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Business combines mystery, java

New Ashland cafe puts hopes in a novel new niche

ASHLAND ­ Mystery book lovers now have a special place that catersto their appetite for a good novel and a rich cup of coffee.

Welcome to Shot in the Dark, Mystery Book and Coffee House,located three doors down from the Ashland Shopping Center Cinema.

Unlike most shops in Ashland, they're open late. The store's hours are8 a.m to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday,and they're closed Monday.

Walk in and you'll find a well-appointed coffee shop with gray and blackmarble tables, autumn-yellow walls and 4,000 new and used paperback andhard-cover books nestled on custom-made birch bookshelves.

They carry top-selling writers including Ellis Peters, author of thepopular Brother Cadfael series, Lillian Jackson Braun, with her famous reporterJim Qwilleran and Siamese cat Koko, and Anne Perry, with her Victorian-eramysteries.

They also carry the classic writers such as Agatha Christie and her romanticsuspense written under the pen name Mary Westmacott, Dorothy L. Sayers andConan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and an accomplished science-fictionwriter.

Local mystery writers on hand include Ken Goddard, Stephen Greenleafand Elizabeth Quinn.

There's the P.I. or private investigator section, the amateur cornerand the public servants area, which has stories about police officers andlocal, state and federal heroes who save the day.

If you're a legal buff you can find courtroom thrillers. If you're crazyabout doctors and hospitals they have medical mysteries, and if you wantlove, there are warm, cuddly, suspense novels shelved under romance.

They even carry some fantasy and sci-fi.

The small but tall bookstore and coffee shop is owned by Dwight and JoyBannon, of Ashland.

The couple sailed the San Juan islands in a 43-foot sailboat for sevenmonths with their two sons in 1990, and ended the year traveling acrossthe country in a 1959 Greyhound bus.

They have combined their dream and a love of good books and fine dessertswith valuable retail and business experience to create their new business,which opened July 5.

Dwight, 46, a well-driller and owner of Welltech, developed a technologythat fractures rock and allows existing wells to produce more water.

He has always wanted a bookstore, and loves to read and write.

He does a lot of the book ordering, is one of those kinds of people whocan never leave a bookstore, and acts like a sleuth himself, sniffing outrare books.

It's Joy, however, who has the retail and business experience so theydon't deal with a lot of surprises.

I just like the concept of having a great place to come, read alittle, relax and get a great cup of coffee, said Joy, 41.

She grew up working in her family's business, selling pool tables, andhas also worked at Nimbus and the Apple Cellar.

She's the one with the love for good coffee and gourmet desserts, bothof which can be found here along with a light lunch fare of soup, salad,bagels, finger sandwiches and ice cream.

They also feature a new iced drink called Grenita, that has a light espressotaste with just a touch of sugar.

When they talked about their business venture they wanted to keep itsmall and manageable. Dwight continues with his well-drilling business.

To stay small and be able to compete, they picked the mystery genre astheir niche. They both like whodunit novels, and mysteries are selling well.

Plus, Joy said, it seems like there's a mystery that goes withany profession and avocation.

They chose the shopping center location because of the cinema crowd,easy parking and closeness to the university.

So far they say the response has been positive, and great for not advertising.

A lot of mystery readers are coming out of the woodwork,Joy said with a smile. We find people come in for a cup of coffeeand get interested in a book or vice versa.

Dwight said they're starting to see a few faces on a regular basis.

I guess my hope is it's going to be here for 10 years or more,said Dwight.

I think it's the niche that will make it work, and you can comehere to this tiny store and find things that you won't find in Barnes andNoble or Bloomsbury, he said.

They have more ambitious plans once Dwight's job slows down in the winter.Then he'll start writing reviews for the store, arranging author signingsand sending a newsletter to customers listing new releases, and Joy wantsto start planning murder mystery parties.

Emily Alrick, 17, of Ashland, settles in at 'Shot in the Dark Mystery Bookstore and Coffee House.' - Photo by Bob Pennell</P