About The Great Escape
Gary Walker was in his mid forties and had been a 25-year veteran of Nashville's music industry when he made a radical career change. In the mid 1970s he took note of his son Greg's interest in rare SPIDERMAN comics, and he sensed the potential for success in the fledgling collectible industry. Gary and Greg (with occasional help from the rest of the family, Gary's wife Peggy and daughter Karen) began buying and selling comics at flea markets and comic conventions. This mobile operation was profitable but wearying, so plans were hatched for a permanent retail home in Nashville.
On May 30, 1977, The Great Escape opened its doors at 1919 Division. (An early staffer's wife won a $25 gift certificate for coining the store's name.) Expanding the staff to include experts in the burgeoning field engendered rapid growth, and The Great Escape immediately became a major player in the comics and collectibles game in Nashville. Within one month a second store was opened in Louisville, Kentucky – and the new empire had become a two-state, multi-store operation. In 1979, the decision was made to move the original small shop to a location only a block across the street at 1925 Broadway; this not only tripled the amount of retail space available, but also provided enough room in the upstairs portion of the building for the essential work spaces, offices, etc. that would prove invaluable in turning this location into the central, “home office” during the many years to come, as the company grew at a phenomenal rate. Shortly after the move, Gary’s son Greg became a full time employee, and wife Peggy became the outfit’s fulltime business manager that same year.
Having an elite staff of comics experts freed Gary to concentrate on a new product line: music. The Nashville store's music department, which began with a few dozen used record albums and tapes, grew quickly thanks in part to the input of key employees who were exceptionally knowledgeable in the field. Naturally, operating in Music City USA meant a large and ready reservoir of music merchandise; Gary's music-biz associations from his days of producing and song-plugging ensured even greater access to the sources of this material. The two main elements of the store's appeal were now in place; success followed and the empire grew.
More retail outlets were soon added: a Madison, TN store opened in 1983, and a comic book shop in Bowling Green, KY was purchased in 1987. In 1995, in association with country music artist Marty Stuart, TGE opened a fifth store on 2nd Avenue in Nashville's downtown historic district. The “Marty Party Headquarters” outlet got great initial reception, but was probably ahead of its time in terms of neighborhood development; this 2nd Avenue operation was discontinued in 1996. The wishes of area bargain hunters were fulfilled in 2002 when TGE opened another outlet, the Half-Price-or-Less Store, just a block east of the flagship store on Broadway.
Gary staked his claim on the future of the music- and comics-collecting industry in 2001 with the purchase of a pre-existing online sales site called Duffelbag.com. Re-christened TheGreatEscapeOnLine, this operation now functions in multiple ways: an online inventory of thousands of items is accessible at www.TheGreatEscapeOnLine.com; select collectibles are posted as Ebay auctions; and particularly rare or high-end items are sold on a consignment basis in partnership with unique suppliers and sources.
In May of 2010, Nashville was devastated by a flood that affected thousands of people citywide, including The Great Escape Charlotte Avenue and TheGreatEscapeOnLine; both operations were severely damaged and the retail section was forced to close down for a period of time while cleanup procedures began. (The entire 27,500 square foot complex that housed both operations was covered in mud and water.) In order to maintain “business as usual", TheGreatEscapeOnLine was temporarily moved a few blocks east of its previous location on Charlotte Avenue. The Great Escape Charlotte Avenue reopened with much fanfare and community support (in the form of emails and comments on community message boards) on Friday, August 13, 2010, after a cleanup effort that lasted for three months.
After occupying the same space for over 30 years at 1925 Broadway, the original flagship location of The Great Escape was forced to relocate due to extreme rent increases. At that time, the decision was made to combine the Broadway Store with The Great Escape Charlotte Ave. store; this resulted in the creation of “The Great Escape Superstore”. This location serves as the current home office for The Great Escape company-wide as an organization.