The Internet v. Tokyo Kid (on behalf of Brick-and-Mortar Anime Retailers & Shoppers Everywhere)

Posted by Christina on November 1st, 2011
Oh, check out this sale!

Oh, check out this sale!

Ah, the internet. A source of knowledge and endless bounty for so many of us nowadays… Especially for us otaku. Think about it: how “common knowledge” was it around 15 years ago when Pokémon, Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z came out swinging that the cartoons we were enthralled with on Toonami every day were called anime and hailed from a country called Japan? Back then we weren’t fully adjusted to the instant-information era that was upon us, but we as a community began to gradually unearth hidden gems in import anime and games, and troves of knowledge about the series that were airing on our own shores.

In the present day, we live integrated with the internet every day. It’s truly a wonderful thing that we can now watch anime streaming mere days after it’s airing in Japan with services like HuluPlus, Crunchy Roll and soon, Funico, instead of waiting months or even years for fansubs of the series to start getting spread around on VHS (at-cost, of course ^_~!). We can shop directly from the sources, no longer living in days of paying $30+ for 3 or 4 episodes of an anime on VHS or single-volume DVD, and can even bargain shop and wait for the countless online sales on superstores such as Amazon and RightStuf. The internet is a vessel for planning conventions, finding out about new releases, and for many even making friends. For most of us, these were not even thought to be possible in years gone by, and now we’re so used to using the internet that we rarely seek out alternative options. How often though do we consider the side effects of this instant-gratification, ever-expanding digital mindset on the industry we’ve worked so hard to support and build up outside of Japan?

Think about the bigger industries’ brick-and-mortar shops that the internet has all but wiped out – Things like Borders bookstores, Sam Goody music stores, KB Toys toy stores, are all examples of mass industry in decline to the point of closing stores or ceasing to exist altogether… and these are MAJOR industries. If mass industries that the entire population shops with are closing, think about how huge the effect will be on a much smaller industry’s businesses; In this case, our very own anime industry.

The point hit me hard recently when all our nearby Borders bookstores here in Boston closed down, and the realization that the nearest bookshop still standing was a longer drive to a lone Barnes & Noble: I would very rarely get a chance to buy manga from here on. Sure, there are online shops for the manga series I already know I’m going to want, or am already working on collections for, but what about things I didn’t know about yet? I read announcements and upcoming release lists on shopping websites, of course, but what do those really give you besides a name? The facts are, most manga series I’ve wound up getting involved with have been because the book’s artwork jumped out at me from a shelf. Impulse shopping is absolutely the key for alot of people these days. It’s extremely hard to find something you like when you don’t know what you’re looking for exactly in the sea of never-ending titles online. When something is sitting on a shelf looking you in the face and you go “Hey, that looks neat!” and pick it up and flip through it… That’s a major part of manga shopping that we’re losing with the steady decline in bookshop numbers.

What are we gonna do for manga when bookstores are all gone?

What are we gonna do for manga when bookstores are all gone?

But “Oh,” I thought, “I can still go to my local anime shop! Surely they’ll always have a variety for me to browse through and see if something new catches my eye!”

Ha-ha. Very funny, me.

I’m fortunate enough to live near a big city, and fortunate enough to have grown up with a father who not only understood my weird hobbies, but encouraged them and found all the local places for acquiring related goodies. Since my anime obsession began around age 10-11, my dad would take me into Harvard Square so I could go to the anime stores he found there. There were two at the time: Anime Crash and Tokyo Kid. Anime Crash was pretty big, which as I’ve come to find out later was due to them being a chain; Tokyo Kid on the other hand was pretty small at the time. I wish my memory of the places back then was a bit better, but alas I was much younger, and most of those memories faded over the years. I would go in town with my dad, we’d get lunch, I’d get a couple VHS (which was a big deal when they were like $30!), a pack of Japanese Pokémon cards, a couple SonMay anime soundtracks which no one really knew were bootlegs back then, and life was good. Anime Crash would close far too soon after I’d discovered it (only a couple years later, I believe) but Tokyo Kid would live on. I continued to shop there periodically as I got older. A bit less in high school (when I had fake friends and no one who appreciated my interests,) but resumed afterward when college, cool people and AnimeBoston would re-ignite my public appreciation for the medium. I would show people Tokyo Kid was there, I got scared when they moved across the small Garage mall that they were in because I thought they were gone, and there was even one weird time where they had a couple other specialty stores in the same building. When my now-husband moved here from California , I obviously had to share this place with him; After all, it had been a staple for the majority of my life. With him, I started going more often (because hey I’m an adult now, I can spend my money how I want!), but as I did, I started to notice something…

The place kinda sucked now.

Seeing this place in the Garage mall used to make my little heart leap.

Seeing this place in the Garage mall used to make my little heart leap.

Wait, I realize that sounded kinda harsh, so let me back this statement up. I had been a long-time patron of this place, after all. Not only do I think I have a right to an opinion about their declining business practices, but I think I also have a decent sense of what any brick-and-mortar anime shop needs to do to stay afloat in a suffering economy.

Every time I went into this place for the past 5 or 6 years, the back wall was lined with single-volume DVDs that still ranged in the $29.99-$34.99 price bracket for a mere 4 episodes or so, and always the same ones. Clearly, almost any anime fan can tell you that it hasn’t been economical or remotely-intelligent to buy single-volume DVDs in our current economy. So what I’d like to know is, when the industry has gotten to this point where they’re not even really making single-disc volumes often anymore, why would the owner want to get $30 for those old volumes so desperately that he’d let them sit for literally years, when clearly no one wants them, rather than chopping the price down to $15 or so to maybe get rid of them via an impulse-buy so he could make some profit to put toward new things that people would actually want to buy? Let’s face it – DVDs are cheaper online. Anyone who knows exactly what they want to buy in DVD or Blu-ray format is going to go online no matter what. Being able to stock a small supply of new releases is a nice thought and could be a great “pull” for customers in the right market, but without a guarantee the product will move, they aren’t really profitable anymore for small businesses.

What about manga? After all, manga availability lessening was what made me realize that this whole brick-and-mortar decline was really happening (and that it really sucks.) At least manga is a bit cheaper to stock properly, and reasonably-priced enough that people won’t mind coming to you for it. Well, Tokyo Kid used to have an extremely well-stocked set of bookshelves in their store, and got new releases pretty regularly. The shelf always looked full. People can afford manga, and it doesn’t take up an obscene amount of space if done correctly. Unfortunately, presumably from money getting tight with the shop, they started to cease filling holes in series manga when a volume would sell out. What happens then, is when people try coming to you a few times for a particular volume they’re looking for and each time you don’t have it… they’ll most likely stop coming to you for manga altogether. There’s no real solution I can think of for this – If the rest of the business is doing well enough to stay afloat, you should be able to keep your manga up-to-date to keep traffic coming in the store. When it’s not, there’s not much to do except stop carrying manga and getting people’s hopes up that you’ll have something.

Inside Tokyo Kid during it's "heyday," I suppose. Hey, at least the shelves are stocked!

Inside Tokyo Kid during it's "heyday," I suppose. Hey, at least the shelves are stocked!

With stores like RightStuf and Amazon online, sales of manga and anime – the cornerstones of our industry – are shrinking in brick-and-mortar shops everywhere. Honestly, even monster chains like Best Buy don’t really carry anime anymore, which was a particularly sad realization for me when it happened. I literally went into Best Buy one day and there was a section for it, and the next it was rearranged with the anime completely gone. So what can stores sell anymore that can help them get out of the rut?

Merchandise, obviously. Even looking at conventions, most people I have met don’t understand why anyone would purchase domestic DVDs and manga at a con, and I tend to agree with them. After all, you can order those any time, but how often are you going to come across that awesome Starfy plush, or Black Rock Shooter Nendoroid figure? And who among us otaku can ever have too many dangly keychains and cell phone straps hanging from their favorite messenger bag? Likewise, when most people are going into an anime store, they aren’t sure what they’re going to find, but are hoping for something FUN to catch their eye. It has to be a FUN experience. Do you want to know what isn’t fun? Spending $35 on a CD from 12 years ago that no one’s ever heard of now, Or $30 on a DVD that’s at least 6 years old and has 4 episodes on it, or even $20 on a Street Fighter Maidens UFO catcher figure that is literally collecting dust from sitting there so long. Guess what – No one wants that Jack Sparrow figure for $19.99. They haven’t for the past 5 years. Get RID of that thing, man!

Tokyo Kid stopped being a good time, with its exuberant prices and lack of variety or anything new. Now, they’re closing soon, and I feel awful and will miss them…

I will not miss the recent them, though, but the them that they once… them’d.

I”m being incredibly tongue-in-cheek here, I realize, but the point stands. Don’t misunderstand, though. I don’t want to bash them, and that isn’t my aim here. I loved Tokyo Kid as much as anyone can love a store, but at some point it felt like they stopped trying. It’s going to hurt me to see it gone, and I know I’m probably going to get depressed the first time I go in the Garage mall after they close and, for the first time in my life, there is no anime store in there.

Luckily, I found a new place to shop when I just want to buy something that I haven’t decided on already. It’s a bit out-of-my-way since it needs to be driven to, but if you’re in Massachusetts, you owe it to yourself to check out AniMadness in Waltham. It’s run by friendly folks who know their stuff, (who, amusingly, used to work at Tokyo Kid before it started sucking,) and is brimming with figures, model kits, plushies, apparel, and even some blind box figures (YES. As a side note: Newbury Comics, I hate you for only carrying American blind box figures now! You were way cooler before) and more. They’ve got anime and manga too, but they’re either phasing it out, or keeping their stock small – Either of which is a smart move, in my opinion.

The exterior of AniMadness. Come on, it even looks rad from the outside.

The exterior of AniMadness. Come on, it even looks rad from the outside.

In all seriousness, I suppose the core mistake that one should not make if they wish to own an anime store is this – Do not expect to make exuberant profits on single items. If an item has not moved in years, get whatever you can for it and get it out! The anime/otaku industry is extremely reliant on the internet right now – It’s nice to dream that you’ll sell that one amazing expensive and overpriced figure or old LE box set and keep yourself afloat a couple more months with the profits, but it’s not realistic. Make it about offering something different! Whether it’s import products, figures that others think too risky to stock, old CDs you found in a box that are hard to come by online now, or even just a shopping experience with a sense of community to it… If you want to be in the anime industry, I firmly believe it has to be because you want to be there for your fellow otaku and be a part of everything it entails – Not because you want to get rich.

I don’t mind telling you readers – When I came up with the name “Otakuholic!” my first thought was how much I would love to own a store by that name where people like me could feel comfortable and come shop in cosplay if they felt like it, and make friends.  My second idea was to make a webcomic about such a store, as I would need to hit the lottery to be able to afford the start-up for such a venture as a store. When these proved unrealistic, I decided on this blog because I love this industry and wanted to connect with people who also love it, and to have intelligent discussions with people about it. So if you’ve got different opinons about the topics discussed here, or even similar stories to share, I’d absolutely love to hear from you.

8 Responses
  1. El Shamro says:

    Your story reminds me of an anime shop I used to visit in the Chicago area–JP Toys (aka J1 Toys)–in a Japanese super market called Mitsuwa Marketplace. I first learned about the place when I heard it mentioned at Anime Central, and it was pretty awesome. But, much like your story, the reality of the Internet vs. B&M stores caught up with the place, and it started to decline. Last I heard, it had moved to a nearby strip mall, and it became apparent why: a smaller inventory in a smaller space with lower rent. When I next go back to Chicago, I’ll probably resist the urge to visit the shop, for fear of finding it gone for good.

  2. Christina says:

    Thanks for sharing! It’s a shame, isn’t it? I know what you mean about not wanting to go back and find it gone… I’ve actually been debating about whether I want to go back one last time and see it, or if it’s better if I just try to avoid that area for awhile. ~_~ It probably didn’t help Tokyo Kid at all that they were at a very pricey location, rent-wise.

  3. Andrew Meeks III says:

    “I will not miss the recent them, though, but the them that they once… them’d.”

    I remember my nearby Borders closing, so I can relate to you not having anywhere to get your manga.

    A similar thing happened to Tomodachi, which is my local Japanese interest store. I bought my first Gunpla kit from them, and didn’t have enough money to get a second one for quite a while, and when I finally did, they stopped stocking them. Sad times…

  4. Tokyo Kid says:

    There’s nothing we dislike more than people accusing us of trying to ‘get rich’ in this business.

    If you want to ‘get rich,’ especially if you want to do it quick, retail isn’t the best way to go, and anime retailing is even worse.

    Those who ran Tokyo Kid did it mainly for the love of anime. Why else would we put up with long hours, low pay, and mediocre sales for over 10 years, and still keep the place up and running long after our closest competitor had closed?

    To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, we didn’t leave the fans, they left us. For Netflix and online shopping. We stopped stocking things because customers stopped buying them, not the other way around.

  5. Christina says:

    Thanks for your comment, TK, appreciate you reading the article in completion! To be honest, though, this was less of an “attack” on you (sorry if you take it to be so!) and more using your store’s fate as an example of what not to do in the business of anime retail.

    I don’t think I accused you of trying to run a get-rich-quick scheme; Rather, the pricing being so unbalanced on much of your product, especially the seeming refusal to lower costs on old things that people would pretty much never want to buy now to try to cut your losses and move in newer more attractive product, can come across a bit “price-gouge”-y.

    I especially never accused you of not doing it for the love of anime – Of course you have to have that to work in the industry in any capacity. I just don’t think the business sense was there in the end to back it up.

    As far as fans leaving you… You have to know how the economy is nowadays. If you did actually read this post, there are ways to compensate for certain things, and a different target market to shoot for as customers. I’m not going to rehash my whole article in a comment to you, however.

    Again, I have been a shopper at TK since a very early age, and am extremely saddened that next weekend will be its last. I do wish you all the best in your future endeavors; Just because I think that you didn’t adapt a niche store well to a drastically changed economy and market, doesn’t mean that I don’t think you can do anything! I heard something about a restaurant through the grapevine – If it’s true, I’ll be looking forward to it.

    Do take care, and I honestly thank you (and I’m sure many others do as well!) for the many years of bringing anime to Harvard Square.

  6. Crazyg says:

    TK – I admire your support for the industry, but honestly it seemed that Tokyo Kid checked out from being a competing business a long time ago. Staying open when all your competition had closed should have been a great opportunity for your business, but I think the markets and prices worked against you.

    Retail can still work as a model I think, and you had the drive to do more to bring in sales (ie hosting events and sponsoring cons.), but you may have lost your excitement for the business a long time ago. I don’t blame you, losing your shirt in the business isn’t good business. Good luck to you

  7. Herb Finn says:

    Let’s not forget you’ve got some really good comic shops such as COMICOPIA in Boston and even MILLION YEAR PICNIC in Harvard Square that stock Manga – COMICOPIA being the leading comic book retailer in the Boston area.

  8. Christina says:

    Thanks for your comment! Those are great comic stores indeed, but they really don’t carry enough manga or anime-related product to warrant being worth a trip specifically to find that stuff. Barnes & Noble at the Prudential Center Mall has a bigger stock of manga than either, and the one in Burlington (though obviously not IN Boston, still near enough to be worth mentioning) has an even bigger selection than that! For those who might be in the Somerville / Medford / Everett area, there’s a shop at the Meadow Glen Mall in Medford called Harrison’s; They stock a decent supply of manga (though they don’t get new product too often) and have plushies and a few figures (marked up a bit too much for my tastes) and a small stock of Gundams. I guess they have a larger store in Salem, but I’ve never been.

    Again, these are all good places to check out if you happen to be in the area, but if you’re strictly looking for anime and manga, I wouldn’t make a special trip for them. (Except B&N for manga, I guess.)

    In other news, last time I was at the Kofuku Shop in Harvard Square, I arrived home to find a flyer in my bag for a new store called Anime Zakka, opening in The Garage in February! No specific date was given, and their site wasn’t up yet, but I’ll keep checking and post more info when I have it. It’s really great that so many local anime consumers have found this article and shared their tips with everyone!

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