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Hat box retailer moving into renovated building

Sarah’s Hat Boxes, which has a thriving online and corporate presence, will open a 3,000-square-foot showroom downtown

PETERBOROUGH — In 2006, Peter Mills and his wife, Debbie, moved their home-based business, Sarah’s Hat Boxes, to a former preschool building off Forest Road in Hancock. The 15,000-square-foot building gave them plenty of room to expand their manufacturing process and set up a showroom. But the building is somewhat off the beaten track, so now the couple are planning to open a second showroom in downtown Peterborough, where their line of custom handmade fabric keepsake boxes will be a lot more visible.

The Millses will rent the second floor of the recently renovated 36 Grove St. building, where they will have a 3,000-square-foot showroom with access directly from Grove Street. They expect to move in next March and will be spending the intervening months preparing the site.

“Business has quadrupled in Hancock since we opened,” Peter Mills said on Tuesday. “If I can do that in Hancock, imagine what it will be like in Peterborough. I don’t have any walkaround traffic here. In Peterborough, we’ll be able to do bigger displays, with showroom windows in the front. I can spread out, and show people two or three different ways to use the boxes.”

The company, which has been in business for almost 28 years and employs six people in Hancock, makes a lot more than just hat boxes. About 60 percent of its business, Mills said, is made up of custom ordered boxes that are used for store displays and marketing by companies like Nordstroms, Tiffany, Crate and Barrel and Victoria’s Secret.

“We do thousands of boxes a year,” Mills said. “I just finished 700 sets of three boxes for Brooks Brothers. We do a lot of promotional stuff. I’ve made boxes for ‘Mad Men,’ the TV show. They won an ADDY [advertising award] using our box.”

Sarah’s Hat Boxes also sells online and will do custom orders.

Mills says he’s looking forward to working with merchants in Depot Square and other downtown stores to promote each other’s wares.

“We’ll be selling handmade fabric keepsake boxes,” he said. “They come in all sizes, from 3 by 5 oval to 20-inch diameter. The box is what you want it to be. I’m hoping people will come in, buy a box, take it over to Ava Marie, buy some chocolates. I want to get the community involved. There’s a lot of cool stuff around here.”

The boxes range in price from $8 to $100 or more.

“It depends on the bells and whistles we put on,” Mills said. “We’ll build boxes for people who bring in their fabrics. I want to keep that personal side of the business.”

Cy Gregg, the owner of 36 Grove St., said Sarah’s Hat Boxes will be moving in gradually as the space becomes ready.

“The nice thing about them, they’ll be able to work well with the other merchants in downtown Peterborough,” Gregg said on Tuesday.

Mills said he hadn’t seriously been thinking about a new showroom until he talked to Pelagia Vincent, who works as a marketing consultant for Gregg.

“I drive by the location in Hancock a lot,” Vincent said on Wednesday. “It just dawned on me that a showroom would be fantastic in a downtown environment. I stopped in one day and said ‘I think you guys would be a perfect fit.’ It was just one of those serendipitous things.”

Vincent said the Millses are very creative when it comes to their merchandise.

“Give them a challenge and they’ll make it happen,” she said. “We think they’ll be a dynamic neighbor and really add to downtown.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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