No joke: Downtown Bellingham gag shop to close

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 3, 2013 

MerchBot

Owner Django Bohren puts out a zombie statue to sell in Merch-Bot, his Bellingham novelty store Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013. Bohren is closing the store in a few weeks and is having a "living wake" Thursday, to kick off his closing sale.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - Django Bohren has thoroughly enjoyed selling stupid stuff, but he's ready to end a seven-year run.

Bohren announced that he is closing the downtown Bellingham store Merch Bot at the end of the month. The store at 126 W. Holly St. became known as a place for quirky gifts and gag jokes, including bacon-flavored products, a variety of whoopee cushions, mustaches galore and zombie-related material. Early on the company adopted the slogan "We sell stupid stuff," to clearly explain the store's focus.

Bohren listed a couple of reasons for the closure: He wants to concentrate on two other businesses - a custom shirt and button site called seatthole.com and website development company Viscocity Productions.

The store was not a big money-maker, with Bohren admitting to Facebook fans that selling whoopee cushions and bacon mints doesn't have much of a profit margin. It was still a tough decision.

"I haven't had a bad day here," said Bohren, noting it was time for a change for him.

For a store geared toward eliciting giggles, the announcement has generally been greeted with sadness among customers. Store manager Meghan Bland said several children have started crying in the store upon hearing the news. It touched her that the store is so important to those customers.

"This is something unique to Bellingham, so it'll be sad to see it go," she said.

To counter some of that sadness, Bohren plans on having a "living wake" party 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5. The store will have a variety of events, including face painting, door prizes and raffles.

The closing sale will give customers an opportunity to buy some long-standing Merch Bot items, including the huge robot that greets customers at the door and the tentacles that are around the store.

The Amazing Egg Laying Chicken Machine? That's something they may hold onto, according to a company Facebook post.

It was the creation of the website seatthole.com that led to the opening of Merch Bot in September 2006. The store first developed a following for political stuff, given the interest in the 2008 elections. Once that was over, zombies, bacon and mustaches became the popular items. Unicorns are also on the rise, said Bland, who buys products for the store.

Merch Bot has been in business during the rise of Facebook, which became an interesting aspect to it. Bohren said they quickly realized as a business that posting sale notices wouldn't draw interest, so they instead posted interesting encounters with customers and their reaction to some of the products. Bland said people who have never been in the store have let them know they will miss the retelling of customer encounters on Facebook.

Bohren doesn't have a final day yet but is projecting the end of September. Until then, the store will be open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week (closed Sundays). Details about the company can be found on Facebook or at merch-bot.com.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Business Blog at bellinghamherald.com/business-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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