AMHERST — A store that has brought together youngsters, college students and postgraduates in role-playing games, board games and card games several days a week, will soon be closing.
The imminent end for Worlds Apart Games, which opened in March 2008 in the basement of the Tucker Taft Building at 48 North Pleasant St., is prompting several local parents to organize Save Amherst’s Downtown Gaming.
Michael White of Amherst, one of the parents, said in an email that the effort is focused on a replacement for the spirit of the place, though it won’t be an exact replica of what has existed.
“We would love to replace it with something a bit more broad-based, like with additional emphasis on chess, classes and events,” White said.
White added that there are a lack of places for younger people that provide a supervised, no-alcohol option that extend from afternoon until late at night.
Member-owned and operated and run by The Pioneer Valley Gamer Collective, members make either monetary or labor contributions for access to the numerous board games.
But facing an increasing debt load, and a decision on whether to renew the store’s lease at the end of the month, members decided to close up shop.
The store has featured gaming competitions and tournaments and opportunities for teens to hang out and get mentored in the finer details of Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder and Magic: The Gathering.
“It’s been in the area for almost 10 years, and it’s always been a good environment for people to play board games and card games,” said Stephen Bene, a member and volunteer who was working the checkout counter one recent afternoon. “It’s a fun little way to express yourself.”
Bene said many teens love coming by because they can interact with college students who serve as mentors and offer advice. There are also those affectionately known as “hangers-on,” like himself, who came to study at UMass and continue to be part of the gaming community.
“We get high schoolers coming in to learn about board games and Magic: The Gathering,” Bene said.
Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game, played by two or more players, each using a deck of printed cards. Each game represents a battle between powerful wizards who use the magical spells, items, and creatures depicted on individual Magic cards to defeat their opponents.
Robert LaPointe, a junior at UMass, was in the store Monday evening, where he looked through several thousand Magic cards and purchased several to add to his collection.
LaPointe lamented that he had only recently learned about the store, and had been looking forward to being part of more game nights.
“I had wanted a place close by, just for the convenience,” Lapointe said.
Everyone involved at Worlds Apart, Bene said, is a gamer, which means each person can offer insights into how various games are played.
Bene said the store has been a great place for role-playing games, and on a busy evening there can be a crowd of people at several tables, each playing a different game.
“When there’s a big Magic event, there’s more than 30 people,” Bene said.
Bene said one of Worlds Apart’s major contributions has been the boost in what are known as Magic judges, the people who can oversee and serve the local gaming community during these competitions.
“It’s nice to be able to hold big Magic events, but setting them up isn’t cheap,” Bene said.
Two similar venues for gamers remain in the Amherst area, both in Hadley, with X9 Games at Hampshire Mall and Off the Wall Games at the Hampton Inn Shops. Farther away, there is Greenfield Games.
“The Valley’s been blessed so far,” Bene said.
White said the only problem with Worlds Apart is that it became a store mostly for regulars, rather than a gathering place for high schoolers who might be looking for a place to drop in.
One of the financial challenges occurred when UMass and the colleges were on break, such as during summer, and sales of games plummeted.
The store’s location in a basement, rather than being on the main level, also meant it was less likely to draw in new customers.
White said any new store will need a broader focus.
“It seems likely that any replacement would have to be partially funded by events for older residents, people interested in game nights or tournaments, and also broadening to class-like programs for littler kids,” White said.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.