Tuesday, March 31, 2015

TOP STORY >> New life at old Hastings

Leader staff writer

Game Zone Alpha, renamed The Game Store, has moved into the old Hastings building in Jacksonville and expanded its offerings by adding comic books and video games to board, tabletop and card games.

The grand opening is set for May 2, after a sign and more inventory arrives.

Owner Brian Blevins, who has run the Jacksonville business for eight years, called the relocation part of its “gradual evolution.”

A previous tenant of the Jacksonville Shopping Center on Main Street, he needed a bigger space and got an “amazing deal” on the twice-as-large, 20,000-square-foot facility.

The old Hastings building has been rewired and painted. A wall and private game rooms were also added.

Blevins is not hiring right now, but he and his staff of four are experts with several years of experience in their chosen subjects — comic books, Magic cards (the owner’s specialty) and board games.

Employee Brad James said, “Our whole goal is basically to bring a crossover...We’re not a jack of all trades and master of none. We’re a jack of all trades and master of all.”

Blevins touted The Game Store as one of the largest, if not the largest, of its kind in Arkansas. “I’ve been in many, many a game store, and I’m not just saying this because I own the store…This is light years beyond anything I imagined I could possible have,” he said.

The owner also asserted that it has the best selection of board games in the state.

“We were able to open an amazing comic book section,” Blevins continued, adding that he collects them and has issues people in Arkansas haven’t seen. “In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined being able to do something like that.”

Blevins also brought his retro video game collection to the store and joked that, because hobbies and business shouldn’t mix, he’d have to find new hobbies.

Locals have thrown their support behind his venture, the owner added. And that’s great because Blevins “always wanted this place to be something great for the community.”

That is why his store is hosting several weekly events: family board game nights from 6 to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays, Friday Night Magic games from 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and tournaments nearly every day.

Also at the same time on Wednesdays, staffer John Stoltenberg hosts Dungeons and Dragons Encounters for new and old players of all skill levels. There isn’t enough time for the role-playing aspect, but the group engages in a two- or three-hour strategy games and helps new players learn how to play.

About the shop, Stoltenberg added, “It’s the best store in the state. We have the space. We have the selection. And, it may be a little conceited to say, but we have the staff.”

Two one-time festivities coming up are International TableTop Day on Saturday, April 11 and Free Comic Book Day, which coincides with the May 2 grand opening.

Those who register for the tabletop day will be entered into a drawing for game giveaways, and one lucky winner will receive free board games for a year from the store.

On Free Comic Book Day, customers may be able to pick up three free comics at the store.

And business has been “overwhelming” since the store had its soft opening two months ago, Blevins said.

Last weekend, 150 people came out to play games, he noted. “They were from all walks of life.”

One man thanked the owner for bringing together those who have a shared interest and providing a space where gender, racial and other bias could disappear.

The store is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from noon to midnight Friday through Saturday and from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Blevins has also started a blog called “Talking Nerdy” and is looking into more innovative happenings that could be unveiled later.

The owner wanted to thank his family and friends, too. He said, without them, none of this would have been possible.

The Hastings building is Blevins’ fourth location. The business started at the Indian Hill Shopping Center in North Little Rock, but that shop was “burned to the ground” by an arsonist. It moved to Dupree Drive next and then to the Jacksonville Shopping Center.