The taco truck parked out front told me this place was a little different. Food vans and gamers. Such a simple, genius, idea.
Greenfire Games, my new local game shop, opened its doors on October 1st. My interest piqued by a post on Facebook, I hustled my way over to check it out. A few long-established stores exist nearby. Friendly enough staff and players gathered around dimly lit folding tables; dusty product stacked on shelves. Greenfire Games appears to offer something more.
Upon walking in, I noticed bright lights illuminating custom built gaming table toppers. Knowledgeable and personable staff guided customers through new games. Shelf talkers offered free promos with purchases. A mixed crowd of children, adults, and old timers like myself mingled and shared their favorite stories. Two 3D printers churned out custom coins, figures, tokens, and scenery. Intrigued, I wanted to learn more from the brains behind this effort.
Fate brought Michael Bradshaw and Brian Stuchell together a little over a year ago. Brian worked in sales without any history of gaming. Unhappy with his job, Brian wanted a big change and landed a position at a game shop, of all places. Mike, a lifetime collector of games, managed the shop. Working together, Brian developed a solid base of retail management skills, and Mike’s personal collection and desire to own his own store intensified.
“…with tabletop games you have an inherent sense of community,” Mike explained. “That is what interests me the most. I see Greenfire Games as a place where people can sit down with their peers on a weekly basis and have a good time. In the short time we have been around I am very proud of the range of people we have brought together and I can’t wait to see how it grows.”
“We made sure if there was anyone who made people uncomfortable or was inappropriate in any way we would take them to the side and talk to them”
Building that community and entrusting it to support a store took time and effort. Mike told me, “We have been running weekly game events for the past year at different venues. We made sure if there was anyone who made people uncomfortable or was inappropriate in any way we would take them to the side and talk to them, if it continued they would not be invited back. We took the time to make a safe environment and built friendships with the members of our group.”
The two would run events for any occasion. When one of their regulars decided to get hitched, Mike and Brian organized games for the reception. The bride and groom had a chance to do what they loved with friends and the two future shop owners entertained the rest of the guests with extra-large versions of crowd pleasers.
“The store came together in a series of conversations over the last year” Mike continued. “As game collectors, our regulars knew, they could order everything online, but they said they would rather pay slightly more if it meant they were supporting us and what we were trying to do.”
Eventually, Brian wondered how much money they would need to actually open their own shop. “I have a buddy in commercial real estate and I gave him a call.”
Working with their partner Marcus Felgenhauer, the three started in earnest last May. They opened a web site for game reviews, unboxing videos, rule explanations, and general industry news. They started expanding their reputation online before going looking for investors.
Their lack of experience with video didn’t lead to success with the crowdsourcing marketplace.
The three considered raising funds through Patreon and GoFundMe. Unfortunately, their lack of experience with video didn’t lead to success with the crowdsourcing marketplace. However, a few individuals, notably Phillip Flores, believed they could create something exceptional and helped. Philip became their fourth partner.
The team logically scouted for locations in the southwest suburbs where they had already established a client base. They needed to stay local.
“Big play area was our number one factor,” Brian told me. “That is such a big part of what we are trying to do. For example, tonight we have 12 people playing X-wing, 6 playing Magic, another 2 playing a tabletop game. With so many seats we can support this nightly.”
The two never doubted their efforts. When I asked about difficulties, Brian replied, “Truthfully we always knew it was going to happen. We did hit a point while searching for funding that we had to take a hard look at the timeframe.” They hoped the store would open in time to take advantage of Christmas shoppers, but not get lost in the retail chaos of November and December.
Greenfire Games found the sweet spot. “We have had a great first week, not only did we have a huge turnout for the grand opening itself,” said Mike, “but we have had a huge number of new customers over the last week. We’ve seen a steady increase in new returning customers, almost doubling the people we considered regulars. Some people have been in four-five days in over the last week.”
“I won’t feel satisfied until we have a packed house every night and even then there’s always room to grow.”
A successful first week doesn’t mean the two aren’t looking towards the future. Brian told me, “Next is continuing to build up our presence in the community. We started doing the Blue Island Park District game nights on Friday, twice a month. We have to keep bringing new people in and introducing them to these games. I won’t feel satisfied until we have a packed house every night and even then there’s always room to grow. We really do strive to be a cornerstone of this area bringing families away from the TV and computer and back to the table. All puns intended.”
“We are a welcoming environment for gamers of all ages and love teaching and getting new people in the hobby.”
Greenfire Games: 4811 95th St, Oak Lawn, IL 60453; (708) 576-8442