The business of games has never been more fun.
Two months ago, Event Horizon Hobbies celebrated their grand opening in Midland on the day the province alleviated restrictions within the COVID-19 pandemic, with a socially-respecting affair of fun and games. It was a critical hit.
Owners Chris and Sarah Lahaie, as well as manager Devon Ward, are area residents and hobby enthusiasts who run the local game store. Chris had run a Toronto business decades ago that sold collectible trading cards, and with both his and Sarah’s backgrounds in business and gaming, they knew the paths to travel and pitfalls to avoid in getting an local store set up properly.
“Our timing couldn’t have been better,” Chris Lahaie stated, “because we weren’t having to be open during closures; we were renovating.
“We were really fortunate that we were able to do a soft launch, have limited numbers, and it didn’t really matter because everyone had limited numbers.” Lahaie also described that opening fully into Step 3 of the province’s Roadmap to Reopen allowed Event Horizon Hobbies to be on par with other businesses upon their reopenings.
“Rather than being a new store,” said Lahaie of competing with other businesses who had established customer bases and familiar faces, “it was almost like a reset as we opened up at the same time. We found we were on the same footing as the old guard.”
Choosing Midland for their location was an easy choice because of its centralization as a hub between many other destinations, according to Lahaie.
“It’s a nice central hub,” explained Lahaie, praising the proximity to Highways 12 and 93. “It’s an old adage, but ‘location, location, location.’ This one had it.”
Added Ward: “We wanted an all-inclusive building with accessibility to all people."
Lahaie explained the origins of Event Horizon Hobbies as beginning two years ago, when the couple’s eldest son was reluctant to get into reading.
“I grabbed some Magic (The Gathering) cards and sat down with him, and taught him how to play to give him a reason to want to read,” Lahaie shared, “because the rule of the game is: ‘the card does what the card says it does’.
“I knew if he wanted to beat me, he’d have to read and learn the card, which worked really well,” said with a Lahaie laugh.
That inspired Chris to return to collecting Magic: The Gathering cards, at which point the couple agreed to start up an local game store back in the area where they grew up.
However, they’re confident that the advantage of Event Horizon Hobbies is that their demographic isn’t just targeted as enthusiast owners who are only focused on one game, like Magic or Warhammer, for their core selling point.
“Sarah and I, we never fell into that pit trap,” Chris said, addressing their love of all hobbies including table-top board games, card games, miniatures, fine art supplies, painting and more. “For us, it was more natural to look at the enthusiast in general.
“In our market research we’d done, we stumbled upon the idea that everyone’s an enthusiast. It’s either something that hasn’t been historically categorized as an enthusiast but is, or, they just don’t realize it.”
Lahaie related how a father recently entered the store with his children who immediately went to the miniatures and paint section. When asked if the father was a gamer, the man said 'no.' Lahaie posed the question, “so, you don’t play cards?” The parent said yes, and Lahaie continued to press on asking, “so, you play euchre, backgammon, and rummy?” The parent stated outright love of those games.
“‘So, you’re a gamer’,” Lahaie reasoned to the man. “‘It’s just that you don’t put yourself in the same category.’ The funny thing is, it clicked with him.” That realization allowed the father to see his children in a new light, one that wasn’t separate from himself. They were just doing something that was packaged differently.”
Traditionally, gaming is an experience for family and friends in close proximity to one another, whether huddled over cards or a board game of sorts. To accommodate the safety of customers, Ward described the safety compliance within the provincial and local health protocols.
“We only allow a certain number of people within the store at a time as per our space regulations,” said Ward. “Everyone wears a mask; hand sanitizer is available at our entrance and separate exit; and everything gets cleaned in-between players (attending). We have very good central air.”
These provisions will be in full force as the store gets ready to host a pop-up version of the globally-attended GenCon event on September 16 through 19. The all-day events will include games, live music, workshops, play-testing demos, tournaments and the pre-release of Magic: The Gathering expansion Innistrad: Midnight Hunt.
As for their own favourites, Ward is unequivocally a fan of Malifaux Henchman as is Sarah Lahaie, although the latter leans more toward painting the accessories than playing. Chris Lahaie is more classical.
“I think a lot of people would look at me and say my favourite game is Magic because I’m very knowledgeable in it, and I’ve been doing it for a very long time,” Lahaie said. “But I think my favourite, favourite game would be chess; I love it. It’s a classic, it’s irreplaceable, it’s the game.”
Event Horizon Hobbies is located at 845 King Street, units 7-9, with store hours beginning at 9:30 a.m. daily until 6:00 p.m. Saturday through Tuesday, until 9:00 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and 10:00 p.m on Friday. Further information is available on their website or by phone at (705) 245-0110.
Pop-Up GenCon 2021 at Event Horizon Hobbies will be held on September 16 through 19. General admission is free, although purchased badge holders will have access to participation events. For more information on badge costs and times, visit the pop-up page on the store’s website.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca