Jaffrey

Book brothers

Jaffrey: Comic book store opens in Main Street storefront

  • Joe and Fred Bills co-own and run Escape Hatch Books, a Jaffrey comic and book shop that opened in September and sells "Comics, Classics, and Cool Stuff."
  • Joe and Fred Bills co-own and run Escape Hatch Books, a Jaffrey comic and book shop that opened in September and sells "Comics, Classics, and Cool Stuff."
  • Joe and Fred Bills co-own and run Escape Hatch Books, a Jaffrey comic and book shop that opened in September and sells "Comics, Classics, and Cool Stuff."
  • Joe and Fred Bills co-own and run Escape Hatch Books, a Jaffrey comic and book shop that opened in September and sells "Comics, Classics, and Cool Stuff."
  • Joe and Fred Bills co-own and run Escape Hatch Books, a Jaffrey comic and book shop that opened in September and sells "Comics, Classics, and Cool Stuff."

Escape Hatch Books may be on a Main Street, but the new comic and bookstore is anything but mainstream.

The one-room Jaffrey store, which opened its doors at 27 Main St. on Sept. 18, began without any solid business model because, according to co-owners and brothers Joe and Fred Bills, there really wasn’t one to go by. “We’re building a business plan as we go,” said 44-year-old Joe Bills, a Hancock resident, in a recent interview at the store.

Fred Bills said the two of them were basically planning with “made up numbers” when they came up with the idea of a combined comic and book store in the spring. Instead of trying to figure out a business plan without precedent in Jaffrey , the two Bills decided to go ahead and open their store in the fall.

“We felt like the time was right and just took the plunge,” said Joe. “It’s been a bit of a roller coaster, but it’s been good so far.”

According to the two brothers, they chose Jaffrey as a location for their shop because of its established downtown and its proximity to Franklin Pierce University, where Fred earned a degree in 2002. Joe said he and his brother wanted the store to have a symbiotic relationship with the college, since most schools have some sort of comic shop nearby.

Even with the guarantee of the university in the vicinity, operating Escape Hatch Books has consisted so far of slow days, busy days and overall unpredictability for Joe and Fred. “It seems to be universal, a way of main street business these days,” said Joe, referring to the inconsistent nature of small town retail..

John Sepe, who ran Mindfull Books at 29 Main St. for nearly seven years before closing in January 2013 and now runs the online community business forum Jaffrey is Cool, spoke with the Ledger-Transcript on Monday about the challenges local businesses are up against. Though ebb and flow are inherent in local retail, online shopping hurts small businesses all over the country, Sepe said. “You see businesses come and go — that’s the difficulty in this climate.”

According to Sepe, shopping locally must be emphasized and practiced more and more. “Those dollars go right back into the local economy,” he said.

To find more ways to attract sales, Joe and Fred Bills are asking customers for feedback. “[We’re finding] how we can grow and change to best fit the community,” Joe said. Joe added that there have been enthusiastic customers acting as “terrific ambassadors for the store,” helping the Bills brothers strengthen their business and store selection.

Joe and Fred Bills are also working on their social media and online presence to help supplement their store, something that Sepe said is a major component of small business sales.

In addition to developing an Internet presence, Joe and Fred plan on adding more gaming products to their store. According to Joe, customers have made it clear they want to see those type of products. . Customers have also requested older video games. “That’s a tough one for us right now,” said Joe, though he added that retro video games may be a product possibility later on.

Currently, Joe and Fred are trying to do as much as they can with very little funds. “We’re working on an extremely limit budget all the time. It’s a challenge,” said Joe. The majority of the Bills’ investments have been in comics, though they also have a selection of used books along one of the store’s walls. “We focus on comics to a large degree, but we think of ourselves as a bookstore,” Joe said. “Over time, we may start doing new books.”

Fred added that the goal of the store is to sell “comics, classics and cool stuff” anyone can enjoy. “We’re willing to find something for everybody,” Fred said.

Associating reading with enjoyment is a theme for Escape Hatch Books that goes back to Joe and Fred Bills’ childhood. “We grew up in a family where reading was central and was something done for fun,” Joe said. Joe previously had a bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., and Fred described himself as a lifelong comics fan. The store, for both brothers, is a way to get in touch with their joint interest, and in turn, to share a love for reading with others. “We’re okay if someone wants to come in and read a comic,” said Joe.

The brothers want Escape Hatch Books to have a comfortable vibe, an inclusive, welcoming feeling. “We actually like our customers,” Joe said, referring to the sometimes club-like feeling of comic stores.

It appears their customers, and the town of Jaffrey, like the Bills and their store, too. “We feel Jaffrey is happy to have us here,” Joe said.

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