Taking over operations of a toy store right before a global pandemic isn’t ideal, admits Leah Pickering, owner of Kazoodles in east Vancouver.
“Timing could be better,” Pickering said.
But as the coronavirus outbreak worsens in the United States, everyone could do with a bit of comfort in these stressful times. And businesses that deal in distractions are doing everything they can to keep the thousands of kids (and adults) stuck at home in Clark County at ease.
Kazoodles is still open for business. Walk-ins are slow, so Pickering, who took over the store this year, is offering alternate options for families looking to keep their children occupied.
Parents can pull up outside the Southeast Mill Plain store and someone will run out and deliver their order. Pickering is also making personal deliveries for families who live near the shop. Customers also have the option to shop virtually via FaceTime or text message — but call the store’s main line before setting that up.
“People like routine, and they like things that they know and that are comfortable,” Pickering said. “When things don’t work out well, people want to lean harder on things they feel are still normal and comfortable.”
There’s something to that, according to Katie Azarow, a licensed clinical social worker and clinical supervisor at the Children’s Center in Vancouver.
“One of the things that we have all of our therapists focusing on right now is trying to instill some sense of normalcy in people’s lives,” Azarow said. “We want to make sure they’re not just sitting at home doing nothing.”
Azarow added that closures may be offering parents the chance to enjoy quality time with their children playing, reading or, yes, doing a little homework.
“We’re at such a unique time that one of the silver linings is that so many parents have the opportunity to deal with their kids enjoying those little moments,” she said.
Ruthie Prasil, owner of Dickens Children’s Books in Uptown Village, is making similar accommodations for her customers, offering delivery and curbside pickup for parents. Workbooks in particular are flying off the shelves as parents look for ways to keep their children sharp with schools closed through April 24.
“Nobody ever looked at them” before the cancellations, Prasil said. “I sold maybe one activity book in three weeks, and then all of a sudden after school closures, I can’t get them in fast enough.”
Like Pickering’s, Prasil’s storefront is open. Only a few people come in at any given time, she said, and they’re cautious to keep surfaces clean and disinfected. Still, parents, like everyone else, are hesitant to leave home in these times.
“Being able to shop from home then have it delivered with no charge has been a really good thing for a lot of people,” Prasil said.
Vancouver residents can also still find distractions that appeal across age groups.
I Like Comics owner Chris Simons decided to close his downtown Vancouver shop earlier this week, but he’s still fulfilling online orders and maintaining one of the store’s most popular features: subscription boxes where readers can pick up customized sets of new comics from their favorite series each week. Customers can call from outside the store and have their box contents bagged up and brought out to them.
There hasn’t been a broad shift in the kinds of comic books people are buying, Simons said, but he has seen an uptick in sales of superhero comics and other lighter fare.
“The heavier, darker books, not so much,” he said. “People are looking for inspiration right now.”
Ryan Garringer, manager of BatCave Games in east Vancouver, said that while store traffic has declined overall due to quarantine efforts, there has been a noticeable uptick in new customers, including customers buying board games for the first time.
Party-style games aren’t selling very well, he said, but one- and two-player games have been enjoying a surge in popularity in the past year, and that trend is persisting now as people prepare to be stuck at home in small groups. Over at Dice Age Games, co-owner Roy Starkweather said he’s also seen a slight uptick in sales of board games, especially if they can be played with small groups.
Role-playing games have also been popular, Garringer said — both lighter fare like Scooby-Doo or Buffy the Vampire Slayer-themed games, as well as deeper and more well-known titles like Dungeons & Dragons.
Garringer and Starkweather both pointed to high replayability as the driving force behind the popularity of D&D and other RPGs. Since so much of the game is driven by the players’ imaginations, no two campaigns are alike.
BatCave, Dice Age and other Vancouver-area game stores have had to switch to retail-only operations in the past week, canceling their Magic: The Gathering tournaments and other gaming night events that are typically at the center of the board and card-gaming community.
But the cancellation of live events hasn’t stopped people from keeping the games going. Garringer said he’s heard from Magic players who have turned to FaceTime to play against their opponents remotely, and Dungeons and Dragons campaigns switching to Skype-based sessions.
“We have a lot of tools now that we would not have had before,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, video games are also a go-to tool for riding out the quarantine. Friday’s launch of Bethesda Softworks’ “Doom Eternal” and Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” dominated discussions in gaming circles online this week.
Craft lessons online
Pickering at Kazoodles has also made the move online, conducting her weekly Wednesday craft lessons that normally take place at the store live on the toy store’s Facebook page. It’s another chance to give families access to a familiar routine when nothing else feels normal, she said.
“This is a really tumultuous time for families,” Pickering said. “One thing that can remain a constant is that we’re a positive presence for those families, whatever that takes.”
Most retailers, like Simons at I Like Comics, are hoping there will be an end in sight soon. While subscription boxes and mail orders will keep the store stable for the time being, he worries how the closures could affect his largest source of revenue: the trading of vintage and collector comics.
Still, Simons said he intends to keep operating and providing people with their weekly comics fix, which he views as all the more important now that readers are worrying about the stress of the virus and home quarantines.
“People still need their escapism,” he said.
In the meantime, Simons said he’s been able to focus on other projects, like sorting through some of the store’s old comics. One odd surprise popped up this week while he was doing that: A 1991 Spider-Man comic depicting the hero’s race to find a cure for a mysterious fever outbreak sweeping the city — while at the same time fighting a new supervillain who goes by the name Corona.