Bill’s Bullpen is celebrating its 35th anniversary in Hollister and Bill Mifsud Jr. remains irrepressibly enthusiastic about the shop he runs, which his father, Bill Sr., started in 1987.
“The fun part of the business,” he said, “is that we have great customers who have been with us a long time. There are plaques on the wall from Little League teams we sponsored 30 years ago and some of those kids are now parents who bring their children to shop here and to show them their dad’s picture on the wall.”
Bill’s Bullpen grew from a fledgling store called Earthquake Cards and Comics on the 400 block of San Benito Street, which the Mifsuds acquired in 1987 while Bill Sr. was undergoing rehabilitation for a heart attack.
“He was interested because he already had his own collection, so he decided to buy the place,” Mifsud said. “When my dad’s rehab was over, I told him I would take over the business and he could return to roofing.”
Mifsud said it took about a year and a half to establish a customer base and he did it by distinguishing himself from the previous owner.
“It is really a niche kind of business and it wasn’t functioning the way it should,” Mifsud said. “The previous guy was an absentee owner, but we were always there. So we began listening when the customers would ask if we had things like shirts or hats.”
Besides an enormous inventory of comics and a bounty of trading cards, the current shop carries an extensive stock of sports memorabilia, Funko figurines and other pop culture collectibles including a scale model of Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment. Bill also participates in Comic Book Day.
The first big challenge the Mifsuds faced was after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 when their building was damaged beyond repair.
“We were getting ready close up so we could watch the third game of the World Series,” he said. “The ground started shaking. We went outside and saw that the facade of a building down the street had fallen off and the water main was broken. We didn’t know then how bad it was. We just saw we had a lot of broken glass.”
They came back the next day and took out most of their inventory with the help of some of their regular customers. A day later, the building was red-tagged and deemed unsafe to enter.
“About 20% of our inventory was buried when the back roof collapsed,” he said. “It was exciting for us to have the people help us. They let us know we were wanted.”
Luckily, landlord Rhonda Brown had a spot available at 207 4th St in Hollister, a minor miracle as many shops were competing for space to relocate from their damaged storefronts and the Mifsuds were able to reopen on Nov. 2, 1989, only 16 days after the earthquake.
Mifsud gives Brown credit for helping the store survive after a second crisis when the Bullpen did not qualify for “essential business” status during COVID, effectively closing him down for a few months until he could start curbside pickups for his customers.
“She said, ‘Don’t pay rent in March and don’t think about paying in April,’” he said. “I told her I would pay her back and she said, ‘It’s all good, don’t worry.’ So she has been a godsend to us twice.”
Another godsend has been the Bullpen’s customers, who supported him and kept his doors open through both events and Mifsud appreciates their loyalty.
“Our customers were fighting with the code enforcement people, trying to explain that our place was important to them,” he said. “They were saying ‘I need my books. He is essential.’”
Hollister resident Larry Drexler has been a customer since 1998 and started bringing his children to the shop soon after.
“They got into collecting and we’ve all been doing it ever since,” he said. “He was also good to my kids as they grew up and Bill even gave one of them his first job. Bill always treats the customers well and if you looking for something he’ll go the extra mile. He’ll track it down for you and hold on to it. ”
While the world of comics and cards has changed considerably since the Bullpen was founded, now with fewer distributors, tighter licensing, and higher-priced goods, Mifsud is optimistic that his shop will be around for at least another 35 years.
“There are a lot of variables for us that we can’t control, but we are gonna be here,” he said. “The one thing we have going for us is the kind of relationship we have with our customers, all of these people who have become family to us over these last 35 years. With all the changes in Hollister, we are one of the few things that have stayed the same.”
And the lure of collecting something unique and cool related to your heroes, whether sports or super, will always be there—and that energizes Mifsud.
“Christmas retail, for example, wears you out,” he said. “But then you got that kid waiting at the door on December 26th with his gift card ready to come in the store. He couldn’t wait all night to come in and find something special to buy. That’s exciting for me and it gets you pumped up and ready to keep going.”
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