Photo: Courtesy Of Flying Colors Comics
Business at the Flying Colors comic shop in Concord had returned to something that resembled normal. The 32-year-old business weathered months of closure and curbside pickup, only to finally reopen with a limited capacity of ten customers at a time and a lot of disinfectant. Some regulars still stayed at home, but the diehard comic fans upped their purchases out of support (and maybe boredom).
This week marked the release of “Batman: Three Jokers #1,” one of the year’s biggest releases. Hundreds of copies arrived at the store, ready for eagerly awaiting fans.
Then owner “Flying Joe” Field came down with a fever and tested positive for coronavirus.
“This thing just kind of blindsided me,” he says.
As he felt the onset of cold-like symptoms, he immediately stopped going to the shop and took a COVID-19 test. It came back positive.
“This is my experience with COVID so far, just from the last five or six days. I wake up with a fever, and the fever is 100 to 101. And then the fever breaks, and it comes back, and it breaks, and it comes back. And it’s like this wave all day, coming and going.”
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Now in addition to dealing with waves of fever, Field has to deal with Flying Colors rolling back to its early pandemic model that resulted in an 80-90% loss in sales. His staff members, who he has managed to keep on payroll, await their test results, as do his children and wife (who is his partner in the business). Thankfully, so far he hasn’t had to furlough any employees, and it doesn’t sound like he intends to now.
“I felt it was my responsibility to keep my people working as long as they wanted to work. They were amenable to that. I hired them for a reason, and that wasn’t to lay them off when things got difficult. My wife and I just sort of took the hit on that,” he says.
It’s another crushing setback among many for Flying Colors. Every type of retail business faces unique challenges right now, and the comic industry is no different. Production has bottlenecked due to social distancing at factories, meaning limited supply and fewer releases. Shipping prices have risen 30%, a daunting number when considering the 10-15% profit which Field considers sustainable. Although the shop did offer online ordering for pickup, shipping to customers isn’t part of his business model, nor does he intend it to be.
“My goal has always been to have a community-based comic book store that serves the community and serves the locals first,” he says. “I don’t care about selling stuff to other states and anywhere else. I want to take care of the people who take care of me.”
The shop has also suffered from a lack of events, including Free Comic Book Day. Flying Colors’s total sales for the month of May matched what they would have sold on that day alone.
In addition to the loss of revenue, Free Comic Book Day’s cancelation stung particularly hard for Field on a personal level. He founded the event in 2002, and it has now become an international phenomenon, celebrated by over 2,000 shops in 60 countries with nearly 1.5 million fans coming out to buy special edition comics sold at reduced prices. Film studios have even taken note, scheduling blockbuster releases like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” around the event. It also served as direct inspiration for Record Store Day, which has been influential in the resurgence of vinyl as a medium.
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Right now for Flying Colors, and really any cultural retail business, the only way to ensure survival is frankly the same way as it was pre-pandemic: buying things. Field appreciates how the “FlyCo Faithful” have supported the store so far, but wants to remind anyone who has a favorite local business that the superpower of consumer spending can be used for good, or what he sees as evil.
“I would strongly advocate for anyone who cares about whatever local small business to give them whatever sort of support you can right now,” says Field. “There are lots of businesses all over that have been severely impacted by this pandemic, and they really do need your support. I would hate this world to be dominated by Darth Bezos, and it looks like that’s happening because of the way things are.”
Dan Gentile is a culture editor at SFGATE. Email: Dan.Gentile@sfgate.com | Twitter: @Dannosphere