Green Brain Comics Q&A: Crowdfunding and life during COVID-19

Green Brain Comics first opened in 1985. Back then, it would have been hard to predict what their 35th year in business would be like. The business, like so many others, has had to find new ways to stay open, in one form or another, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fortunately for Dan and Katie Merritt, the couple that owns and operates Green Brain, their customers and community of comic book fans have helped to keep them open. Now they’ve enrolled in the MI Local Biz program, a crowdfunding-and-matching grant initiative designed by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to help businesses like theirs survive the economic fallout from coronavirus.

Hosted on the Michigan-based Patronicity platform, Green Brain has until Tuesday, Aug. 11, to raise $5,000. Should they reach their goal, the MEDC will then award the business with a $5,000 matching grant.

We asked the Merritts about their crowdfunding efforts and life during COVID-19.

Q: Tell us about the crowdfunding campaign. What is it and how will you use the money?

Dan: This is a program offered through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Normally it’s used to fund civic projects, things like playgrounds and parks. The COVID-19 shutdowns have really hurt retail stores across the state, so they opened it up to small businesses.

For us, it is all about using the money to pay down the bills that we haven’t been able to pay after being shut down for ten weeks. We’ll use it to help re-stock the store. We’ve been living off our inventory. We couldn’t get new stuff in.

Katie: The MEDC is offering matching grants of up to $5,000. Our goal is to raise $5,000 but we can go over, too.

Dan: The third reason for this is to help us bring our staff back. It’s taken a long time for us to get business back up to allow for staff.

Q: What’s your COVID-19 experience been as small business owners?

Dan: We’ve been open to the public since the governor has allowed, which is over a month ago. And now that publishers and distributors are shipping new books again, hopefully we’ll be getting back to where we were before the shutdown.

Katie: We saw it coming and we actually shut down three days before the order to close [in March]. We were forced to furlough our staff. Publishers stopped shipping new products. So we started selling more through our web sales. And then when we could, we moved to curbside pick-ups.

We survived solely on mail orders and curbside pick-ups. And our customers started buying gift certificates in advance, just to help us out.

We lost out on Free Comic Book Day, which is our biggest event of the year. We never got to recoup those sales.

Dan: On a personal level, I lost my mother right around the time this all started to happen and it really compounded the difficulties we faced in the first few weeks of the shutdown. It’s a big challenge to handle estate issues remotely, which is what a lot of people have learned these last several months.

Q: What’s kept you motivated during these difficult times?

Dan: We are owner-operators and this is our sole source of income. And we have a passionate love for this artform and our customers. They’ve been supporting us for decades. We’re celebrating 35 years in business and we have long and strong ties to our customers. We’ve done a lot to keep our community together and we’ve received very strong moral support throughout this whole thing.

Q: What does the future look like for Green Brain?

Dan: There will be some much needed improvements coming to the store, some updates to technology. Something that would be very helpful for us is to be able to run events in the store again. I would love to get that back.

I really want people to remember that the east downtown Dearborn business community is strong, tight-knit, and still here. We have lots of retail, services, and fantastic places to eat food.

Green Brain Comics is located at 13936 Michigan Ave. in east downtown Dearborn. Visit Patronicity to view their crowdfunding campaign.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.