The scene in downtown Hollister unfolded as if ripped from the pages of a comic book: two masked crusaders joining forces to defeat a common enemy that has wrought turmoil upon the earth.
On a recent afternoon, Bill’s Bullpen Baseball Cards and Comics owner Bill Mifsud—wearing a facial covering emblazoned with American flags—went to the curb outside of his business to complete a transaction with a customer sitting behind the wheel of an SUV. The interaction was brief, but it offered both Mifsud and his longtime customer another opportunity to connect amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Bill’s Bullpen closed its doors on March 23 in response to the county’s shelter-in-place order that did not consider it an essential business. Over the next few days, Mifsud wondered what he might do to weather yet another storm that threatened his late father’s dream, a fixture of the downtown area for 34 years.
“Our original location on San Benito Street was red tagged after The 1989 [Loma Prieta] Earthquake, and during the 2008 financial crisis our customers were losing their homes,” Mifsud told BenitoLink.
Self-isolating with his wife and young son at home, Mifsud—a communications and history major whose business acumen and knowledge of comic books, sports and trading cards has been learned on the job—had an idea for curbside pick-up service.
“I saw what the local restaurants were doing and figured I could do something similar,” he said, adding that he couldn’t understand why the local ice cream store could remain open, while he and other retailers could not.
In formulating his plan, customer safety became Mifsud’s first priority. He used the Bill’s Bullpen Facebook page to promote the new service, and began taking orders either by phone or email. Since new comics arrive in stores midweek, he designated Wednesday as the pick-up day.
He arranged a schedule in order to avoid patrons congregating outside the business. From 2 to 7 p.m. Mifsud waited inside the shop until clients pulled up at the curb outside his 207 Fourth Street storefront. Wearing latex gloves and a mask, he would rush outside with a bag filled with products and a note of appreciation.
“It was great. My customers were very supportive, and it helped to pay the bills,” Mifsud said.
He lavished praise and thanks on Rhonda Brown, his longtime business neighbor and landlord who waived his rent for April and May.
“She’s more than a landlord, she’s a good friend who’s like a family member to me,” Mifsud said.
For Brown, the feeling is mutual.
“We’re related by the heart,” Brown said, describing her relationship with the Mifsud family. “I would be devastated if Bill was forced to close because of not being able to pay rent.”
Despite the support he’s received from Brown and his customers, Mifsud needed more financial assurance. He applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan in early April. Described by Mifsud as the “perfect match” for his business, the disaster loans provide small businesses with a forgivable loan of up to $10,000, according to the Small Business Administration website.
Since submitting his application, Mifsud has called the SBA daily. He recently learned that his submission is now under review.
Arriving at his regular 3 p.m. pick-up time in a facial covering dotted with scenes from the Spider Man comic series, Hollister resident Caleb Ecksteen grabbed the bag Mifsud held out to him. Inside were issues of “Black Panther” and “Absolute Carnage.”
“I was glad he was offering curbside, so that I could continue to support his store during this pandemic,” Ecksteen said.
Now that San Benito County is progressing through Stage Two of the state’s Resilience Roadmap, Mifsud is set to reopen his doors to foot traffic on May 20, and will be open on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Thursday/Fridays from 2-8 p.m. In accordance with state guidelines, Xs will show customers where to stand on the sidewalk outside the shop; all patrons will be required to wear facial coverings; only three people will be allowed to enter the store at a time (a number that Mifsud and his wife calculated); and a hand sanitizer station will be readily available.
Ecksteen is anxious to return to Bill’s Bullpen.
“I look forward to walking in and just taking a whiff of the fresh scent of paperbacks in the store,” he said, recalling that his previous visits were filled with anticipation. “It always brought excitement about which new stock came in or which new series to dive into.”
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