Tabletop games fuel new business growth in south and East Lawrence

photo by: Journal-World photo/Chad Lawhorn

Lawrence's Warhammer store is located at 3140 Iowa St. in the Pine Ridge Plaza.

There’s a new “Warhammer” trend in Lawrence, and it is bringing with it characters like Exalted Deathbringer, Slaughter Priest and Chaos Sorcerer Lord. But don’t be fooled. Warhammer is not creating destruction in the city. Thus far, it has created two new Lawrence businesses.

Warhammer is a tabletop game that involves mythical creatures — like Mr. Deathbringer — conquest, strategy and, of course, painting and sculpting. What? Yes, the game is unusual in that players actually can build the pieces that are used in the playing of the game.

Do you remember the days of those plastic car models? (I sure do. I’ve got a 2 1/2-wheel Mustang Shelby on display somewhere.) The game has some of that type of feel to it. Players can buy plastic kits of figurines and structures that must be assembled, painted and otherwise accessorized.

The new Warhammer store that opened in the Pine Ridge Plaza on south Iowa Street sells those model kits, plus the various paints, tools and other accessories. The store also sells the actual games, which come in a variety of themes and styles. In addition, the store provides some instruction for people who are just getting into the hobby.

“I tell people it is like Dungeons and Dragons and Risk had a baby,” said Judah Bigelow, manager at the Lawrence store. “It has strategy and it also has rich storytelling.”

If you are not familiar with either one of those games, I don’t know what to tell you, other than that it is more fun than the offspring of Monopoly and Candy Land. (It takes 12 hours to play and always ends with me in bankruptcy and feeling the effects of one too many gumdrops.) But even if you aren’t interested in the gaming aspect, the store is a notable new addition to Lawrence’s retail scene.

It has taken up space in Lawrence’s largest shopping center. Pine Ridge Plaza is the center that includes Kohl’s, Ross, Michaels and others. Warhammer is in the same building that houses Jason’s Deli, Men’s Wearhouse and other shops. The store, which opened in June, is a corporate chain. The game-making company Games Workshop owns the store. The company has been opening stores across North America, but this is the first one in Kansas. Bigelow said the store has been drawing customers from Topeka and farther distances.

A new East Lawrence entrepreneur is hoping to take advantage of Lawrence’s growing gaming reputation. D. Cooper — along with business partners Anne Cooper and Gage Buffington — have signed a deal to open Dragon’s Hoard, LLC at 1045 Pennsylvania St.

The building at 11th and Pennsylvania streets used to house a dog food business and, before that, was a shop that sold vintage home remodeling supplies. Cooper said work is underway to convert it into a board game center.

The store will sell the Warhammer game, plus a variety of other games that go beyond the basics. Think of games like Codenames, Magic the Gathering, Lords of Waterdeep or The Resistance. That last one is a bluffing game that Cooper particularly likes.

“We spend five minutes teaching people, and then you spend the next half-hour playing and calling your friends liars,” Cooper said.

Playing games is a big part of the store’s plans. Unlike the Warhammer store, Dragon’s Hoard plans to devote a significant amount of the store’s space to an area where the games can be played. Many of the strategy games require tables that are bigger than people typically have in their homes.

The business plans to offer two types of gaming options. One will be open gaming for anybody looking for a place to gather. Current plans don’t call for a charge for that service. Instead, Cooper is hoping that the gamers will use his shop for many of their supplies. The second option is competitive gaming that often will involve a $10 to $15 entry fee for people who want to enter a tournament. Many of those competitions will happen late at night. The business plans to stay open until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays to accommodate the tournaments. Cooper hopes to open the store by early October.

photo by: Journal-World photo/Chad Lawhorn

Dragon’s Hoard LLC is locating in the vacant building at 11th and Pennsylvania streets in East Lawrence.

Cooper, who said he grew up in gaming shops, said he’s aware of several similar stores that have opened and closed in Lawrence recently. Those closings haven’t deterred him because he thinks Dragon’s Hoard will benefit from a greater sense of community due to the large game-playing space it will offer. Plus, Cooper said he’s keeping his expectations modest. He mainly is a lifelong gamer — he used games to help him with his dyslexia — who wants to give back.

“This had always been a retirement plan, but it is happening a lot earlier,” said Cooper, 32. “I don’t plan on making a lot of money. I’m doing it more for the community. Most of the players are going to Kansas City and Topeka to play. The field is available now, and I want to give people a chance to stay here and play.”

Plus, the gaming industry does seem to be on an upswing. Warhammer, for example, has been around for about 30 years, but has really started to gain a larger following. Both Cooper and Bigelow said a growing segment of society is looking for a way to gather that doesn’t involve all the electronic trappings that consume so many other parts of daily life.

“One of the great things is, you can’t be staring at your phone if you want to win this game,” Bigelow said.


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