The Inner Geek Comic and Toy Store officially reopened its doors Wednesday. The popular Ashland store was one of those businesses in the area that had to close to face-to-face customer traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now it has reopened to regulated traffic during its usual hours of 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Store owner Jarrod Greer said he was glad to be able to welcome customers into the store again, though he said there will be a limit of 10 people in the store at one time.
“We are trying to keep everyone safe and still welcome people back,” Greer said. Some of the safety precautions Greer has implemented are a hand sanitizer station at the entrance for the use of patrons, and all the store employees will be wearing masks. Greer said he was also encouraging customers to keep the recommended 6 feet of separation while shopping.
“We had a lot of traffic before the pandemic,” Greer said. “But it seems to be the nature of this business that the traffic doesn’t come all at once. On a typical day before COVID-19, unless we were having a special event, there usually wasn’t more than 10 people here at any one time.”
Greer said that this might be because most customers come in to see what new things he has added rather than come in with a specific product in mind.
“People like to browse through back issues and toys to see what they can find,” Greer said. “And I am glad that they can do that again now.”
This pattern of shopping made the shutdown particularly challenging for the business Greer and his wife Jaime had built. When the pandemic shut his doors, it nearly eliminated the functional quality of the business.
“We figured out pretty quick that it was a situation where you evolve or go under,” Greer said. “We immediately started offering curbside pickup, and even began mailing some customers.”
But the Greers soon discovered there was another problem — and that was supply.
“I buy a lot of collections from people,” Greer said. “And I originally thought that people would continue to contact me when they wanted to sell something, but that wasn’t the case. A lot of my supply of collections and vintage toys dried up; and of course, no one was able to come into the store and show me what they had to sell.”
Still another hurdle was thrown in the Greers’ path when they learned Diamond Distributing, the largest comic book distributer, had ceased making deliveries. This meant that there would be no new comic books they could make available to their customers either through curbside delivery or mailing. Greer said the first new comic books came out the Wednesday he reopened.
With the challenges piling up, the Greers decided to focus on their online store.
“All I can say is it’s a good thing I’m a huge packrat,” Greer laughed. “I had boxes full of stuff in the warehouse we hadn’t gone through. So, we drug them out and sorted through them, and started listing them on our eBay store and other places. And we pushed it to develop a sustainable presence online, so now we have a huge selection of items people can get even if they don’t want to or can’t get out and into the store.”
Greer said the experience has been a hard and nerve-racking lesson, but it is one that there was a tangible benefit in learning.
“I think we have grown a lot as a business through all of this,” Greer said. “And I believe that it will put us in a better place going forward. It will definitely make it easier to keep offering people what they are looking for if this shut down happens again.
“Right now, I’m just going to enjoy people being back in my store again,” Greer said. “And maybe we can all find this ‘new normal’ together.”