A Grand Forks game shop is looking at having to close its doors as customers continue to shift to making purchases online. The all-but-certain closure could leave the owners stuck paying the lease for the next two years.
Broken Sentry Games at 1375 S. Columbia Road Suite B, opened in Grand Forks in October 2016. The shop carries a variety of games, from family-friendly games to board games, dice games, card games and role-playing games. The shop also has games available for rent, and tables are set up in the back for gamers to play in the shop. The group of owners found last year that after a strong start, business was not improving.
“Well, I'm a math guy, so as the numbers sit right now, I don't see how we make it past February,” said part-owner James May.
The owners of the shop, May, his wife Jennifer, Nathan Ellis and James Kelling, are preparing for the worst case scenario -- that they will have to close their doors, while still paying the lease.
“I'll have to move home and then probably come February we will start doing sales, selling off inventory, because we're stuck in the lease until somebody takes over the space,” May said.
He said the lease runs until October 2022, and the owners are responsible for the $3,000 monthly payment.
Jon Strinden, president of Fargo-based Edgewood Real Estate Investment Trust and Edgewood Properties Management LLC, said even if a business closes, lease holders must meet the requirements of the contract.
“There is still a legal obligation, yes,” Strinden told the Herald over the phone.
Strinden said his company seldom has tenants that struggle financially, but when it does happen, they try to work with the tenant. Some possibilities include a reduction or a deferment of lease payments, though the potential for future success of the business is important.
“We'll do that when we think that long term, the business is viable,” Strinden said. “But the upshot is we always want to work with the tenant.”
The future success of Broken Sentry is in doubt, however, with several game stores nationwide closing recently, according to May.
“The other day there was a guy in Georgia or Kentucky who had been open for 35 years, and he was like, ‘It’s not happening. Closing up,’” May said.
Ellis said the combination of high rent and a low customer base has hit the shop hard, despite the owners’ attempts to advertise through different mediums.
“We've spent $4,000 or $5,000 in advertising, it doesn't help get people through the door,” Ellis said. “We’ve tried a little bit of everything.”
People who play role-playing games tend to buy a book a month, according to Ellis, but that is not enough to sustain the store.
“We need the new customers, and I hate to say it this way, but (we need) the soccer moms to come in and buy Christmas gifts and birthday gifts and the games for stuff,” Ellis said. “We don't know how to advertise to them.”
A prime driver in the reduction of the shop’s customers is what May calls a culture of convenience.
“Let’s be honest, I could buy my toilet paper locally, but Amazon drops that stuff off once a month and I don’t have to do anything," he said.
With the closure of Broken Sentry likely, the owners have started a push to raise as much money as possible in the event they need to continue to pay the lease, a move that May calls a “plan for the worst hope for the best scenario.”
“So making sure we've got the $72,000 just lying around, which is what that final push in sales is, is get a bank roll where we have that kind of option,” he said.
May said he has not given up on the store, though he admits the prospects aren’t good.
“Stranger things have happened,” he said. “Miracles happen all the time.”