As COVID rules ease, Perth city center is still reeling from months of closures and restrictions.
In a series of special reports, the AP examines how Fair City’s retail and hospitality sector is recovering from the impact of the pandemic and what the future holds for our main street…
The comic book genre dominates the global box office with many of its films among the highest-grossing films of all time.
Colorful characters like Black Panther, Aquaman, Groot, and Star Lord have joined Spider-Man and Batman as household names.
But for Stuart Kane, owner of an independent comics shop in Perth, the landscape is 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 Scott Street store will close for the last time on Friday May 27, as will Stuart’s other outlet in Dundee.
A comic book enthusiast, Stuart used redundancy money from his role as a human resources consultant 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 start of the COVID pandemic lockdown.
Speaking to the AP, Stuart said he had done his best to keep his business going.
But continued COVID disruptions, shipping delays, skyrocketing costs, physical products moving to digital platforms, businesses that once supported local game stores moving to direct sales, rising cost of living and… Other political issues have made it “impossible” to stay open.
“COVID blew up the world and the Dundee shop was mothballed for six months,” he said. “Then when things reopened there was a huge reduction in opening hours. Then we went back into lockdown so it was closed for another six months.
“So the Dundee shop has only really been open since May last year and the COVID support money didn’t really help, it wasn’t enough.
“So coming out of COVID has been a challenge.
“Many suppliers have decided to sell their products online instead of using retail stores. They are cutting out the middle man.
“You also get the Marvel and DC apps now that you can join and have access to all the comics on their phones. You can pay £4 for a comic here or £40 a year for every Marvel comic ever made.
“Global shipping supply has also collapsed. Last year it was almost impossible to get products into the UK as our products all come from outside the UK. We had stock lost at customs with a ship leaving Brussels, but the items got lost en route.
“We had some Christmas goods which arrived in April which did not suit us. And you can’t return it.
Stuart believes the number of comic book stores forced to close in the coming months will only increase.
“Colleagues across the country are saying the same thing as me,” he revealed. “Nobody thinks long term.
“There will soon be very few shops like this in the UK and I think within a year or two there will be only a handful left.”
Stuart believes the real heroes who have supported him are the local customers, staff and community who have come together over the past few years.
There are currently 400 members of the Big Dog community who use the store’s two spaces to meet.
“It was what the business was built for and the Perth store did it first,” he explained.
“To be a retail store until 5 p.m., then it would become a community center in the evening. We organize Dungeons and Dragons groups or card game tournaments or book clubs. We have made way for local writers and authors to show their work here. We have also organized doctoral seminars.
Stuart has also witnessed a dramatic drop in attendance in Perth since the start of the year.
“I live in Perth and I don’t know what has happened in the city since the start of the year,” he said.
“Everyone says there’s no one in town or in the shops. A lot of pubs are struggling with fewer people spending money.
“[The Perth City Hall project] will make a difference and attract tourists.
“But that will only benefit businesses in the immediate area around it.”
Stuart concluded: “To those who have supported us over the years, we say sorry that we are no longer here, but we will not leave you behind and we will try to find new ways to keep our people together.