By Patrick Kernan firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the April 18, 2020 edition of the Wilkes-Barre based Times Leader newspaper. The original story can be found at https://www.timesleader.com/news/780623/local-hobby-game-shops-rely-on-customers-to-survive-during-covid-19-crisis. The print edition appears below the article on this page.
Millions of hobbyists worldwide play tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer 40,000 and Magic: The Gathering as a way to escape from the real world. But what happens to stores that sell gaming supplies when they are denied of the key element of hobby gaming: People gathering together?
Two locally-owned hobby game shops told the Times Leader this week how they are trying to survive through the COVID-19 crisis. Sword in the Stone Games, located in downtown Wilkes-Barre, has migrated its community online, Edwardsville’s Tactical Advantage has mostly had to cease operations, due to a differing focus in materials sold.
John Dawe, manager of the Wilkes-Barre store, said the focus from the beginning was on the customers that form the community in the store.
“The first thing we were concerned with, before we worry about the financial impact, was that our shop has a wonderful family atmosphere, a family community,” Dawe said. “We wanted to make sure everyone had that during this period.”
The sense of community is one of the most important parts of a local game store; most stores like these do not just sell product, but also host tournaments for competitive games and allow space to be rented out by role-playing game groups. It’s an important part of a game shop’s income.
Sword in the Stone, Dawe said, has been doing everything it can to move that community online, shifting gaming events online where possible, using the popular messaging software Discord and video-calling app Zoom to coordinate sessions.
The shop has also shifted to selling product on its website, something it had not previously done much of.
“We’ve had a crazy nuber of sales through the online store,” Dawe said. Currently, online orders can either be scheduled for a curbside pick-up date, mailed via standard shipping, or can be delivered to addresses with ZIP codes between 18701 and 18706, along with 18640 to 18651.
Dawe said everything is being handled with the utmost care.
“I still go in every other day to receive product and send out online orders and make sure the place is still there and what not,” he said, adding that extra care is taken for curbside orders. “I put on a mask, we make sure everyone has a mask. We Lysol the hell out of everything.”
Those sales are likely to increase shortly, with a new set of cards being released for Magic: The Gathering, the world’s most popular trading card game, to be released in the coming days.
Dawe said a big amount of help is coming from Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro-owned company that publishes massively popular hobby games like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. The new set, entitled “Ikroia: Lair of Behemoths,” will be released to Magic fans on May 15.
“Wizards of the Coast has been especially good to local game stores during this time, making all sorts of accommodations,” Dawe said, including sending free product to stores to use that would not normally have been free.
Part of what makes it possible to transition to a mostly online community for the time being is how the games work.
Tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder can be played with just a set of dice and some pieces of paper if the players choose to play without miniatures and boards, so transitioning to video calls for the games is simple. Meanwhile, Magic: The Gathering features an online version, which Sword in the Stone Games has been able to capitalize on, holding online tournaments with a buy-in cost, something which Wizards of the Coast had not previously allowed.
The difficulty, though, comes for games that require a physical presence, like miniature-based war games like Warhammer 40,000.
Tactical Advantage’s owner, Chris Ormanado, said his shop mostly focuses on these games. As such, moving online has proved impossible.
Ormanado’s solution? Essentially savings bonds, but the store is calling them plague cheques.
The plague cheques can be bought by customers for any amount more than $50, and, once the store eventually reopens, will be honored at a 20% increase from the purchase; a $100 plague cheque will buy $120 worth of Magic cards, D&D miniatures, or whatever else.
Ormanado said it’s the only way his shop can continue to get income for the time.
“We’re really asking the customer to put a lot of faith in us that we’re going to reopen,” he said, before going on to assure his customers that the store will get through.
“I’m not in a financial place where I’m going to throw in the towel,” he said.
Ormanado said, with shut-downs of nonessential businesses rolling around the country, many of the distributors he bought models and modeling paint from have also been shut down, meaning his store has not been able to transition to online sales in the same way.
“We just have to wait for this to get done so we can get back to work,” Ormanado said.
Both Dawe and Ormanado stressed that it is the kindness and generosity of the customers who call their respective shops home that are getting them through.
“People have been really supportive,” Dawe said. “There’s a bigger community in the gaming world that I think is willing to come together.”
Ormanado agreed, and said he plans on doing everything possible for the customers to celebrate them.
“Once this is over, I plan on having a big barbecue outside,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to welcome back the community.”