Out of Con-Troll, She Makes Alliance a Tourist Stop
ALLIANCE, Ohio –Trolls are mischievous pests that make themselves right at home, even when they’re not invited.
It’s for this reason, Sherry Groom believes, that so many of them have made their way to Alliance, Ohio.
Groom is the owner of the Troll Hole Museum, an eclectic collection of everything related to trolls that draws visitors from across the globe. It’s a recipe for success Groom is hoping to tweak and repeat several times as she seeks to revitalize downtown Alliance.
The Troll Hole boasts a world-record number – more than 6,400 – of the small plastic dolls with bright-colored hair. But that’s far from the extent of her collection. The museum also houses troll artifacts, exhibits on the history of trolls as well as large depictions of trolls that takes visitors inside their habitats and homes.
“It’s gone from a few tours a month to now we get a couple tours a day,” says Groom.
On a wall in the gift shop is a map of the world perforated with pins that represent how far visitors have traveled. If it’s credible, the Troll Hole has hosted tourists from all seven continents.
“The internet has helped us,” says Barbara Green, an employee of the museum.
With its troll sculptures and cobblestone facade, the Troll Hole stands out among the rows of empty business fronts along Alliance’s Main Street.
“It’s a historic downtown, which the local businesses had kind of moved away from,” says Groom.
She is looking for entrepreneurs and artists interested in opening similar businesses. Should a business fit the bill, Groom will happily incubate it in one of her available spaces.
“You only have to cover your holding costs until you can start making money,” she says, “and we will do the marketing, which is huge.”
One reason downtown Alliance presents such a big opportunity is the low-cost of real estate. Groom says she paid $12,000 for the two buildings that house the Troll Hole.
“The prices here have to be the cheapest in the whole country,” she says.
In the last few years, Groom has spent $500,000 purchasing and renovating the 11 addresses she owns along Main Street. All the buildings are within a few blocks of each other, which allows her to quickly walk from one to another while accompanied by her two small dogs, Lady and Shelly.
The most visible manifestation of her efforts is the Camelot Project a block from the Troll Hole.
Groom is converting the once dilapidated building into a castle, replete with turrets, stonework, a large mural and a dragon that billows smoke.
Groom and her husband, Jay, are performing most of the work.
“We’re going to be finishing up the stonework hopefully in the next few days,” Jay says in late October as he stands in front of the large mural.
On this day, Groom is particularly excited because they’ve acquired a larger cherry picker that will make it easier to hang panels.
“We’ll be doing that this afternoon,” she says, admiring the equipment while Lady and Shelly play in the grass.
The mural depicts scenes from the legend of King Arthur and contains clues that lead the viewer on a treasure hunt through the downtown. Once work is finished next year, Groom hopes to attract a restaurant or microbrewery to occupy the space.
Groom’s efforts have attracted the attention of the Alliance Area Chamber of Commerce, which shares her vision for the downtown.
“Obviously, like every downtown in the country, this was a retail mecca,” says chamber President Mark Locke. “That’s not ever going to happen again, so we’re following the lead of a lot of other downtowns by trying to turn this into an arts district.”
The Alliance Chamber is reaching out to nearby businesses and individuals to raise $50,000 to help Groom with the Camelot Project. Locke says it will be the first time Groom has received any assistance with any of her purchases.
“The building was, quite honestly, falling down until they did the repairs on it,” he says.
So far Groom estimates she’s put $30,000 into the property.
“We feel very strongly that this is going to be the future of downtown Alliance,” Locke says. “We want to make sure that she succeeds here.”
A few blocks from Camelot sit two of Groom’s other businesses, Carnation Cleaners – a commercial cleaning service – and a consignment/sewing business named Enchanted Threads.
A few doors down is one of her tenant businesses, Cali Culture, an art/smoke shop owned by Josh Weyrick.
Groom heard about Weyrick through an artist and offered him a space in one of her buildings.
“She contacted me and said I’d be great for the downtown art district,” he recalls.
Once a month Weyrick hosts musical performances behind his shop and is working toward starting a flea market that would coincide with the Alliance Farmers Market.
“There’s a lot of potential in this area,” he says.
When she’s not dashing in and out of her businesses, Groom holds down two jobs: one as a visiting psychiatric nurse, the other as owner of the Villa Maria Assisted Living Center in Alliance.
So far Groom has relied on the profits from Villa Maria to fund her projects, but she hopes to retire next year and focus solely on the downtown.
Retirement will also give Groom more time to inhabit her alter ego: Sigrid the Troll Queen.
Wearing a large hat and sporting curly gray hair and a tail, Sigrid explains that she is a Huldra Troll.
“They’re very humanlike. They live in the forest underground where they have villages and other humanlike things.”
Huldra trolls are also known for tricking humans into marrying them, because “trolls and humans are two species that can interbreed,” Sigrid explains matter-of-factly.
Sigrid is one of the trolls that give the 45-minute tours at the Troll Hole.
If you go on the tour, here’s a hint: The answer to every question is “Troll.”
Items out of place? Trolls.
Stereo not working? Trolls.
Kids acting up? “Wouldn’t you say they’re totally out of con-troll,” asks Sigrid.
The first stop on the tour is Sigrid’s workshop where she keeps all of her troll art.
There a visitor will find wooden African sculptures with bright troll hair and paintings of trolls aboard Noah’s Ark among the dozens of pieces.
The tour continues to an exhibit on trolls in politics, then to the history of trolls.
“Trolls started in the Scandinavian part of Europe, which is a very cold place,” Sigrid says, now in full story-telling mode.
“One day, long ago, an ice-giant named Ymir got into a fight with the Norse god Odin and was killed.”
“Out of his body came these maggot-like creatures,” Sigrid says. “The light ones became the pixies and elves, full of goodness and light. The dark ones became trolls. They’re so evil they have to stay out of the sunlight and come out only at night.”
Sigrid explains that trolls fall into three general categories: water, mountain and forest. They love to sing and dance, are great partiers and generally have large ears and noses.
Next, visitors learn about trolls in the movies. One of the films, “Troll 2,” is considered by many to be the worst movie ever made, thus earning it a cult following. It was even the subject of a 2009 documentary, “Best Worst Movie.”
From there visitors are taken to the DreamWorks room, which contains hundreds of items that depict characters from the 2016 animated film “Trolls.”
Shelly sits quietly in Sigrid’s arms as she explains each of the exhibits while Lady finds a quiet, out-of-the-way spot to sleep so she won’t get stepped on. Every time the tour moves on, she awakens, trots into the next room and repeats the process.
In this instance, it’s the American Troll Hunters Field Station and her spot is under a table of troll artifacts, such as troll toenails and teeth.
“And it’s all documented, where and when they were found,” Sigrid says.
At this point it’s understandable if visitors – and perhaps readers – start to feel a bit overwhelmed. And the tour isn’t even half over.
Remaining are exhibits on the economic impact of the troll doll, the record-setting collection itself and re-creations of troll habitats such as waterfalls, bridges – even a troll house you can walk through.
When they finish the tour, “Most people are just in awe,” Green, the museum’s employee, says.
The backyard contains a waterfall with a six-foot troll. In the driveway sit two troll-vans, one of which doubles as a traveling museum.
Were a visitor to look inside the employee restroom, he’d find it occupied by a large troll named Elvis.
“Because Elvis had his last performance on the pot. See? We’ve put a lot of thought into this,” Groom said in one of the rare instances where she broke character.
If Groom succeeds in remaking downtown Alliance in the image of the Troll Hole, it would likely be a very interesting place to visit.
And that’s the whole idea.
“People who don’t know that much about trolls find it quirky,” Green says.
Groom goes a step further: “It’s very crazy.”
Pictured at top: Sherry Groom conducts 45-minute tours of her Troll Hole Museum as her alter ego: Sigrid the Troll Queen.
Copyright 2018 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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