Local hobby stores stand strong against COVID

By Kai Wilson

Staff Writer

After nearly a year of plague and toilet paper shortages, businesses have had to adapt under pressure or risk bankruptcy. Local hobby stores like comic shops have been particularly struck by the pandemic, as a lot of its profit comes from face-to-face interactions.

One of many to face hardships during these trying times is Illusive Comics founder Anna Warren Cebrian, who runs both a game store and a comic store in Santa Clara. Illusive Comics and Isle of Gamers were hit hard by the pandemic. These sorts of places serve as a sort of meeting place for people and is no longer safe to provide that.

Cebrian said, “Covid has really changed my businesses. In the spring we virtually closed Isle of Gamers except to phone orders and curbside pre-paid pick up, until June. At Illusive we offered curb and at-door pick-up.” 

The Big Bang Theory comic shop set PHOTO CREDIT: Chester via Wikimedia Commons

Many businesses have adopted the practice of curbside and similar forms of in-store pickup that don’t involve going to stores. It has proven to be relatively easy to adapt to and safe for everyone involved.

Due to restrictions implemented by the government to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the total number of people allowed into Isle of Gamers at a time is seven. Even without staff, that limit is not even enough to play a traditional Magic: The Gathering draft.

That said, the mandates are very necessary. These new rules are important, but the stores are still impacted heavily. Ms. Cebrian shed more light on this issue. “For the most part we don’t mind the restrictions,” she said. “But my staff are basically working twice as hard for less sales.“

Van Hayenga, a long-time employee of local SpaceCat Comics, has also seen his workplace suffering: “Sales, I think, have been down a bit. We have had less customers coming in than we used to.”

SpaceCat has been a long-standing staple of the community for over forty years and even places like this were touched by COVID. “We haven’t been able to hold Magic: The Gathering events, which means our sales of Magic: The Gathering stuff have dropped,” Hayenga said. Many comic stores like this one rely on in-store events to bring in money and the loss of this stream of income can hurt the business.

A group of Magic: The Gathering players at their local game store PHOTO CREDIT: Sebastian Rittau via Wikipedia.com

Although, as he pointed out, not all franchises have been hurt equally. “Pokemon Trading Card Game has still been selling really well because collectors are really big on that right now, especially some of these limited sets that they’ve put out, like Champion’s Path and probably Shining Fates when that comes out in two weeks,” he said. “We’ve been doing reasonably well on that, because collectors are really big on that.”

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. Due to the approvals of vaccines like the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the pandemic and its restrictions will not last forever.

People sharing a moment playing games at their local store. PHOTO CREDIT: Steven Keys via Wikipedia

In Hayenga’s words, “Once people get vaccinated, we get that herd immunity threshold, then get back to some semblance of normal, and we should be able to get back to Magic: The Gathering events again and that will definitely help things, so I’m hopeful that in the fall, we should be able to get back to some semblance of normal.” He is, of course, referring to remarks made by esteemed physician Anthony Fauci – a reasonable and realistic deadline.

However, Ms. Cebrian had very different thoughts. “I don’t think we will be able to hold in-store events until 1st quarter 2022. I need all of my staff and their household members to be vaccinated, not just customers, before we can safely hold events. And once we do start holding events, I think we’ll have far fewer customers in the store at a time.”

Whatever way the pandemic ends, we can be sure that it will certainly take a long time. In the final words of our interview, Cebrian said “It’ll be a road back to “normal.”

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