Clutch MOV is proud to sponsor this year’s Mid-Ohio Valley Entrepreneur of the Year. We envision a community where citizens can take risks on the promise that success would uplift the residents of our valley. Artists, creators, makers, and small business owners strive to build something anew, something worth putting their stamp on – to promote and share with each other – and entrepreneurs are on the edge, finding ways to build in a way that hasn’t been done before. This year we received dozens of nominations for innovative, forward-thinking, community-building entrepreneurs from the Mid-Ohio Valley. The panel believed six individuals stood out for the impact they are making through their work. We are sharing their stories in this series.

When Jay Walker retired from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, he wanted to pursue something fun and lighthearted that he could do every day. After he and his wife discussed several business ideas and completed much research, they settled on opening a comic book shop.

“We liked the idea of being able to create a business that reflected our idea of what a comic shop should be,” said Jay. “Being able to have complete control over that was very attractive.”

Jay opened Comic Sense in Belpre, Ohio across from the Belpre Branch Library in 2015. The shop sells comic books and related items and hosts special events, including game tournaments that are free to attend. One of the couple’s goals was to create a place where people of all ages felt comfortable hanging out. “At the time, people really didn’t have a fun hang-out type place in Belpre, where they could gather and play games or enjoy the ‘nerdy’ things in life like comic books,” said Jay. They knew they could provide an atmosphere were kids, adults, and families alike would feel comfortable for hours on end. “We also saw a need for a customer-service based comic shop and we knew we could fill that gap.”

Customers have told us that if they’re feeling down or having a bad day, they just stop by the shop and by the time they leave, they are in a better place mentally.

By creating a welcoming environment that is open to the community with no strings attached or obligation to purchase, Jay has effectively created a ‘third space’ in Comic Sense. “We love hearing our customers tell us how Comic Sense has positively impacted their lives,” said Jay. “Over the past three years, several customers have told us that if they’re feeling down or having a bad day, they just stop by the shop and by the time they leave, they are in a better place mentally.”

Jay’s had customers tell him they come to the shop to clear their heads and forget about whatever is causing them stress, even just for a short while. “It’s really rewarding to have been able to create an atmosphere that people are drawn to and feel is one of their ‘happy places.’” He’s proud to have created a space where people have made new friends simply by spending time in the shop or attending events. “We feel like that is a pretty positive impact on the community!” said Jay.

Quality customer service was paramount in the couple’s business plan and Jay said that other local businesses have used Comic Sense as their role model in their own business practices. “It’s nice that they see the value in what we are doing and want to emulate us,” he said. “Our customer service methods have even been mentioned and discussed in local training programs for larger businesses.”

While there were a few challenges that came with starting a new business, Jay attributes these to part of the learning process of running a retail business. “The day to day operations are not much of a challenge, I think because they are all areas that I find very enjoyable.” Jay loves being able to interact with his customers and help them find what they are looking for. At the end of the day, he said it feels like he’s hanging out with friends.

There’s nothing more satisfying than doing what you love for a living.

Jay said there’s nothing more satisfying than doing what you love for a living, but encourages aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners to be thoughtful and do their research before jumping in. “Starting a business is not something to enter into lightly – a business plan is a must!” he said. “Throwing together a business overnight, starting up for the wrong reasons, with no research, not fully educating yourself, or picking the wrong geographical area is a recipe for failure. So take your time, research all of the details, and develop a plan for success.”

While running a shop is serious business, at the end of the day, Comic Sense is all about community and having fun. “All of the products we carry and the games and events we run are based on that foundation,” said Jay. Even the layout and shop’s interior were designed to create space for the community to have fun and come together in a space that is entertaining and friendly.

It is Jay’s hope that when customers come to Comic Sense, even if they don’t buy anything, they are able to enjoy the atmosphere and be entertained by what they see. “We went with bright colors and decorated the walls with items you won’t see anywhere else, and all of that is intended to make people go ‘Wow!’ and want to be part of Comic Sense.”

By providing a clean, safe, and fun environment, Jay has created a hub for the community in Belpre and a job he loves going to each and every day. For that, the community of Belpre and his customers think he’s pretty super.