Leave it to comic-book stores to figure out a way to beat the bad guy. In this case, the villain is the depressive effect of COVID-19 on the economy across the board, from restaurants to retail. And the hero? There are a lot of heroes in this pandemic era, but for comics fans — and folks who just don’t want to lose their local comic-book store — Time Warp Comics' Wayne Winsett has figured out a way to save the day.
“What’s changed?” he asks. “Everything.”
During a time when almost all of us were home and actively searching for entertaining escapism, you’d think that comic books would have done well. And in some ways, they did. “People got in the habit of reading at home,” Winsett says, “and are now continuing that, remembering how much fun reading really is.”
But there were challenges early on.
“In the beginning, as things started getting worse, we knew we were going to have to shut down,” Winsett recalls. “We just didn’t know for how long.”
For a time, Winsett and one employee continued to come to the store at 3105 28th Street in Boulder — but then closed during the stay-at-home-order and did what they could to keep the business alive and the bills paid. They tried everything they’d been doing all along: eBay sales, mail order, anything that they’d been doing remotely for years. It helped.
“A lot of people who we reached out to were amazing in responding with orders," he says. "Even from far-away countries like Japan.”
It became clear that, depending on what happened with COVID-19, it might not be enough to keep the closed comic-laden doors metaphorically open. That was when some colleagues of Winsett's from Denver’s I Want More Comics encouraged him to try something new: Stream Sales — online live auctions that are quick and fun and weird little parties of retail therapy.
“It was something they’d been doing for many months," he says. "I thought they were too much work for too little reward. But they persisted and said they would bring all the equipment up to my store and do it with me.”
The first Time Warp Stream Sale took place on April 7, 2020, with both comics and collectibles ranging from the rare and signed to the old and classic. Through livestreams on Facebook, participants could bid on awesome stuff with just a posted comment, and even just watching the two hours-plus show was entertaining.
“I watch the sales just because they’re fun,” says one longtime Time Warp customer. “But back during the isolation of the pandemic, they were especially important, you know? It was a good reminder that there was still a world outside your four walls.”
Winsett echoes that sentiment. “That first one was pretty good," he says. "I think we had about fifty people, which is average for us, but we’ve had as many as 75 people. We’d love to have more.”
As good as the fandom fellowship might be, in the end, this is a hobby about cool stuff, and Winsett concentrates on always providing stuff worth seeing.
“I love to pull all the items myself," he explains. "We have a variety of stuff, mostly comics. I like to put old rare issues that I think will appreciate in value, out-of-print sets, or collections of stories that are out of print or that I think people will enjoy reading. I also put in graphic novels I like, pops, action figures, trading-card sets, and basically stuff people don’t get to see all that often. I set all the prices in advance, doing research online for what items have sold for, and adjust my prices down so everyone gets a deal. It’s kind of like an auction, but we get closer to what something is really worth this way. And then everybody who purchases something gets a raffle ticket and gets entered into a giveaway at the end. I love that part.”
One of Winsett’s most memorable items was one that was a little less family-friendly than some of the comics he puts up for bid.
“My most favorite item was selling an action figure of a character by the name of Nancy from the movie Sin City, dressed very slutty," he says. Nancy Callahan is an exotic dancer who was played by Jessica Alba in the film versions of the gritty Frank Miller classic comics, and this was definitely not a toy for the younger set. “The buyer? My sister, Nancy," Winsett notes. "I had a lot of laughs, and so did she.”
Customer response to the Stream Sales has been consistently strong as Time Warp has continued to host them every other Tuesday. The next iteration — the 32nd in an ongoing series — is on Tuesday, July 20, from 4 to 6 p.m.
For now, Winsett plans to continue the effort as part of his ongoing business model for Time Warp, which is again open for in-store shopping or pick-up.
“I can’t see stopping in the foreseeable future, because they really help our bottom line. Sales are impressive, and help contribute to paying the rent, and even though they’re a lot of work, I still look forward to them,” Winsett says. “I really like to share how special this hobby is with as many people as possible. Engaging our customers is important. I wish I had the energy to do more.”
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