GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — “It’s a blast.”
Surrounded by comics, action figures, and toys, Gavin Willard describes owning Tardy’s Collector’s Corner as “everything that I've always wanted for my life.”
Willard and his wife love the store so much, they drove from Holland to the store in the Alger Heights business district every week “to come pick up comics and toys and stuff,” he says. That was back when the store was still owned by Kirby and Deb Tardy. The Willards bought the store about six years ago when the Tardys retired.
The passion the Willards have for what might be called comics culture is the key to the store’s survival during the pandemic. “We are insanely lucky to have the customer base that we do,” Willard says with gratitude.
When the store was forced to close, they didn’t waste time worrying. “We had nine weeks to improve what we were doing,” he says. “We're like, ‘Well, let's make the store look better.’”
From there, they reached their customers through videos highlighting the store’s stock. As a result, "we had people get ahold of us for gift cards for after when we open. We had people for curbside pickup, we had people for delivery. We just had an amazing amount of support. It was fantastic.”
The videos exposed the store to people who didn’t know it existed, and the store continues to reap the benefits.” We get people that travel from anywhere from Detroit all the way over to Chicago, who will come and just shop the bins, shop the back stock, because most stores don't carry this much stock.”
Willard is happy to introduce new people to the world of comics and superheroes. He encourages exploration into the media’s stories with a quick tutorial on the comic experience:
“When you look at a comic book and you're reading a page, one way or another the artist is doing their job, they're telling you exactly where your eyes need to be. The writer is breaking down exactly what the character feels or exactly what the situation is. And more often than not you get almost an emotional response when it's done really well. Just like TV or movies, you develop connections to these characters that -- they're fictional characters, they're paper, but at the same time, they're real to you when you're reading them. Just like video games, just like movies, just like anything else.”
For people would like to explore whether there are comics for them, Willard assembles bundles of 30 comics for $10. “You're not out a ton of money, and you get 30 chances to find something that you really like.”
For the collector, Willard is well versed in the genuine article. “We do offer CGC books that are sealed, that have a letter grade stamped on them. And it tells you exactly what the grade is. And it preserves them.”
And he has something for every level of collector. “We have stuff down for two for a dollar for kids to come in and buy, all the way up to $300, $400, or $500 statues that are really impressive and collector Premium Format pieces.”
Willard shows just as much enthusiasm for the low-prices stuff for kids as the high end items for collectors.
You can tell he’s having a blast.