Holden Farrey hopes he lasts to play his next turn. The 16-year-old Coeur d’Alene resident sits across from Tanner Roberts, one of his frequent “Magic: The Gathering” and “Dice Masters” playing partners. They’re playing the latter now as Roberts’ complacent dog, Rue, rests nearby, accepting attention or discarded food bits that come her way.
Roberts holds a “Gobby” die in his hand. If he manages to field it (he’s got a 50 percent chance), his array of sidekicks will assure him the victory. Yet another close game was about to be decided between the pair. Before Roberts can roll, the front door opens and play is immediately suspended: A gamer in need has entered the room.
For Roberts, it is just another day on the job.
“I play games pretty much every day I come to work,” Roberts said.
Roberts co-owns the independent game store Press Start to Play on Sherman Avenue. Even though he said it is “first and foremost a video game store,” the store’s purpose is not limited to that. The store currently hosts regular competitive game events for card games “Magic: The Gathering,” “Yu-Gi-Oh!” and “Dice Masters.” The store also sponsors video game tournaments for popular titles like “Super Smash Brothers” occasionally. Most competitive play occurs Friday through Monday as to not interfere with gaming events at other local stores like Strategy & Games and Hastings.
The store also hosts a weekly board game day on Sundays to attract gamers interested in a non-tournament setting. Roberts said when the store first opened, they charged people if they wanted to play games in the store. It quickly discontinued that policy.
“We got to the point where we just liked having people playing games in the store,” Roberts said.
Roberts said people are invited to try and play games in the store, though finding a time for a group to come together can sometimes be challenging. Regardless, both owners said they do not mind when people show up to play games.
“We put this place together to be able to have a place where people can come in from any kind of walk of life and be able to come in and play games if they want, whether that be board games, card games or video games–to a certain degree,” said Jon Kropff, the store’s co-owner.
The store’s current open large room layout testifies to this decision. When Press Start to Play originally opened, it featured a number of small, isolated rooms. The owners eventually tore down the interior walls in favor of a large open space that featured three long tables for gaming purposes.
“By opening it up, we have a lot more space for people to do whatever they want,” Roberts said.
Customers like Coeur d’Alene’s John Rivera soon began to take advantage of the available gaming space. He said he has fun playing games like “Magic: The Gathering” in the store.
Kropff said he wasn’t surprised people enjoy playing games in the store.
“We opened this place with a very specific goal in mind: Having a place where people can come play that’s not necessarily online where they could meet people face-to-face, maybe make some new friends. Stuff like that,” Kropff said. “That was important to us, and is still important to us. It’s always important to us. I think that is one of the things that sets us apart, not necessarily the philosophy of ‘come in, buy your stuff and get out.’ We’re happy to see people come in and hang out.”
And hang out they do. Sometimes that means one of the owners, Roberts in particular, ends up being an employee and game participant simultaneously. Despite the challenges that involves when the store’s crowded, Roberts said playing games with customers is the best part of the job.
“I try to play with as many people who want to play as possible,” Roberts said. “A lot of people may not be willing to learn something new or hang out with new people that they don’t know. They might be willing to do these things when learning a new game.”
“Tanner was one of the first people to teach me how to play Magic,” Rivera said. “He was really respectful and made it enjoyable.”
Customers often come to the store to play with Roberts or Kropff because their gaming skills are quite formidable, which isn’t surprising due to their encyclopedic knowledge and devotion to the topic.
“We always played games. It’s just something we’re into,” Kropff said. “As soon as I was able to work, my extra money always went to buying video games.”
Kropff said his video game collection continued to grow as he became older, particularly when he started working for GameStop in 1999. He ran a number of its local stores until 2010. In 2013, Kropff and Roberts opened Press Start to Play. Kropff’s video game collection became the store’s initial inventory, while Roberts provided the liquid assets that allowed the duo to forego procuring a loan to open their business.
Press Start to Play differs from the video game chain store GameStop by carrying games, consoles and supplies for every platform, not just the new ones. Because the local game store operates like a pawn shop, customers may trade in anything video game related for store credit or cash, be it an old copy of Atari’s “Pitfall!” or a Playstation 4 system. It also carries a collection of new board and card games, and allows vendors to sell popular and rare individual cards used in the games that are played competitively in-store.
“It’s the only store of its kind in the area,” said Mike Chesser, a friend of Roberts who frequented the store so often he now serves as a volunteer. “Jon and Tanner are just excellent in what they do. They’re fun to talk to and knowledgeable about the topic.”
Chesser said he still gets excited “seeing what new stuff has come in.” The store’s constantly revolving stock and gaming schedule, which is posted on a large calendar behind the display counter, seems to keep the store’s clientele excited about coming back. Press Start to Play also provide a gaming table stocked with most of their board game inventory so people can try before they buy, though people sometimes bring in their own games to play.
“One thing that we pride ourselves with is we are gamers, and we just are constantly innovating, trying to think of ways that we can do things that we know we would like if we were on the other end of the counter,” Roberts said. “I remember going to other game stores, and knowing that when I went there there would be people who would love to talk to me about what I’m into, and we try to be the same way.”
Their charm appears to be working. Kropff and Roberts said they get about two people a day asking for a job, but these applicants leave disappointed since the owners remain the business’s sole employees. They also said about half of the store’s customers revisit the store on a weekly basis.
“It’s crazy to think that we have at least 600 people who come in once a week,” Roberts said.
And who exactly are these people?
“When it comes to gamers, there’s not a typical gamer,” Kropff said. “You get people that are affluent, you get people that are not. You get people that are fun. You get people that are weird. Games are interesting because you generally get all types.”
Regardless of who the gamer is, Kropff said it was important to be welcoming to people and cater to everybody.
“Not everybody has a great life outside of the things that they enjoy doing, and being able to provide a place where people can kind of escape that for a little bit is important,” Kropff said. “It seems like it’s fun. I mean we got a great crowd of people who come in and do all kinds of stuff. I’m just looking forward to that continuing, I suppose.”