This month will be one year of the new D20 (our beta year). It was one year ago in July that I went to Games of Berkeley for their Saturday afternoon draft, and started chatting with another player who also happened to be from Alameda, I was grousing about why couldn’t we have drafts at the local store, and he mentioned that D20 was closing up shop. In fact, they were closing up shop two days later! Since I’d closed up a start-up I’d been working on about 9 months before that and had been spending most of that time interviewing with people who had been alive for less time then I’d been in my previous profession and was getting pretty tired of being told how I wouldn’t be right because I was overqualified, I’d been trying to figure out what to do next. A day later I went to find Nate who had been running the store who put me in touch with Susan, the owner (and his mother). Turns out Nate who’d been running the place
I’d been into the store before, but couldn’t really figure out what was going on, and given the particular video games that were being played in the back, hadn’t felt comfortable like bringing my 10 year olds back there after my first time in.
A Life-changing chance conversation
One year ago, last July, a chance conversation at another game shop spread the (true) rumor that D20 was planning to close, since Nate, the son of the previous owner and driving force behind running the store was ending his break between high school and college. Two days later, and as much to my surprise as anyone else , D20 had a new parent, this time a Dad, instead of a mother. 😉 Since I had younger kids, and I knew what kind of place I liked to play in as an adult, I set out to learn how to be a retail guy and to remold D20 to be what I would want to walk in as both a player and a Dad. After weeks of threading paperwork, cleaning, painting and laying in new tables chairs and restocking (and with the help of a number of angels who came out of the wood-work to help–eternal thanks to Summer, Joey and of
course, Andre) we opened for business one year ago in August. One of the first things we did was tor scramble to get signs and free cards into sleeves for one of the last big park street festivals of the year. I’m pretty sure I remember getting everything ready to go just about an hour before closing on the last day, sending a bunch of 10 year olds with boxes of cards with stickers of the stores name stuck on the sleeve to give to anyone they could foist them on. BTW…a second set of thanks there boys. 😉
Our Beta Year (no Video Games..really??):
After a fair amount of grousing from some of the old timers about the removal of video and computer games from the store menu, and a lot of significant adjustment to
realizing that I was serious about not only language, but about treating each other with respect and playing for fun, people started settling into the new D20. (I’d been to other stores enough to know that if the video games were there, that no way would the kids be able to escape the pull and stay focused on face to face games. There were enough places to play video games…I wanted this place to be about something different.) The other big challenge was shifting from being a pretty much verbally anything goes clubhouse environment, to making sure the language was ok. In particular it was hard for a lot of people because it wasn’t just George Carlin’s seven famous words, but avoiding the standard smack talk (I know that for a bunch of people it’s just a joke, but for others, they suffer quiet feelings of humiliation and discomfort when it goes to far.) Similarly, I’ve been trying to make the store into a SAFE zone, meaning that using terms like “That’s so gay” may seem harmless because it isn’t aimed at a person, but knowing that it is likely that somewhere in the room, there is someone who is struggling with discovering that part of themselves, and that the constant barrage of terms like that used to indicate something bad or stupid, has a real impact, even if it’s not seen or commented on. Similarly, having the place feel too aggressive or unpleasant makes it uncomfortable for a lot of people who will just silently vote with their feet.
Kid Friendly vs. Adult friendly:
One of our biggest challenges, and areas where we learned from goofing up, was in figuring out the
kid friendly vs. adult friendly way to do things. There are language and role model issues that are important to me as a Dad in having my kids in the store. The adults can really help the kids out if things are set up properly. On the other hand, Adults who come in to play, are doing so so that they can relax and have fun, and the enthusiasm of some of the kids can translate pretty easily into feeling overwhelming and like something they don’t want to deal with. The main solution that we’ve come up for this one is to separate a number of the events, that allow some overlap time, but that have the kids in one time slot, with it becoming primarily adult at other times. Like many TV stations, I’ll loosen up a bit later at night when the kiddlets should be home in bed. But I also know what getting down on one knee and letting a kid look you in the eye means a that age. Andre or I will often play the kids, giving them a chance to either take us down, or more importantly, to teach them how to be better along the way.
Friday Magic Drafts…Not FridayNight Magic, but it’s off brand cousin for a while:
It took a little while for people to realize that we were serious about being here for regular magic
events like Friday Night Magic (which we couldn’t call it until we had enough approved events to get to “Core” level.) We put in play the “Play or Pack” guarantee, to make sure that we would start getting enough people in to start running the events on regular basis. We didn’t have to give away too many packs because it turned out that there were a bunch of people who liked the idea of statying local. Since than, we’ve run well over 200 events of different types, and signed up hundreds of new players. Once we had enough people to keep the FNM healthy without the kids, we spun our Date Night Magic events over to Saturdays, to give both the kids and the adults their own space and times. Within 6 months, we went from having virtually no status with the makers of Magic, to be their most advanced level of qualification, allowing us to host virtually any of the major Magic Events.
Yugioh, A game battle for D20:
When I took over the store, there it came with a very healthy group of Yugioh players. But I’d also been warned that those Yugioh Sundays could be challenging with some history of issues with
language, arguments and theft. Obviously those bad apples make things un-fun for the majority of players, so we took steps to discourage that type of stuff, including installing cameras, putting an alarm on the back door to keep people from running out the back with someone else’s stuff. I then embarked on what turned out to be an epic struggle to get the language and behavior to a point where I would feel comfortable having the younger kids there. (In general, I’m a pretty non-grumpy guy, but there were days that pushed that limit.) After coming back from my first national game store owner trade show in January, I was armed with the strange knowledge that the issues I was having in my store, were an echo of the same thing happening in stores, not only just in our part of the world, but as far away as the east coast. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure it out, since some of the people I like the most in the store are some of my Yugioh players, and I didn’t really want to do what many other stores have done, ban the game entirely. The compromise we have for the moment is that I’ve pulled the kids from Sunday to Saturday afternoon, and have designated Tuesday’s and Sunday as the only other times that Yugioh play is ok in the store. Running this as a test for a while to see how that works. The other hard thing that I’ve had to do is to ask some folks not to come back for the sake of the store and everyone else who is playing. Coming from a very strong “Innocent until” proven guilty background, accepting that my role in the store is keeping it safe and fun for everybody (including me) it was difficult for me to embrace the fact that I have final discretion , and that if I think that it is more likely then not that someone did something that I don’t want in the store, than I can do what I think is right. For those who have stuck it out and who have worked hard to break habits of language.
Enter the Pikachu (btw…the spellchecker wants to change Pikachu to the word “spinich” –not sure what that means but it is brain food for thought.)
About 6 months ago, Henri and crew showed up at the store saying they had heard good things about us and wanted to see if we would like to run a Pokemon league. After a fairly quick “you betya” we had a thriving and probably our most mixed, most friendly group of players for any game. Saturday Morning became a time where 13 year-olds would willingly volunteer to help out 7 year olds, when when they weren’t’ playing 25 year-olds. Our next step is to work on getting sneak peaks and running real Pokemon tournaments.
Board Games-Knowing what we are talking about:
Most recently, we’ve followed up on our long time promise to get a clue about board games. The store came with a set of games that I had no clue about, and as people slowly came in and picked them up, I worked hard to understand and figure out what we should carry. My family has kids of very different ages, temperaments and interests, so trying to find something that everyone would like has been an ongoing challenge. That seemed a pretty good basis to start looking at different games. From that, we started pulling from the games that people came in to talk about with the greatest enthusiasm. We’ve been weeding out the dumb ones, and choosing to only carry ones that are a ton of fun, knowing that different kinds of games deliver that for different people. It’s pretty exciting, and we are having regular board game nights where people can come in and check new things out. We’re working on renting board games, and are also looking very seriously at trying to bring in games that are designed to help with brain retraining for people with different challenges, (learning, social and medical). Games are a great spoonful of sugar to help with a bunch of stuff, provided that the games themselves don’t lose track of being good.
What next? Grand Opening???
Believe it or not, we (quite explicitly) haven’t done our official grand opening under new management yet. Like I said, I’ve been considering this our Beta test year, as I learn how to be a retailer, and how to really take care of this community of people. In August, we will have a number of special Birthday Events and Sales. In mid Sept, after the school year starts, we target our offical grand opening and take the beta sign off the wrapper.
One last thing…Thanks to everyone for bring your presence and your business. We really are a very small shop, and every dollar, every online review and every smile make a big difference. Thanks. 😉