Stevens Ethier, owner of a chain of three comic book and anime stores, The Comic Book Shoppe and the Anime Stop of Ottawa, Canada, have launched a crowdfunding campaign to keep them in business after thirty-one years in the city. He writes,
To my many friends, family, and familiar faces, and to customers old, new, and lapsed,
This is the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write, and I’ve written a lot of hard letters in my time.
I hope that you’ll be able to help me.
The Comic Book Shoppe, the company that I’ve built up over 31 years, is in danger of closing.
There’s no easier way to put it. We’re down to what might be the final hour.
I’ve contacted banks, brokerages, even predatory lenders, just to exist day-to-day.
You may have noticed that a lot of our shelves are bare, or that small amounts of product are stretched to fill space. That’s not a coincidence. Thanks to the problems I’m facing (more on that soon), I’ve had accounts frozen, cheques bounce, and suppliers not allowing me to place orders. My stores are all suffering, and that’s not to speak of the strain it has put on me personally – but that’s not a story for right now.
Many will say the industry is slowing down, but that’s not what I’ve observed at my stores. Ottawa’s comic book scene is still very strong, and it is through these sales that we have managed to stay afloat. The most profitable years that my stores have seen were 2013 to 2016. We smashed sales records month after month for almost 40 straight months. And we would still be going strong, if not for the problems that have gathered at my feet.
The problems that myself, my businesses, and my wonderful staff are facing, stem from a singular problem that occurred in 2014. I was told by my previous accountant that I could easily do my bookkeeping myself, but between three stores, a personal life, and a family at home, I fell behind on my accounting and filing my tax returns. And when the CRA doesn’t have a tax return they need, rather than looking at similar numbers from previous years, they just make some numbers up and file a return on your behalf. That made up set of numbers has caused a series of cascading financial woes. The CRA came up with a final number that made it look like I owed the government $230,000, three times more money than I even made, so they began demanding payments, and freezing my business spending accounts. Then, on top of that, I got slammed with fees, interest, and penalties for an amount that I didn’t have, and shouldn’t have owed.
So what money was I to use to bring in more merchandise for my store?
Had I been able to continue making money, and then putting that money back into my store, as I’ve done for over thirty years, we may still be seeing the record-smashing sales that 2013 to 2016 brought us. Instead, I was struggling for over three years, trying to catch up on tax returns, having my accounts frozen, and an audit that lasted in excess of a year and a half, all while borrowing money from increasingly interest-heavy lenders, in order to stay above water.
This is where the downward spiral began: the money that I made had to go to the CRA to prevent them from freezing accounts and bringing my operation to a grinding halt, so I had less money to pay suppliers with. Fewer suppliers meant less product. Less product meant less money made. And less money made meant fewer payments could be made, both to those who deserved it, and those who did not.
So now, I find myself stuck. My suppliers are close to cutting me off. My rent payments are past due. I’ve mortgaged my home to keep The Comic Book Shoppe and The Anime Stop running, and it looks like it still wasn’t enough.
I need help.
This is very difficult for me. I’m a proud business owner – sometimes too proud. But I’ve exhausted every option. I’ve looked down every avenue, and asked every bank, broker, and loan company for assistance. I haven’t been able to escape the shadow of the spiral I’ve been trapped in for over three years. The worst part is that the spiral was started with a single made-up number, and the money I need to right the ship would be a one-time fix. The business of selling comic books is doing fine, and without this cloud hanging over me, I would still be selling comic books like it was 2016.
Asking for support in donations is not something that I wanted to do, but in order to keep the store open and product on the shelves, my staff has set up this GoFundMe page on my behalf. I’ve exhausted all other options and now I’m reaching out to you, comic fans, to help keep the doors to The Comic Book Shoppe open.
I’ve been selling comic books and related merch in Ottawa for over thirty years, and it kills me to think that I may not be able to continue doing so. A little bit of help may be all that it takes to restore my business to what it once was, so that I can continue serving you, your family, your friends, and our entire community for years to come.
I want to make it clear that I have caught up on my taxes, reduced staff and spending, trimmed the fat in dozens of places, and it is only the compounded fees and interest that has kept me from returning to profitability. The stores are more optimized than they’ve ever been. There is still progress to be made, improvements that can be done, but this campaign is my only hope right now.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to sincerely thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and I hope that, together, we can keep The Comic Book Shoppe and The Anime Stop parts of the Ottawa community.
They have currently raised almost $5000 or the $150,000 they are aiming for, including a $200 donation from fellow Ottowa and possible rival store, Toys on Fire.