Phoenix Games to close

Metro-area gamers will lose a favorite hangout when store moves online at the end of August

CARAG — As the dramatic soundtrack to the movie “Lord of the Rings” played in the background, an army of wood elves battled an onslaught of undead creatures July 26 in Uptown.

It was a scene of mass killing and carnage.

It was a typical Thursday night at Phoenix Games.

The board game, metal miniature and model shop at 901 W. Lake Street is a hangout for local and metro-area game enthusiasts. Some come to paint figurines, others to play games such as the tabletop war game Warhammer, which pitted the elves and undead against each other that night.

(To view a slide show on the closing of Phoenix Games, click here.)

But the store’s days are numbered. Phoenix Games will continue to do business online, but its physical location will close at the end of August, forcing its patrons to find another spot to continue their pastime.

Owner Neil Cauley said the growing cost of doing business in the area combined with the assessments for Lake Street construction and a slow gaming industry contributed to the closing.

“When we opened up here 20 years ago, Lake Street was a very inexpensive place to run a business, and as the area has gone upscale and become gentrified, the taxes have been continually going up and also the insurance and everything related to rising business costs have also gone up,” Cauley said. “The final straw was the assessments from the construction, which were for us as a tenant, too much for us to pay.”

Phoenix Games “rose from the ashes” of an Uptown gaming store called Little Tin Soldier that went out of business in the mid-1980s, Cauley said. It has enjoyed a loyal following ever since, attracting patrons young and old.

Cauley, 49, said he has been into board games, role-playing and other parts of the hobby since he was a kid and often plays with gamers older than himself.

“As long as you’re able to get around, you can always find someone to game with,” Cauley said.

Allowing patrons to game in-store is normal at several game shops in the metro area, but everyone has their favorite place and each store forms its own community.

Carl Hotchkiss, co-owner of Village Games in Anoka, said he frequented Phoenix Games in his younger years and was sad to see it go. Hotchkiss, 45, said the store’s closing is tough on the entire industry because a small percentage of gamers are lost whenever a shop closes.

“Some won’t have any other place to go,” he said.

Some gamers, such as Travis Allen, 27, of South Minneapolis, said they don’t plan to buy from Phoenix Games online because brick-and-mortar stores are an important part of the hobby and should be supported.

But for now, Phoenix Games is still busy with diehard gamers who have made the store their spot.

The store has several large tables lined end-to-end for anyone who wants to play a game, paint, construct a model or hang out. A long center island stores about 50 4’x6’ landscape mock-ups created by employees that are used for war games. Players of the war games bring their own meticulously hand-painted armies of miniature figures that make movements based on player strategy and dice rolls.

Gamers can play during store hours, but some of the most intense gaming happens when the doors close at 7 p.m. on Thursdays, especially during the winter months. Gamers bring soda, energy drinks, milk or whatever is needed to get them through the night and play for hours, sometimes into the early morning.

Most of the evening players are guys in their 20s and 30s. Many are married and some have children, but they always try to be at Phoenix Games on Thursday.

“Rather than, you know, a lot of people go to the bars or play sports or something like that, I do this to spend time with friends,” said Ted Naleid, 34, of Eden Prairie.

Naleid’s army of beast men was taking on an army of skeletonized ancient Egyptians created by Adam Sammon, 35, of Fridley on July 26 at Phoenix Games. The friends said they’d be coming to the store every Thursday until they couldn’t anymore. They were unsure where they would go at the end of the month. No other nearby store is comparable, Naleid said.

“None of them are as good as this,” he said. “There’s like 10 tables here and we’ve done huge mega battles with 15–20 people on a side down here and there’s not the room to do that anywhere else in the city, so I’m hoping that someone steps up and opens a place that’s like this.”

Chris Broeska, 32, who lives in Southwest and was painting some figures called “iron guts” near Naleid and Sammon’s game, was also uncertain about where he would go when Phoenix Games closes.

“I don’t know, it’s actually quite an upsetting topic,” he said.

Broeska said he goes to the store a couple times a week to take a break from his job as a medical 3D animator and hang out with the “bunch of jerks” he calls friends.

Carlos Patillo, 44, of St. Paul, who was painting figures a table down from Broeska, is among several club members who regularly use the Phoenix Games space. He said losing the store is like losing the clubhouse, but he’s optimistic about finding a new location.

“I have a feeling that because there’s such a big, strong community in this area for this, that we’ll have another hobby shop showing up sometime,” he said.

Longtime Phoenix Games employee and gamer John Redmann, 43, said he is trying to open another shop by September in South Minneapolis. He said he couldn’t share any details yet.

Until then, a peek through Phoenix Games windows on a Thursday night will likely reveal epic battles being fought by the likes of Allen, whose wood elves waged war against the undead army of Phoenix Games employee Eric Hagen, 37.

“It’s made it very enjoyable to both work here and provide a place to game,” Cauley said. “I’ll be sorry not to see and speak to everyone personally anymore, but if they have any needs, I’ll try to help them out. It’s been fun.”

Phoenix Games can be found online at www.phoenixgamesonline.com.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.