Like most small business owners, Matt Ashland has been taken aback by the pandemic.
Suddenly some employees were no longer able to come to work at Matt’s Cavalcade of Comics and many clients were staying at home.
“It was scary,” Ashland said.
In the first few weeks, an employee ran the Corvallis store (Ashland also owns The Mattcave in Albany) Monday through Friday and Ashland took over on the weekends. Only a few people at a time were allowed to enter the store to browse and shop.
In addition to fewer employees working in the stores, Ashland was forced to close the play area in the back part of the store where the “Magic: The Gathering” sessions were being held.
Instead of sitting around and waiting for a stroke of luck for people to come back in swarms, Ashland has been proactive.
“I delivered a lot at the time,” Ashland said. “When I quit my job at my other job, I would come and deliver anything $ 50 or more. We even delivered to some people who we weren’t sure if they had COVID or not, so we just left it at the door. “
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There were unforeseen benefits to the business. Game sales have skyrocketed and Ashland has put more emphasis on internet transactions.
“We had a lot of people buying games because they were stuck at home. We’ve only sold tons and tons of games, “Pandemic” being one of them. We sold a lot in the first four or five months. (And) we were able to do a lot of work that we couldn’t do before because we were so busy, and therefore having less customers in the store (and) doing more sidewalk, doing more delivery, stuff like that , we actually have completed some projects that we were very late on. Now we are busier than ever.
“We have really stepped up our online business. It also helped a lot as everyone was ordering stuff online. The stimulus checks have certainly helped stimulate us, and we’ve only lost one employee and we’ve actually hired more and we’re going to hire more over the next two weeks.
Ashland’s decision to diversify the store years ago has helped him weather the storm.
Matt’s Cavalcade of Comics isn’t just a comic book store. Of course, there is a great selection of comics and graphic novels. But you can find games and a variety of collectibles.
“From the start, 28 years ago or whatever, we’ve always listened to our customers,” Ashland said. “If there was nothing to do with the comic, we tried not to get into it. Like Beanie Babies, we didn’t really do this because they didn’t have licensed characters. We do a lot of Funko Pop! because they allow everything. And so we kind of listen to our customers and see what they want us to get into. “
The comics were Ashland’s passion and remain a staple for the store. He said he currently owns between 600,000 and 700,000 comics.
“That was my main focus when I opened the store,” he said. “I started buying collections and I would take what I wanted and sell the rest to other local stores or a garage sale or whatever. And then I started buying stores, and I ended up with way too many comics. I couldn’t move around my house, so a store in Albany convinced me to open.
Ashland’s start coincided with the early ’90s comic book collection boom.
People who had no interest in reading most of the headlines were getting as many copies as they could with the idea of a big paycheck at one point.
“When I started it was the best-selling comic book ever, but it wasn’t healthy. People would come and buy 100 copies of the same book. Now we have thousands of copies of these books that we have. we bought it back at a dime or a dime a piece, ”Ashland said.
“It was ‘Death of Superman’, ‘Spawn’ # 1, ‘X-Force’ # 1, ‘X-Men’ (1991 series) # 1, all of that. It ended up blowing up the market. When you sell 3 million copies of a book and there are only 700,000 people who actually want to read it, the math doesn’t really work.
“Spider-Man” and “Groo the Wanderer” have been among Ashland’s favorites over the years, but he doesn’t have a title that he follows regularly after “The Walking Dead” ends.
While the Marvel and DC films have become hits and are now a regular cash cow for Hollywood, there has been a resurgence of interest in the comics.
But like the effects of the collection boom, there was a negative backlash.
Lots of characters have been changed for the movies, and Ashland has stated that people walk into the store, take a title, and don’t recognize the characters.
“I used to grab every Marvel comic back when they actually had a Marvel Universe that was the comic. Now they just care about the movies and don’t care about the comics at all,” said Ashland.
“They basically kicked out all the old fans because they changed all the comics to match the movies now and the comic is not a universe. Any writer who arrives can do whatever he wants with the character. There’s no continuity and so once they stopped doing continuity, I stopped reading most of their stuff.
Comic book stores across the country have had their share of problems even before the pandemic. Distribution issues hit the company and COVID-19 made matters worse by closing warehouses.
“A lot of places couldn’t stay open like we were,” Ashland said.
There was talk of online-only comic book producers, and Ashland said there was a rumor that DC was going to stop producing comics altogether.
“There are a lot of rumors out there. I’m just going to wait and see and roll with the punches, ”he said. “We’re so diverse now that half of our money is in ‘Magic: The Gathering’. We do a lot of online sales. ” Yu Gi Oh ! ” come back. “Pokemon” is huge.
“We’re going to do more eBay. Our eBay sales during (the pandemic) have increased dramatically. We’re going to be doing a lot of stuff online, but we still want to be the neighborhood friendly comic book store, the neighborhood friendly game store. We want people to come in.