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How Much Is That RPG In The Window?

by Tonya Foust

Recently, I began gaming on a regular basis again. The primary reason for this is that I found a place to game on a regular basis.

Top Deck Cards, in Downers Grove, Illinois, is a wonderful little shop. The owner, Dar, and her husband, Eric, are open, friendly people who welcome gamers of all sorts into their midst. I asked, and Dar granted me the following interview. She asked for a little history on The Lady Gamer and answered the questions below.

Tonya - The Lady Gamer - Q: Are you a gamer, or did you used to be?
Dar - Top Deck Cards - A: I dabble in quick-to-learn-and-play games. I don't have the attention span to learn more complicated games, and I don't have enough free time to play long, drawn out games.

Q: If so, what did/do you play?
A: I like Pirates of the Spanish Main, (etc) and the new Wizkids game, Tsuro. TriKings' Anachronism is a good one too, because it has a limited game play of 5 turns per player.

Q: What prompted you to purchase a game store?
A: Slightly long story I got laid off from my regular job, and thought I would like to try something different, like opening a coffee shop. After doing some research and discovering it would cost the equivalent of my house and take a year or more before I could even open, I decided to start looking for an income again. During the following summer, while I was unsuccessfully looking for a job, my son was unsuccessfully looking for some place to play Magic. Every place we found started their tournaments too early, or played the wrong type, and didn't have any room or tolerance for someone to just sit around and play pick-up games. I jokingly, and prophetically, made a comment that maybe I should just open up a game store so he'd have some place to play. We searched the yellow pages and found a listing for a store not too far from home with a schedule that might work, and headed out. As we were walking up to the door, we saw a sign in the window, "Business for sale". Ooooh! We talked with the owner and found it was "do-able". After weeks of research and talking with people we knew who owned their own businesses, we took the leap and spent the rest of my severance on buying the store. And here we are!

Q: Does being a store owner give you a different view or insight into the games you play(ed)?
A: Not so much the games, but definitely the gamers. And the game store. It's a whole different view from this side of the counter! If my view of the games has changed, it's only in a way that now I see them as a business product. If it sells well, it's expanded. If not, it's phased out. The context of the game, MY "attachment" to it and its characters (Oh, look, it's based on my favorite books!) really can't factor in. (Can you say Tomb Raider?)

Q: How does owning a game store change your perspective (if it does) on gaming in general?
A: It's broadened my appreciation of the dedication some of these players have for their hobby. Some of the players live and breathe their games. There's a whole society built around throwing cards or facing off minis. They gather together at appointed times, or just stop by to see who's here. They sit and talk about their day, or their families, work or school. It's a tradition that goes back to the checkerboard in the General Store. And for new kids and younger players, it's a great way to bring them out of their shell, and learn social skills. Plus - and this I've seen first hand in my own son - it gives the more challenged kids an incentive to work harder at learning to read and do math. It helps build logic and strategy skills. And good sportsmanship.

Q: What is/was your favorite game to play?
A: I enjoy the logic/strategy games. The ones that keep you thinking even when it's not your turn. (Monopoly bored me!) I like games like chess and Battleship. One of my favorites was Othello. Recently, it's Tsuro and Pirates. Some of the Looney Labs games fit into the category - the Ice Towers game was fun.

Q: As a store owner, what do you do to distinguish yourself from your competition?
A: I can't compete with the Big Guy for deep discounts or buying used cards for cash, so I try to make my store like a second home. Kids stop here and just hang out. Then more kids come, and they play. I try to keep the environment clean, both from trash and trash-talk. I want it to be welcoming for grandmas as well as gamers. Parents are free to hang around, or leave the kids and come back - whatever makes them comfortable. I try to keep in mind my hours of sitting around, waiting and reading a book while my husband, Eric, or my kids played, and try to offer a comfortable environment for parents and partners who are waiting while their kids play. We have plenty of seats, and a TV in the back game room. We offer free coffee on weekend mornings, or whenever we have it made for ourselves.

Q: Do you feel that the gaming industry and the gaming retail industry is biased towards men?
A: Not really. I think it's directed toward their most profitable consumer. Now, if we could go another step back from the game industry, and ask if society is biased toward men being the hunter who needs the relaxation break while the woman keeps plodding thru her day of keeping house and child care -- then we'd see why there are fewer women gamers. This is just my view, but I feel there are fewer women gamers because there are fewer women with enough free time to actually relax and play games. Women got stuff to do! I don't think the gaming industry needs to bring out pink-bordered cards or cute fluffy minis; I think they need to start selling women on the fact that they have just as much right to sit and relax as men do. And they need to start opening up men's minds to the idea that women can give them a run for their money in their chosen game.

Q: If you were given a chance to do this over, what would you have done differently?
A: Definitely started with more financial backing. That was what every source I ever read or heard said - find out how much you think you'll need, and double it!

Q: What advice do you have for anyone out there who may be interested or trying to start their own game shop?
A: GO TO A GAMA TRADE SHOW!!! TALK TO EVERYONE THERE - ESPECIALLY THE OTHER PEOPLE IN LINE!! Visit other shops. Check them out with an objective eye. What do they do well? What could they improve on. TALK TO THE KIDS - ASK THEM WHAT WORKS! (Just don't ask them about prices. Kids always go for "free.") Learn as many of the games as you can, even if it's just enough to be able to explain the mechanics of it. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable having 30 "kids" from 6 to 26 hanging out with you for 8 hours a day. And remember, they are not all housebroken. Can you balance buddy, authority figure and businessman? If you've ever had a baby, it's just like that - like bringing home your first child. You have days that are great, and days you ask yourself, "What the Heck was I thinking?!". Some sleepless nights, some really great days. And a lot of, "What do I do now?"

Q: If you don't mind, would you give us a little history and bio of you and your store?
A: The store started out as a venture between two guys who were gamers and sports fans. The store has both game cards and sports cards. They worked it together for about a year until the Game Guy decided it was too much to do with everything else in his life, so he sold out to his partner. Sports Guy ran it for about another year until he realized it was too much for him, with a new wife, new baby and school, so he put up a sign in the window, "Business for Sale". That's where I come in. Fortunately for me, a wonderful, helpful and truly remarkable employee stayed on after I bought it, and took me by the hand and lead me thru the perilous rapids of gaming and game store operations. Unfortunately, he's gone off to college, so I'm in search of the next irreplaceable employee. My husband, Eric, has been a gamer from high school days, and when I married him, I married gaming. My kids have picked it up from their friends and cousins, and even more so in the two years I've owned the store. It seemed like Fate to have a game store available when I was looking for a business of my own.

I want to thank Dar for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions. She and her family are great people and I am honored to know them.

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