers bought books direct from TKO online and specified a portion of the purchase go to a comic store, and writer Greg Pak did similar.  Between the two, Greenberg pulled in about $400 for his stores, and relationships were cemented.

"TKO we’ve always ordered from.  I’ve now made sure we order from them more," he says.  "Two reorders, really big, since we’ve reopened.  We’ve also made sure to put them more front and center in the shop.  They’ve earned it.  They now have a dedicated section in all three of our stores, and we sent them pictures saying, ‘Thanks for what you did.’  They helped us; so we’ll help them, right?"

In the absence of face-to-face interactions and foot traffic, Collector’s Paradise had to think outside the box to do online different.  One result was the Curated line, basically a blind box for $50 shipped, with 3-4 graphic novels plus a few #1 issue comics.  Buyers can get their boxes by age rating, genre, or publisher.

"It’s been super-successful,” Greenberg says.  "We’re still shipping them monthly because people bought 3-month or 6-month subscriptions, and we’re still getting new subscribers constantly.  It’s now a regular product."

Face-to-face interactions and foot traffic?  That’s pretty much the definition of live events.  That had to change due to COVID-19, but Greenberg found a workable workaround.

"The biggest thing that changed for us was in-store events," he says.  "I did 50 signings or more per year.  We had to rethink the whole concept due to inability to host in person signings."

The solution was establishing a Signature Series.  Instead of having customers show up for events, Greenberg just got local creators to sign new books at home, and took the "signing" worldwide.

"For My Little Pony/Transformers, we sold over 100 sets," Greenberg says.  "If we did a signing in-store, maybe 15 people would show up.  But when [artist] Tony Fleecs gets on Twitter and promotes it, it’s not just the local customers; we expand that base of potential customers to the whole world.”

Gaming events are more difficult, and might be a casualty at Collector’s Paradise.

"We only did in-store gaming in one store, our largest one, two nights a week previously," Greenberg says.  "We completely stopped in-store gaming for now, and maybe forever.  The customers just don’t feel comfortable, and I can’t say I blame anyone for that.  And the staff is too busy with the comic business right now.  Magic: The Gathering was never a huge deal for us, and right now, it’s just not worth it for us."

Greenberg is aware there are online alternatives such as Magic Arena, but is reluctant to dive in.

"The Arena thing... I haven’t researched it very well, but I think the time administering all that is so expensive that it’s not worth it for us," he says.  "If I have to administer an online league... it’s not worth my time."

Your landlord doesn’t know you’ve got a problem unless you say something.  Neither do your customers.  So say something!

"We asked customers for help, and they bought over $5,000 in gift cards in one week, giving us the funds to continue to buy books," Greenberg says.  "We found out that we had a community, something we have been working on for 26 years, but you never know what’s there until you need it, and they came through huge."

One customer bought $500 in gift cards, all in $10 denominations he could give to neighborhood kids to bring new readers into the stores.

"I have dozens of amazing stories of customers coming through," Greenberg says.  "It’s beautiful."

In times of economic uncertainty, money often goes into high-end collectibles.  The sports card market, of all things, is booming right now, Michael Jordan in particular.  Greenberg is seeing the comic market getting primed as well.

"There’s a lot of stuff happening with speculators," he says.  "The comic market is hot, and with stores’ orders being down, there’s less stuff produced; lower print runs."

Like many store operators, Greenberg sees speculators as a double-edged sword.

"It’s interesting," he says.  "You want that business, but... you don’t want that business.  They’re buying books and taking them away from your regular customers, so you have to limit them.  But if you get them to understand how your system works and get them to pre-order items, they become a regular customer, and that’s great."

If Greenberg learned any central lesson, it was "never give up."

"Our doors were closed, but we never closed," he says.  "We sent 20-30 packages a day.  I had dozens of people tell me they will forever be our customers because we understood that they wanted to have some sense of normalcy, and we provided it and did 100% of what we were supposed to do as a business in the community, while being safe.  We are doing well.  We have paid Diamond off, all rents are paid, all bills are paid, we are current.  That would not have been possible if we just gave up and did not push the limits."

Click Gallery below for pics of Collector’s Paradise NoHo store!