Despite COVID-19 Challenges, Great Stories Comics and Hobby Shop Expands in Whitinsville
Comics and hobby store Great Stories Inc., formerly of Uxbridge and now of Whitinsville, has emerged from the pandemic stronger than ever, expanding to a new, larger space and garnering a wider customer base.
While many small businesses have become economic victims of the pandemic, that was not the case for Great Stories. “Coming out of COVID restrictions, our numbers just exploded at the start of 2021,” said owner Christopher Mills. At first, Mills and his team thought it was an aberration – with customers just thrilled to be on the go again. “But it kind of held together through the year,” he said.
When it became clear this was the new normal in late 2021, they realized the store’s 1,600 square foot location in Uxbridge wasn’t big enough to accommodate the growing community. Thus, they began the hunt for new excavations towards the end of the year in November.
Sitting comfortably in its current 5,000 square feet, Great Stories Inc. is now able to use its new space to become not just a store, but also a community center as in-person events return. “As we settle in, we’ll be launching more tournaments and bringing our community together,” Mills said. Card table seats have tripled to 90 – making room for around 45 games – along with six tables for miniature games.
Most comic book stores end up expanding into the games and entertainment business, as comics attract a large portion of tabletop and card gamers, and in fact, the same franchises can straddle both markets. Marvel Comics characters can now be collected and painted as detailed miniatures in Marvel Crisis Protocol. “Star Wars” contains several comic book series, and its tabletop game Legion has a large audience. Most often when selling tabletop minis (Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars Legion) or trading card packs (Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering), it helps give your customers a place to play with them.
Members of the community are already using the greatly increased space, reserving tables for tournaments and leisure evenings at the store and finding it much easier to do. “The new location is great,” said Rob Fossey, who is currently hosting a game night. “A large open space for games with plenty of space for social distancing and lots of goers. You really can’t ask for a better FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store).”
Like many great stories, Great Stories follows a formula. “Comics is where it all started for us,” Mills said, when the store opened in 2015. Whitinsville is actually the fourth location – the first three being in Uxbridge. Starting out with just 400 square feet, the store moved two years later to a space double that size next to the Uxbridge Public Library.
Like this most recent movement, community interest has required further expansion. “When we started to hold bigger tournaments there, it was clear that moving 400 to 800 wasn’t really that big,” Mills recalls, as they often had to rent space for events. more important. After only 11 months, they moved to the place they had occupied for three years. Mills and his wife had hoped to stay in Uxbridge but agreed that a massive space in the nearby town was too good to pass up.
The new location is still in what Mills calls a “soft opening” despite having been open for business since January as they settle into the new space. “The big reopening ad campaign is yet to come,” he said. “The problem with any move is communicating with customers through different platforms because not everyone follows the same social media.”
In the meantime, while the store may have survived COVID, supply chain issues have affected the means of acquiring even structural materials like mesh walls, shelving, display cases. As Mills joked, “you want it to look professional, not a hodgepodge.”
He did, however, have a lot of supporters and helpers, both from staff and from the community, as people put their skills to work to make his vision a reality. From something as simple as moving boxes to helping with construction projects, people with different types of expertise have come forward. “What we built, not just my wife and I, happened because the community was in tune with us.”
Client and tournament organizer Matt Pearson was impressed with the appeal of the new space. “I’ve never held events here before, but I think the new venue will suit them very well. Lots of space for all the different types of games they want to do.
Over the past few months, Mills has focused on showcasing improvements. They closed the old location on December 12 and opened on January 8 in the new one. “We are not yet at full capacity in terms of projects and features, but we will offer more and more services as we go along.”