With International Tabletop Day around the corner, we’re counting down the days to the big celebration by highlighting friendly local gaming stores, their owners, and their awesome stories. Be sure to find an ITTD event near you so you can enjoy the festivities in your community.
It was a cold, winter day when I first stepped into Black Knight Games for a Warmachine Steamroller I had just signed up for. I had just moved across the country and had few local friends to speak of as a result. Having grown up in Calgary, I was a regular patron of the renown Sentry Box, my expectations about what constitutes a great friendly local gaming store are admittedly quite high. I feel the need to contextualize the following statement with that insight into my expectations because, simply put, Black Knight Games is a special game store.
From the outside, it seems small and unassuming, but walking through the doors, there is a clear passion for games which electrifies the air. I spent a full 12 hours in the store, gaming with the local community, chatting with the staff, and shopping the stock, utterly delighted the entire time. There are a lot of cool elements to the store space itself: a lounge area with TVs and video game consoles, a foosball table, the tavern-styled gaming area, as well as the open retail space filled with board games, roleplaying games, CCGs, and (my personal weakness) miniature wargaming products and supplies. These things, however, don’t simply account for the enthusiasm for games and play that is obviously present.
I can only credit owner Jay Mason-Grant for creating a space that could channel that kind of passion. There’s so much about Jay’s story that I can personally relate to. The owner of Hamilton’s Black Knight Games got his start in the industry like I did: starting by working for Games Workshop in university.
“My future career path was cloudy – and really I was only going to university because it felt like that’s what I was supposed to do after high school. I got a job working part-time at GW, and loved it. One day after a full day of seminars I was taking the long bus-ride home and bemoaning to myself that it was too bad I couldn’t open my own game store. It felt like a pipe-dream, the kind of thing all gamers imagine at moments in their life, but then a sudden realization came to me: people do own game stores. Why couldn’t I be one of them?”
At the age of 24, and with the support of his family, Jay took the leap. Ten years later, Black Knight Games is very much a hub for the gaming community.
The people that Jay has attracted to the store have both literally and figuratively, contributed to creating a space that is unique and special. About four years ago, Black Knight moved to its current location. They did a crowdfunding drive to help their community invest in the new space, allowing them to contribute to making it a home-away-from-home. As Jay puts it, “This allowed our customers to feel connected with adding some fun stuff to our lounge-like comfy seating, TVs, fancy tables, and a foosball table. Every contributor now has their name engraved on our wall. Overall, the campaign raised $10,000 –and probably cost me twice that to fulfill– but it was pretty instrumental in connecting our gaming community to the space. It made everyone feel like we were building the store together.”
Beyond their contributions, Jay also relies on the community through the store’s “Standard Bearer” program. “We have a pretty robust community volunteer program at our store called ‘Standard Bearers’. We deal in so many different games, that we can’t be experts in them all. So we empower a selection of loyal and enthusiastic customers to help us plan and run events, we’ll even ask their advice on product to carry to best support that community.”
The energy and passion felt in the space isn’t there by chance. Jay works hard to keep the store energized. “The most valuable commodity when running a FLGS is enthusiasm. You need to harness enthusiasm in your staff, in your customers, and very importantly in yourself. Keep the community enthusiastic by running frequent events, and changing things up, is key. Keep your staff enthusiastic by empowering them, by valuing their feedback and ideas, and by feeding their own hobby hunger.”
Doing so is no small task. The store has hosted over a thousand tournaments, has highly-attended regular game nights, and gaming league events. As exhausting as organizing and hosting all those gaming experiences sound, Jay’s desire to create a better experience every time shines through. “If I’m not tinkering around with yet another way to make my store better, I’ll get bored.”
When I left Black Knight Games after a full day of gaming and new friends made, I knew it wasn’t the last time I was going to visit Black Knight Games. Despite the several hundred kilometer distance from the store to home, the atmosphere of the store is one I found intoxicating enough to want to go back again. I’ll admit: I’m incredibly envious of gamers in “The Hammer” for having Black Knight Games their own friendly local gaming store.
What makes your local FLGS special? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credits: Black Knight Games