In the lower level of the Centre Square Shopping Mall, tucked away amid empty retail spaces is a bustling hub of gaming activity known as the Ogre’s Lair.
At first glace the store looks a little chaotic with every square inch of wall and window space tightly packed with a wide variety of colourful board games, gaming miniatures, card games and model painting supplies. But, every piece of merchandise has carefully been put into place by the sole employee and owner, James Croizier.
He’s been running this game shop himself seven days a week – with the odd break – for roughly 15 years and what he offers here is more than just a shop for buying games.
A “mini-mall within the mall,” Croizier’s unique store offers a place where people can not only buy the board games or card games they want to play, but also a place to play them in.
“Any mall is trying to sell people a small vacation from every day life,” he said. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do within my store.”
Without an actual space where enthusiasts can meet up, play and talk shop gaming communities have a hard time existing at all.
“Any gaming community needs a brick and mortar store,” said Crozier. “Anyone who can remember how they started to enjoy any particular game or hobby, can link it back to a time of being in a game store. A good game store is like a clubhouse.”
Born in Fort Smith and spending most of his life in the North, Croizier realized early on that gaming was a positive alternative to getting involved in drugs an alcohol, something he says can devastate lives in the North.
“Really, gaming kept me out of trouble when I was growing up,” he said. “You need hobbies here. It’s too easy to get isolated and fall into bad patterns.”
Regularly, over a dozen people at a time come to Ogre’s Lair to take part in Magic: The Gathering card game events or a variety of miniature game tournaments like Blood Bowl or Warhammer. These events often draw in enough people that seating spills out onto tables in the mall’s lower foyer.
Croizier doesn’t charge people to come and use the space in his store. As long as there’s an open table people are free to come and game, browse the store and socialize.
“When people walk by and see people having fun, it’s inviting,” said Crozier. “It’s casual enough that people can come in and browse and watch a game and pick up something new, but I’ve diversified my product lines enough that you can find just about anything you need.”
Keeping a wide range of products is partly what he credits with keeping his doors open.
“This is really like several stores in one,” he said. “Down south there would be separate shops for miniatures, one for board games, maybe another for card games and venue to play.”
According to Croizier this is essential for retail to survive in the modern world of online shopping and cheaper travel to the south.
But it isn’t the paychecks that keep Croizier opening his doors every day of the week, it’s more the satisfaction of running his own business.
Starting with just $5,000 for start up, he left his job working with proprietary computer systems with the government to start something that would give him more satisfaction.
“I wanted something different,” said Croizier. “I get be my own boss, make my own hours and there’s a lot of individual freedom. When you’re self employed, the buck stops with you.”
Even beyond owning his own business, having satisfied customers and a thriving community is what does it for Croizier.
“What’s special about this store is, a good day is when people come in and have fun,” he said. “That to me is more important, if it was a monetary thing it would probably wear you down eventually.”