After an attempted armed robbery, Franklin bookstore owner decides to close up shop

  • George Mansfield sits in his store, George’s Books and More, on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. Mansfield is closing his shop on Oct. 31.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • George's Bookstore and More in Franklin is closing Oct. 31st after being open just over a year. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • George's Bookstore and More, located on Central Street in Franklin, is closing next Monday. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • George Mansfield sits in his book store in Franklin on Monday. Following several difficult incidents including an attempted robbery at knifepoint, Mansfield has decided to close his store. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/28/2016 11:33:35 PM

George Mansfield opened up his Franklin bookstore last year with plans to help improve his home city. 

But after he said he was robbed at knifepoint by one of the people he lent a helping hand, the 66-year-old retired Franklin teacher decided to close the doors to George’s Bookstore and More.

“My intention from the very beginning of opening this shop was supporting the downtown,” Mansfield said. While he said he’s had “enormous support” for his shop, he has also had some recent bad experiences after offering to help people.

“It ended up becoming more of, ‘taking advantage of,’ ” Mansfield said. 

Everything began well when he opened his store in July 2015, and continued that way as he expanded to a bigger space that winter.

Last spring, Mansfield said a number of people without homes, jobs or food showed up in Franklin and began coming into his shop.  

On almost a daily basis, Mansfield said someone would come in asking for money or food. In trying to fulfill his mission to help, Mansfield did what he could: he bought DVDs or other small items from visitors offering what they had to sell; he made up flyers with times and locations for food, shelter or other assistance; he gave small loans; and he even welcomed people into his own home. 

“I think I touched a few situations and made them better than they were before,” Mansfield said. “Just being an advocate for information.”

It was when Mansfield offered a ride to 54-year-old Bill Wheeler on Sept. 21 that things went awry. The pair were driving to Canterbury when, Mansfield said, he suddenly felt a knife blade at his throat. 

He said Wheeler demanded his wallet and then, when he realized there wasn’t any cash inside, Mansfield offered to drive to an ATM. 

He said Wheeler then touched the tip of the knife to the side of Mansfield’s neck. “He said, ‘If you stop or pull over, I’m going to push this right into you,’ ” Mansfield said.

Mansfield did pull over, however, next to a house where a woman was at her mailbox. 

“I needed this woman to be a witness,” Mansfield said. “I wasn’t thinking – I just did it.”

Canterbury police said at that point, Wheeler fled into the woods. He was eventually arrested several hours later on charges of criminal threatening and robbery. He’s currently being held on $20,000 bail at Merrimack County jail. 

After that incident, Mansfield said he was rattled, and just five days later, he watched out his store window as Franklin Police officers arrested 18-year-old Collin Schwartz. 

A police report describes Schwartz threatening Shop Express employees with a knife after trying to steal some doughnuts.

“That same day, that man had been in here,” Mansfield said. “He said, ‘We’ll come back later when he’s not busy. That sent up a flag for me.’ ”

Mansfield said he’s noticed he acts differently since the incident with Wheeler. He finds it more difficult to wake up in the morning, he began closing his shop before dark, and as soon as he gets in his car, he locks the doors.

He also prays every day. 

“I say prayers for (Wheeler) every night and same for all these people I’ve assisted over the years,” Mansfield said. In the meantime, he plans to seek out counseling. And he’s decided to close his book store on Oct. 31. 

Mansfield said he feels relief at the prospect of not having to leave his house every day, but he also made it clear he wasn’t hiding out.

“I’m not going to drop away,” he said. Mansfield plans to help at the Bread and Roses soup kitchen in Franklin, to get involved with the Choose Franklin community organization, and to work on publishing his children’s books.

He will also help his brother, he said, who has been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.

Addressing the needy in Franklin, he added, “it’s just beyond a single person’s ability to make it (better).” But he still wants to do what he can, despite his negative experiences this fall. He envisions small businesses getting grant money to install security cameras, and maybe even a warming shelter coming into Franklin for people with no place to stay.  

“That’s what’s really needed,”Mansfield said. “Perhaps all these incidents were directing me to another focus.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)

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