Gamer Haven: The District Company triples the size of its kingdom
The movement to think and buy local is nothing new to gamers. “Support your local game store” is a phrase that has been passed around gamer culture for years. Gamers are the first to understand that having a friendly local game store at the center of their community benefits everyone from hardcore tournament players to parents teaching their kids Ticket to Ride to people just getting interested in the hobby. Unfortunately, the lifespans of these stores are often short-lived. Chippewa Valley favorites like Legendary and Nomad have departed, and as interest in gaming gains steam in the mainstream culture, demand for easy access to the hobby is ever-increasing.
“The choice was between a traditional gamer space and the opportunity to create something no one else was offering.” – Tim Sexton, owner of the District Company
Rising to meet the challenge, The District Company of downtown Eau Claire stands where others have left the field. A favorite game store for many Eau Claire gamers, it has bucked the national trend. In early July The District Company moved from 305 S. Barstow St. to 315 Graham Ave. and tripled in size. As an avid gamer (I’ve had many a year behind the Dungeon Master’s screen) and frequent game store visitor, I had to learn more. What I found inside the former JAMF office was a pretty new and unique take on the conventional gaming store idea.
“The District Company aims to create a safe, sober, and inclusive gaming environment,” owner Tim Sexton explained as we walked in. I could easily tell what he was driving at. The first floor features a large retail space, a kids room with activities for toddlers and families, a console gaming room that can be rented for birthdays and parties, and a video game arcade center filled with crowd favorites like 2v2 Ms. Pac-Man and Mortal Kombat. A new, and surprising addition to the local game store idea is a full-service kitchen. The District Company will serve a menu of familiar, “state fair-style” food – including onion rings, French fries, curds, burgers, and more. “Offering food was a natural progression of our business, and an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” Sexton said when asked about the development. The cafe seating also includes a soda bar that offers a wide variety of suds, including French and Italian style sodas, mixed up fresh by a soda jerk. The District Company intends to have the full food service rolled out by the end of July so they can start serving up all sorts of filling fare to hungry gamers.
But if you’ve come for competitive play and to tangle with the best, the District has got you covered. Head up the grand staircase and into their competitive play area, a space that – on its own – is larger than the entire former Barstow Street location. Two side rooms can be reserved for meetings, Dungeons & Dragons games, and other needs. The entire space is bright, friendly, and welcoming to experienced dice-rollers, card slingers, and miniature maneuverers as well as the barely initiated who are just looking to get into the hobby.
So how did we get here? Sexton describes The District Company’s Dewey Street origins (the current site of Red’s Mercantile), as an entrepreneurial, co-working, think tank cafe. In an effort to find the District’s identity, they tried several different weekly activities, one of which was a gaming night. It didn’t take Sexton long to realize that providing an outlet for gaming was feeding a hunger in Eau Claire. As the magic gathered and attendance grew, Sexton knew the District Company would need more space, and a move was in order.
The District Company’s Barstow location clearly aimed to put the “friendly” in “friendly local game store,” and its inclusive, welcoming atmosphere began to attract families and gaming novices as well as the traditional gamer clientele. But before long, Sexton realized that history was repeating itself. The ever-popular Magic The Gathering card game and miniature tournaments had become an essential part of the store’s offering, but they quickly filled up the entire store during game time, making it difficult to provide the inclusive gaming experience Sexton sought to create. If the District Company was going to continue to pursue that welcoming environment, another move was in order.
“The choice was between a traditional gamerspace and the opportunity to create something no one else was offering,” Sexton said. “The relocation and expansion allows us to continue providing that inclusive space to Eau Claire.”
The future for The District Company spreads beyond the expansion. Sexton has developed Gamergy, which he describes as a healthy, caffeine-free alternative energy drink for gamers. The four colorful flavors – Binary Blue, Purple Nurple, Red Alert, and Epic Green – are distributed nationally from Eau Claire. Marc Sultan, a recent addition to the team, has also opened a seasonally operated branch of The District Company on Menomonie’s Main Street.
Local game stores rise and fall across the country, but The District Company and its innovations on the traditional game store model are creating a welcoming, inclusive, and clearly successful space for everyone interested in gaming. It is poised it to be Eau Claire’s distinct friendly local game store, and a key fixture in the Chippewa Valley gaming community.
The District Company • 315 Graham Ave., Eau Claire • (715) 598-1706 • facebook.com/jointhedistrict/