WILLIAMSTOWN – After a six-year run, Purple Dragon Games is closing its doors later this summer.
“I was ready to move on,” shop owner Niko White said in store Wednesday while taking a break from organizing an event for the Magic: The Gathering card game.
He plans to close in early September and hopes to move abroad to Tokyo, a city he fell in love with when he visited.
Running a small game store is precarious, he said. “Not having a large retirement plan or anything like that, and not being able to afford to gradually lose what I’ve invested in the store, I knew it was time to move on,” he wrote in an online message to customers about the closure.
White, who grew up in Williamstown and graduated from Williams College in 2004, opened the Spring Street Store in 2017. He previously worked at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge.
“Basically, I’ve always been a gamer,” he said. He remembers playing Magic: The Gathering as a kid and starting a Magic club in college.
He loves hosting events at his shop on a regular basis. Each week there is a board game night, a Dungeons & Dragons event and Magic Nights.
“The community is by far the best,” he said. “I wanted to have a gaming community and the most sensible way to support it is to sell games.”
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Regular customers like Steve Kurzban, a retired Williamstown resident who visits the game store weekly, were saddened by the news.
“It was a sanctuary,” Kurzban said, “a place where you felt like you were with like-minded people instead of feeling out of place. You were surrounded by games and gamers.”
Two years ago, Kurzban started a weekly board game event at the store, which has attracted a loyal following. They met 100 straight Wednesday nights every week, even through rain and snowstorms. “We formed a community,” he said.
Kurzban is looking for other places to host game night and is saddened to see Purple Dragon Games being cancelled. “In gamer parlance, a game store is known as FLGS, a friendly local game store. They’re a dying breed – it’s a very difficult model to monetize.”
Although White was willing to leave the store, he considered giving the store to someone else, but encountered financial hurdles. When his landlord, Williams College, considered the prospect of someone else taking over the store, he said he planned to change his rental structure.
Currently, White pays a percentage of its sales, capped at market rent, to lease the premises. White said he never sold nearly enough to pay market rent. “They made me a really good offer,” he said.
In the future, the college plans to amend the lease for the premises and charge at market rate, which would significantly increase the rent over what White has been paying to date.
“The college sometimes offers leases to help companies get started,” said Jim Reische, the college’s chief communications officer.
“We want a thriving Spring Street,” he said. “We also want to be careful that we are not the only landlord on Spring Street and do not create an imbalance or inequality in terms of business opportunities on the street.”
For White, the effective rent increase and the difficulty in making a profit from the game store would make it difficult to pass the business on to another owner.
“It’s hard to convey how little money is in this,” White said, adding that he didn’t pay himself minimum wage. Living with his parents helped him succeed, he said.
It’s virtually impossible for him to sell games for less than Amazon’s price and stay afloat, he said. A Dungeons & Dragons book he stocks, he buys it from a retailer for $34 and sells it for $50, while Amazon can sell it for $36, he said. Selling as a small shop as cheaply as Amazon, “that’s just not a way to pay the bills,” he said. It’s not specific to the game store, he said. “Every small retail business is becoming increasingly difficult.”
Through early September, the store will be discounting items to clear its inventory.
White does not view the closure as a failure. “It was a really valuable thing for me,” he said of his time running the store. “I really enjoyed it and we have a great crew and I will be sorry not to spend more time with them.”
Now he is looking forward to his time abroad. “It’s going to be a great adventure.”