As COVID rules ease, Perth city center is still reeling from months of closures and restrictions.
In a series of special reports, the PA is looking at how the Fair City’s retail and hospitality sector is recovering from the impact of the pandemic and what the future holds for our high street…
The comic book genre dominates the global box office with many of its films among the highest grossing movies of all time.
Colorful characters like Black Panther, Aquaman, Groot and Star Lord have joined the likes of Spider-Man and Batman as household names.
But for Perth independent comic book shop owner Stuart Kane, the landscape looks very different.
On Tuesday, Stuart announced “with great sadness” that his store, Big Dog Books, will close at the end of the month due to the tumultuous post-pandemic environment.
The popular shop on Scott Street will shut its doors for the last time on Friday, May 27, as will Stuart’s other retail outlet in Dundee.
A comic book enthusiast, Stuart used redundancy money from his HR consultancy role to open the Perth store to much fanfare in July 2016 and its success led to the launch of the Dundee store in March 2020 – a week before the COVID pandemic lockdown began.
Speaking to the PA, Stuart said he tried his hardest to keep his business going.
But continued COVID interruptions, shipping delays, soaring costs, physical products moving to digital platforms, companies that once supported local game stores moving to direct sales, the rising cost of living and other political issues have made staying open “impossible”.
“COVID blew the world apart and the Dundee shop was mothballed for six months,” he said. “Then when things did reopen it was a huge reduction in opening hours. Then we went into lockdown again so it was shut down for another six months.
“So the Dundee shop has only really been open since May last year and the COVID support money did not help really, it was not enough.
“So coming out of COVID has been a challenge.
“Many suppliers have moved to selling their products online instead of using retail stores. They are cutting out the middle man.
“You get the Marvel and DC apps as well now that you can join that have access to all the comics on their phones. You can pay £4 for a comic in here or £40 a year for all Marvel comics ever made.
“The global shipping supply also collapsed. Last year getting products into the UK was almost impossible as our products are all from out with the UK. We have had stock lost at customs with a boat leaving Brussels but the items somehow get lost along the way.
“We had Christmas merchandise that arrived in April and is not good to us. And you can’t return it.”
Stuart believes the number of comic book shops forced to close in the coming months will only increase.
“Colleagues up and down the country are saying the same thing as me,” he revealed. “None are thinking long term.
“There will soon be very few stores like this in the UK and I do think that within one or two years there will only be a handful left.”
Stuart feels the real heroes who have supported him are the local customers, staff and community that have assembled over the past few years.
There are currently 400 members of the Big Dog community who use both store spaces to get together.
“That was what the business was designed to do and the Perth shop did it first,” I explained.
“To be a retail store until 5pm and then it would become a community center in the evening. We hold Dungeons and Dragons groups or card game tournaments or host book clubs. We have let the place out for local writers and authors to show their work here. We have also had PhD seminars.”
Stuart has also witnessed a dramatic dip in footfall in Perth since the start of the year.
“I live in Perth and I do not know what has happened in the city since the start of the year,” he said.
“Everybody says there is no one in town or in stores. Lots of pubs are struggling with not as many people spending money.
“[The Perth City Hall project] will make a difference and will bring in tourists.
“But it will only benefit businesses in the immediate area surrounding it.”
Stuart concluded: “To those who have supported us through the years we say sorry for not being there anymore but that we will not leave you behind and will try to find new ways of keeping our people together.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.