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Business: Graham Crackers Comics
Address: 1271 Rickert Drive, Naperville
Manager: Michael Wall, 51, of Villa Park
Years in business? 25 in Naperville, 40 in total
What does your business do? “We sell and we buy comics, graphic novels, toys, card games and other collectibles,” Wall said.
Is it a fun job? “No one wants to work, but it is fun. I don’t wake up saying, I don’t want to go to work, I just want to stay at home and watch ‘Columbo.’ I enjoy my job.”
What makes it fun? “I’ve been collecting and reading comics for probably 46 years. So, there’s that point. And then there are the customers. I meet all sorts of different people. ... A construction worker to a lawyer to a doctor. There have been times when there’s a guy who has a high school degree and a guy who has a doctorate. We’re all sitting there talking about something nerdy, for lack of a better term.”
Why did comics catch your attention? “The stories and the adventure. Super heroes in general. I wish we had (the Marvel movies) when we were younger.”
What was our first comic book? “A Sgt. Rock comic, a war comic. That or Archie.”
Michael Wall, manager of Graham Crackers Comics in Naperville, holds two rare editions of comic books available for purchase at his store. (Steve Metsch / Naperville Sun)
How big is your collection? “I have about 70 boxes filled. I keep them in my basement. It’s a dry basement. I have them up on pallets. It did flood once and I lost some.”
What does this store offer? “We have a couple different sections. There are the back issues, older editions, the newer comic racks, the trade paperbacks, collections of older issues, full stories.”
What’s the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel? “The difference is a comic is one issue. ... A graphic novel is the (continuing) story.”
What makes a comic book worth a lot of money? “Rarity. For instance, Action Comics No. 1, the first Superman, and Detective Comics No. 27 (are valuable) because there’s like maybe 100, 150 out there. (No. 27) is the first appearance of Batman. ... Amazing Fantasy No. 15, that’s Spider-Man’s first appearance. It is hard to find. ... Condition is everything.”
Who owns the store? “Jamie Graham. Hence Graham Crackers. ... I’ve worked here full-time 26 years, but in some way or another, I’ve been with him for 40 years. I was the kid who wouldn’t go away so he put me to work. This store started in Elmhurst.”
Is this the only store? “We have 12 locations. Ten in Illinois, one in Madison, Wisconsin, and one in California. Closest to here are Plainfield, Downers Grove, Wheaton, St. Charles, DeKalb.”
What’s the best part of being in Naperville? “One, It’s a huge city. Two, it’s a diverse city. Three, Naperville seems to always be on the Best Town to Raise a Kid In list, Best Town to Live In list. ... I have friends from Orange County who know about Naperville. They hear it’s a great place to live.”
Is there a busy time of year? “Christmas. And the summer because kids are off (from school). ... I’m to the point now where the kids I got started on stuff are now bringing their kids. It makes me feel old.”
When are comics released? “Wednesday is the day for new comics.”
What’s hot? “It all depends on what TV show or movie is out. ... There’s a character called Invincible. He’s hot right now because he has an Amazon show. Falcon and Winter Soldier because that’s a current Disney Marvel show.”
What’s the best part of this business? “I like seeing kids come in, pick up books, all excited about reading. ... Getting people into stuff I like is nice. I like your Marvel and DC stuff, but I like weird stuff. I love Godzilla movies.”
Any negatives? “Sometimes guys buy a book and sell it in their car on the phone. Who’s buying this for this much money? ... It’s something I don’t get.”
How did the virus impact your business? “We shut down for a month and a half (in 2020). ... The company didn’t pay me for a month and a half but I still came in. Some customers wanted stuff mailed out, so I did it.”
What misconceptions do people have? “Some people expect Comic Book Guy from ‘The Simpsons.’”
What challenges do you face? “We always have competition, web sites, Amazon. We used to have one distributor for all the comics. Now, DC Comics broke off to another distributor. Marvel’s going to do the same thing.”
What’s your advice for someone starting a business? “Have some money banked just in case. ... Even if it’s a passion, still treat it as a business. Don’t let your feelings rule your business decisions.”
Steve Metsch is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.
I am a single woman, age 67. My home is paid for, and I have owned a small furniture business for the past 30 years.
During the past year, due to the COVID-19, things have gotten a little tough financially. I have been considering closing the store.
I still have a three-year lease on the building costing $6,000 a month, and I just found out that I am personally responsible for any other bills that the store owes.
I have an LLC, but I was informed that I would have to file personal bankruptcy for any debt the store has.
How can I keep from losing my house if I have to file bankruptcy? The value is approximately $380,000, and it’s really the only asset I have.
Business Owner Felled By COVID
You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the world can change in an instant, and our own fortunes with it. But that also works both ways.
It’s not over until it’s over, and you have not been knocked out of the game yet. I have seen people sell businesses, homes and stocks in a down market only to regret their decision months or a few short years later. If you love your business, do everything you can in your power to fight for it.
Harness the full potential of any stimulus programs, and seek help from your local chamber of commerce and business communities. Sometimes, the hardest thing in the world to do is to ask for help. But it’s often a privilege for other people to provide advice and assistance. Speaking of which, I sought additional legal advice for you from an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy.
‘Harness the full potential of any stimulus programs, and seek help from your local chamber of commerce and business communities.’ — The Moneyist
“When you sign a commercial lease, even for an LLC or a CORP, you will almost always be asked to sign a personal guarantee,” says David Waltzer, a New York-based lawyer. “In the bliss of getting a new space, it is easy to gloss over the hazard at hand. I recommend that my clients NEVER personally guarantee a commercial lease except with a ‘good-guy guarantee.’”
“A good-guy guarantee basically says that the space is personally guaranteed for as long as it is occupied,” he adds. “So if business goes bad and you need to get out, you can vacate and surrender the space. Your business will still owe for the balance of the lease, but you personally will be off the hook. In this way, you benefit from the protections of the corporate entity.”
There may be hope. “In some parts of New York, you can protect $170,000 of equity in a primary residence per person on the title. So, if you and a spouse are both on title, and your house is worth $340,000 and has no mortgage, the house could be safe in personal bankruptcy,” Waltzer says. “You can even sometimes get consideration for the expected cost of sale.”
‘You have built this business up over 30 years. That’s longer than millions of small businesses, and most marriages.’ — The Moneyist
Please don’t give up. Once you have pulled the plug on your business, there will be no going back, and you have spent 30 years building your business up. There may be the opportunity to seek zero-interest loans in your state. In New York, there are zero-interest loans up to $75,000 for businesses that experienced a 25% decrease in revenue due to COVID-19, among other conditions.
One final thought. You have built this business up over 30 years. That’s longer than millions of small businesses, and most marriages. You have established client relationships, and a reputation in your industry. Don’t discount either of those two things. If you do close your business now, it does not mean it was a failure. Please know that every day that you hung an “Open” sign on your door counts.
These are extraordinary times, and running a small business for 30 years is even more extraordinary.
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