"I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS, AND A LOT OF LUCK"
12:30 pm on March 2, 1998 I unlocked the door, turned off the alarm and proceeded to start my dream job. The VERY FIRST thing I did was grab that one comic from the wall that I had been eyeballing. That comic was in fact a Giant Size X-Men #1! I then proceeded to go behind the counter and grab my second "free with purchase of business" item: the Beta Black Lotus. Then I put the starting money for the day in the register, and flipped the sign to "OPEN". I longed for this day and couldn't believe the journey my life was about to take. I was so excited and knew I could make this work. My parents decided to surprise me with a delivery of balloons and a coffee mug that said "The Boss"
As the day progressed on, I began working on getting my account finalized with Diamond Comic Distributors and figuring out how to do my orders. Back in this day, we actually had to mail in a master order form or a floppy disc with the total orders of all customer's books. Now with my account being new and us needing comics to hit the shelves ASAP, I had to actually fax in the orders to get any books for March and April. Many of the comics I had wanted to get in on the shelves were getting allocated to me, which only made it harder to get my version of Chimp's off the ground and running.
I also started getting accounts made to get card supplies, sports cards and of course Magic the Gathering cards. I began working on the back catalog of boxes of comics that were being stored underneath the tables. I kept so busy that day that at the end of it reality set in pretty quickly. Upon closing out my 1st day of sales I had sold a whopping 35 CENTS! I only sold 1 cardboard card storage box to the one customer of the entire day. Now I knew that small businesses always kept their first $1 from their first sale and yet I now realized I would never have one of those. (Something that to this day I still would love to have). Fear began to set in. Did I make a huge mistake? What kind of mountain did I have to climb?
I began to realize that a lot of customers usually would come in on days they knew Tony was working since they had built up friendships with him and I was the "kid" helping him. The times I worked for him were usually slower and now I was wondering how many customers were gonna stick with me being the new owner. I didn't have much time to think about this. I had closed up shop at 7 pm and was still working at McDonald's as a night manager, and my shift was about to start at 8 pm. Just enough time to get home, change my clothes and head to work. My mind kept racing through my shift that ended at 1 am. I then went home and couldn't fall asleep until almost 5 am.
QUICK INTERLUDE: A friend of mine was digging through his Magic collection and found a relic from these early days of the game. I mentioned in a previous article about playing for ante, which doesn't happen anymore. When we won a card from someone, sometimes we would initial the front of the card as a mark of the person we won it from. Kind of a way to track the history of ownership of the card. Here is a picture of one of those exact cards from the days of Magic ante.
Now at this time, things started feeling very scary and real for me. I had to try to get in the new products people wanted and try to meet the demand there was. I wouldn't let my slow first day kill my dreams. March 1998 marked the beginning of the Cliffhanger line of Comics from Image Comics. The first to release was Danger Girl by J. Scott Campbell. The second was Battle Chasers by Joe Madureira in April. And finally, Crimson by Humberto Ramos in May. Demand was huge for Danger Girl and Battle Chasers but nowhere near as many customers had shown interest in Crimson. I had to try to work my magic and convince customers to give it a shot. Fortunately for me, once they did, they fell in love with it. Over time Crimson was the only title to actually release every month with a planned total run of 24 issues. If you haven't checked this title out, I highly recommend it as it was very good and a surprise hit to many. As time progressed, the other two kept falling further and further behind with Danger Girl taking almost three years to complete. Battle Chasers released issue #9 in September 2001 with #10 coming on the horizon. We unfortunately are still waiting on #10 to this day.
Also, during my first month, Magic released a new set. The second expansion to the Tempest block that was called Stronghold. So this was a lot of money I had to sink in the very first month just to keep up with all the new products hitting the marketplace. Stronghold holds a very special place for me as it was the first set to release during my ownership AND believe it or not, I had incredible luck with the set. I could open a few packs and almost always pull the top 3 cards of the set: Mox Diamond, Sliver Queen and Ensnaring Bridge. For many people these kind of stories are hard to believe but I have a theory. I believe some Magic players eventually find a set that becomes their set. Meaning, when they get packs of it, they usually get the best cards from unbelievable luck. (I recently tested my Stronghold luck again. While sorting through some cards I found a large chunk of Stronghold cards and lo and behold there was an Ensnaring Bridge in Mint condition just sitting in one of my boxes.)
Fortunately I was getting by paying the bills from my 2 jobs and many of my friends that I had made from working at McDonald's and the store started hanging out with me at the shop. We would spend most days just playing Magic, talking and playing video games in between customers. There was a lot less work to keep up with then and that made for more downtime. Some of my friends would bring their old systems in and we would relive our childhoods. Spending a chunk of our days playing the Original Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. It was also during this time that Metal Gear Solid released for the Playstation 1. At one time I could speed run the entire game in under an hour (unfortunately my memory card has since died and deleted the data). I had done this once in front of Sheldon and when he said he could beat the original Castlevania in comparable time, I challenged him to do it and he did. As anyone who knows me, this quickly became my favorite video game franchise. We would also discuss our favorite childhood TV shows like TMNT, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Thundercats and Masters of the Universe. I have made a lot of lifelong friends over the years here and I wanted to give a shout out to a few from this era (and will prob do more later). Back then the gang consisted of Roy Peachey, Jason Spore, Ryan Riggle, Chris Coy, Joel Savage, Pernell Marshall, Sheldon Cooper and Greg Burkett to name a few. On Saturday nights, Riggle, Greg and I would stay late at the shop sorting out the back log of Magic cards as this took took too much space to do while open. Many times we wouldn't leave until 2-4 in the morning. And thankfully Spore started to help me on Sundays so I could have a day off. Without my friends help in the store, I know the shop wouldn't be where it is today. Every one of these names have put in a lot of help over the years and I am forever grateful for all the help and friendships I have made over the years. #teamchimpscomix
Things had been pretty rough in the store and money was tight. I lucked into a few good deals on collections, and was able to get things to sell more to have a little more room on finances. It was closing in on August 1998 and the store was doing OK and the fears were starting to leave me. I was feeling pretty confident again. I decided to treat myself to a vacation and go to my first comic convention. I went and spent the weekend by myself at the Wizard World Chicago Comic Convention. I had a blast! I was meeting my favorite artists and seeing some very amazing comics in person. I had gotten to meet: Alex Ross, Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti, Billy Tucci, and more. Ash was one of my favorite comics and it was done by Event Comics which was owned by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti. I visited them so often that weekend that on day 2 I saw them point at me from within a crowd (if I found a cover I didn't own, I ran it over to the immediately to get signed).
I decided to take a risk and bring a copy of Amazing Spider-man #129 and my Giant Size X-Men #1. I had only heard about comic conventions and even though he wasn't on the guest list, I assumed that Stan Lee would be there. I mean, why wouldn't he? It was after all a comic convention, doesn't he go to them all? This is pretty much what I thought. Well, it turned out I was right! It was the X-Men's 35th Anniversary and he showed up for a special celebration! So there I was, standing maybe 5 feet away from Stan the Man Lee and after he cut the cake people started pulling comics out of their bags. Stan then proceeded to grab them and start signing them. This was my chance! I grabbed out my 2 comics I brought for him, took them out of their bags. I Held them out, and right when he was about to grab mine, his manager blocked him and made an announcement. Stan Lee would be signing in 2 hours and mine got blocked. I immediately started asking around for where he was gonna sign. I was determined to be first in line. I found out where he was gonna sign and I sat right down. After waiting there for an hour and the line becoming easily 100 people long, again the manager blocked me. She came out and said that Stan's line was gonna start at a different spot. So I quickly ran to the spot the line was starting and found myself about 30 people back. After waiting my turn, I finally got to meet him. The Legendary Stan the Man Lee! Rest in Peace sir, your influence will NEVER be forgotten. Excelsior!
Tax season 1999 was a rude awakening for me. I hadn't spoken with an accountant when I started since I really had no idea on taxes. Nowadays you can research anything you like online, but back then you had to find someone who knew about having your own business and how that works out. I wish I had someone at that time to get me prepared for what was to come. I filed my taxes and owed a huge amount of money. I didn't know about sending in quarterly estimates and was now paying a fine on that too. This amount of money hit most of what I had been saving and I began to get very worried that this mistake was gonna cost my my business. My budget had been killed and this time the fear was real. That made it very hard to invest in the new Magic set of 6th edition. This was the set where Magic got rid of Interrupt cards in lieu of the "stack". This idea upset a lot of older players and some of them even stopped playing the game. Sales were very poor on this set (which is why it's still our smallest core set binder other than the Alpha, Beta, Unlimited which is small due to rarity). It was time to come up with some new ideas, or watch my dream job disappear right before my eyes. I was honestly so worried about it that I was even considering selling the business. To this day I am VERY glad that that didn't happen. This business is my passion and I plan on doing it as long as the job and customers will have me.
In mid 1999, Pernell had a very good idea. He pointed out that there was nowhere in Warsaw where you could trade or buy old video games. If you wanted to do that, the closest place to do it was Fort Wayne. We decided we really wanted to have that available in town. Pernell brought in some of his old games for me to start our Video Game Trader with the items being on consignment. My goal was to sell the games at an affordable fair market value and hope that the start of the inventory from Pernell would bring in trade-ins and grow in size. Now if you have been in our shop to see our current inventory, you will see that plan did pan out. New idea and Lucky item #1.
June 23, 1999 a new Magic set releases. This one is called Urza's Saga. Now if you play or played the game you may have heard of this set. This set is still infamous today and a single pack of it can run up to $100 each. This set released such hit cards as: Priest of Titania, Tolarian Academy, Gaea's Cradle, Serra's Sanctum, Yawgmoth's Will, Time Spiral, Exploration and so many more great cards. This set's timing couldn't have been better. It sold like gangbusters after the lackluster 6th edition sales. Things were starting to look up again and it was making me hopeful again. Lucky item #2.
Around this time I also tried to bring about other new ideas like the "T-Shirt of the Month". Where I would order in a new t-shirt each month that I would be willing to wear (in case it didn't sell). This didn't last long as it seemed most people didn't want to pay the higher prices for a t-shirt that the ones I could get retailed at, so that went away. I also started carrying action figures (New/Used) at this time. My good friend Jason Spore had been collecting the Star Wars Power of the Force and Episode 1 figures. Toyfare would keep track of the secondary market and all the rare variants. Spore would bring in rare ones he found and we would split the profits. Eventually we had an entire wall of hard to find (at that time, but not at all now) Star Wars figures and they were also doing well. This also kickstarted us being able to start buying collections of old G.I. Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, MOTU and TMNT figures. DC also had started selling action figures from new DC Direct Line (now called DC Collectibles). These action figures and statues were made exclusive to the hobby market so you had to have an account with Diamond to even get them in your store. You couldn't find them in big box stores. Lucky item #3.
We were starting to see an upswing and things weren't looking so bad. Magic tournament attendance was on the rise and we were building a community of new players. Something that is still very important to me to this day. Without a community, we don't survive. There was even one time where 2 players had a popcorn catching contest (seen above). My friends and I were doing whatever we could to make sure Chimp's survived. This had quickly become our very own version of "Cheers", just with our hobbies instead of alcohol. I quickly noticed another new thing bringing in customers, but unfortunately I didn't have what they were looking for. I decided that things seemed to be going well enough at the moment to take the risk and invest in a new item. I knew going into it that it was a risk as anything in this town that wasn't Magic the Gathering pretty much never took off. That risk was the Pokemon CCG.
Kids and parents were flocking into the store to try to get Pokemon packs and just like the original Magic sets, here was another game from Wizards of the Coast that couldn't meet demand. Unlike early Magic sets, they did multiple print runs to eventually catch up with demand. I searched high and low to find packs of these cards. If I could find them I snagged what I could for our marketplace. Eventually my distributors caught up and were able to get me a few boxes a week. These boxes would sell out by the pack in a matter of 1-2 days. The demand was insanely huge. I eventually started opening packs to make a selection of singles and anytime I pulled a Charizard it was gone immediately for around $50 each time. These cards were like winning a lottery. By the time Fossil came out, I was able to snag a couple of boxes of 1st edition packs. Now collecting was in such a frenzy at the time that 1st edition packs of anything sold for way more than retail. Even with packs being more expensive for 1st editions, kids wanted them so bad that those sold even faster at a higher price. I learned the rules for the game to hold our very first Pokemon tournament. Unfortunately, no one showed up for the tournament and this showed us kids were collecting and not really playing. Who wouldn't love collecting cute little animal cards?
By the time Team Rocket came out, my sales were dwindling to a halt and I was starting to get kids in the store who were damaging some of our product. Shortly after that I had a customer come in who wanted to get into collecting Pokemon cards. I ended up making him a deal on all the singles and packs I had remaining and to my surprise, it was completely the right thing to do at the time. I did not have customers coming in asking for Pokemon product after that time. It seemed to just die off suddenly like someone turning off a light switch and I didn't get stuck with ANY extra product. It was a clean break. Now we've dabbled in packs here and there since, but it was never like this again. Lucky item #4.
Right around this time was when the McDonald's I was working for decided they were going to tear it down and rebuild. I could've transferred to another store for awhile during the rebuild, but I knew that I didn't make enough money there for what I was trying to do. Also I wanted to keep every penny the store had made to help the store and not me personally. So at this point I found myself without a second job and began looking for a higher paying job to keep both myself and my business afloat. Now that sales were starting to come back, it was time to get the "insurance" to make sure I wouldn't have to deal with that again.
End Part 3...
And now a letter from me:
I really hope you enjoyed the read so far. I really appreciate all of you who have talked to us about these "History" articles in the store and all of the positive feedback you have given us. This chapter is extra special to me as it marks the first 15 months of my ownership which were a whirlwind of emotions and struggles. I started out doing these just as a good way to mark what has happened in my store and my life so it genuinely means a lot to me that many of you have asked for more.
All of these "lucky items" and friends attributed to me being able to make Chimp's survive through a time I was sure I was going out of business and I am forever grateful and realize there was was a lot of lucky things lining up for me here. This experience above is why I warn people when they talk to me about being young and running my own business or thinking about opening their own. It is a very risky thing and I almost failed before I really got started. I got lucky and had a team of friends behind me all the way. This is what #teamchimpscomix means to me. Being there for each other. Building your community. Supporting your friends and their dreams and helping any way you can. Making friends with people you only knew as customers. Having great conversations and connections with them.
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Join us next time for more on the HISTORY OF CHIMP'S COMIX! #teamchimpscomix
Thank you very much for reading and supporting Chimp's!
Sincerely from the bottom of my heart,
Thank you for your continued support.