Start-up comic book store in downtown Jaffrey

Last modified: 10/12/2015 7:00:06 PM
Two years ago, my brother and I opened a hybrid comic shop/bookstore/game shop on Main Street in Jaffrey. That, for the record, was a ridiculous thing to do, and we knew that. At the time, we were both in work situations we were unhappy with, and during one of many conversations about that, we decided that we’d put his love of comics together with my experience as a bookseller and create a new kind of shop. So we did.

A few weeks after that conversation, we rented a storefront. A few weeks after that, we opened.

We didn’t have money, the economy wasn’t great and we had very little inventory.

We had semi-serious debates as to whether we were being smart to put our shop where there were no others like it, or if we were idiots for ignoring the probably glaring reasons why there weren’t others. Truth be told, we still revisit that question on occasion, although now we’re almost always joking.

We chose Jaffrey in large part because of its proximity to Franklin Pierce University, where my brother went to school. We hoped that a college-age crowd would respond to our hybrid creation, a comic shop with the vibe of a bookstore... or a bookstore that sold comics.

We knew that we wanted to be a shop aimed at readers, and we knew that we’d have to evolve quickly and creatively. We filled the shop with stuff we thought was cool, and hoped for the best.

As customers trickled in during those early days — and it certainly was just a trickle — we talked with as many as possible about what they liked, what they were interested in, and what they might buy, if we could find a way to carry it. From the beginning, we were candid about our limited resources and our big hopes. And it was clear from the beginning that we had a lot of people rooting for us. Over time, those interactions gave us not only the clarity of how to grow, but also increased the number of people who felt like our shop was their shop. I think that might be the greatest gift a customer can bestow.

As it turns out, our plan was a pretty good one. But it was the things that we didn’t plan for that are making a difference for us. What started as a store has quickly come to feel more like a collaborative. Or an extended family. Like most small businesses, there isn’t much that we sell that is not available cheaper online or at a big box store.

Customers are doing us a favor, frankly, every time they come through our door. Our goal is to thank them for that favor by doing everything we can to earn the next one.

Two years in, we are far from being a success story. We have spent much more money than we’ve earned. We work insane hours. But we feel like we’ve been embraced as part of the community.

A lot of people in Jaffrey and the surrounding towns would miss our little shop if it were to go away. We know that because they tell us so, and we never get tired of hearing it. Truth is, we’d miss them, too. The challenges ahead are at least as plentiful as the challenges behind. We are still performing without a net.

Are we a success? Not yet. But are we succeeding? It feels like it. With more than a little help from our friends.

Joe Bills is co-owner of Escape Hatch Books in Jaffrey.


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