Tinker and Smithy: More than a game store

Walk in to Tinker and Smithy Game Store, recently relocated from Creek Road to Main Street in Middlebury, and you’ll find, well — games. Hundreds of them. Big games, little games, board games, card games, strange games, familiar games, games in boxes and opened games, spread about the shops on various tables. 
While the store sells traditional board games familiar to gamers older than, say, 15 — Sorry, Monopoly, Risk — a resurgence of gaming culture has given rise to an entirely new diversity of board games. Tinker and Smithy doesn’t sell video games, computer games, or any other games that require a screen, but owner Scott Gemignani sounds off a slogan that anyone with a smartphone will recognize: “There’s a game for that.”
“You like trains?” he says. “We’ve got a game for that. If you want to play a card game that’s based off of a 1980s 8-byte graphic Nintendo game, we have a game for that. (Game makers) are trying to touch on every genre of pop culture, and every genre of interest. You want to be a 1950s oil baron? We have a game for that. The sky is the limit.”
Tinker and Smithy has about 300 games for sale, but 250 of those games are available to play for free.
“We want people to be able to come in, sit down, bring their meal if they want, and play as much as they want. Thus far, people have responded quite positively to that. We’ve also seen folks who normally would not consider themselves into board games at all. They have come in and experienced this, and now they’re regulars here.”
And the store isn’t only seeing new types of people — they’re seeing more people than ever before. A week and a half after Gemignani and his wife and co-owner, Rebecca, moved to the storefront on Main Street in early spring, they had already seen more foot traffic than the entire last month at their Creek Road location.
“On Creek Road, we were very much a destination location. You had to know about us, and you had to be willing to drive there,” he said. “A number of people who lived just down the street from the Creek Road location had never heard of us before. They had driven past the store a multitude of times, and they had never noticed it. So that’s primarily what’s changed. Our physical visibility.”
With that new visibility, the store has been able to expand its programs. Gamers can participate in leagues, which involve paying a small fee, and free events are often held for youngsters. Most recently, Tinker and Smithy has partnered with a nearby eatery — The Lobby — which hosts a restaurant game night, enabling gamers and diners to eat and drink while playing favorites like Cards Against Humanity, Settlers of Catan, chess and dominoes.
The store’s packed calendar of events has it staying open until 10 p.m. each evening, and sometimes, on Tuesday and Friday nights, until midnight or later. And when a new set of Magic the Gathering cards — a popular game that has won the hearts of 50 million gamers worldwide — are produced, Tinker and Smithy has a 72-hour prerelease event that starts on Friday at midnight and lasts until 2 or 3 a.m. on Sunday.
While those events are great for sales, Gemignani admits that they can be exhausting. But he knows that staying open late is necessary if the store wants to truly open its doors to the community. That comes first, he said — acting as a community center.
“One thing that was incredibly important to me when I was growing up was having a place to go to explore these different concepts — games, ideas,” he said. “Parents can bring their children here and feel safe if they want to leave, or if they want to hang out, (they can stay). The most important thing is that those who are underserved by our community and our state and our government, they have something that they can do that’s stress free, that’s safe, that they don’t have to pay for.”
Though he acknowledges it might be a slow business model, it’s working. Gemignani was recently able to hire his first employee, and he has plans that will help Tinker and Smithy grow, including online sales, hiring a few more employees, and maybe even buying his own building where he can install a bowling lane or foosball tables. 
As for the immediate future, while the hectic demand of the new location begins to subside, Gemignani plans to rest.
“There are a lot of sacrifices you have to make, primarily based on time,” he said. “It’s difficult. It takes three to five years for a business to become solvent, off-credit, and secure and stable, so they tell us. We’ve managed to do that in two. Now it’s time to go home and actually get to spend time with my dogs and my cats and my kids and my wife, and play games there.”

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