An important hangout spot for nerds and game hobbyists in uptown Athens – the Wizard’s Guild, located on West Washington Street – closed its doors for good over the weekend.
Owner Audrey Kisilewicz said that unfortunately the business has not been “profitable,” and hasn’t been for a long time. The store sold comic books, board games, tabletop games (e.g., Dungeons and Dragons) and trading cards (e.g., Magic the Gathering). It also held frequent community events, including release events for Magic the Gathering, and regular tabletop gaming nights.
The Guild, located at 19 W. Washington St. (between Donkey Coffee and Restaurant Salaam), will now be vacant, and it’s not clear what kind of new business will go into that location.
Building owner Frank Fugate said Sunday that he’s open to hearing pitches from businesses interested in leasing the space (those interested should contact Russell Chamberlain at the Athens Real Estate Company).
Fugate said he was “really sorry” to see the Wizard’s Guild go. He noted that the storefront on West Washington has been a comic shop for years under three different owners.
Kisilewicz said that she’s proud of the shop’s efforts to try to make the “nerd” culture around board games, tabletop gaming and comic books more friendly and accessible for women, LGBTQ+ people and people of color.
“We have tried so hard to get away from the classic image of the comic shop as a white-men-only space… because comics are getting so much more diverse, games are getting so much more diverse,” Kisilewicz said. “It’s been really important to us to include everyone because I am a woman, and I have not always felt 100 percent welcome in gaming spaces.”
For example, Kisilewicz said the shop regularly hosted LGBTQ+-friendly sessions of the tabletop game Dungeons and Dragons. The glass storefront also displayed the message, in rainbow lettering, “whoever you are, wherever you’re from, let’s have fun.”
Kisilewicz said that while the store didn’t work out for her and her two employees, she said she thinks there’s still room for a game shop close to uptown Athens. She bought the business from Athens County Municipal Judge Todd Grace, and she noted that even at that time, the business was not earning profits.
That may be partly because people in the area don’t have a lot of money to spend on hobbies and games, she speculated. The shop also had issues with its comic distributor, and Kisilewicz said she has significant medical bills that she needs to pay off, so she “needed the store to be profitable.”
Nationally, comic books are seeing a resurgence in popularity with the prominence of Marvel movie franchises such as “The Avengers” and “Thor,” and tabletop gaming is enjoying its own renaissance. But that cultural shift didn’t translate into success for the Wizard’s Guild.
Meanwhile, Athens still has at least one comic book/tabletop game store – Phoenix Nest Games at 540 W. Union St. in Athens, which Kisilewicz said her store had good relations with.
“There’s the possibility that someone else could make it work near uptown Athens, (because) it’s an easy walk for students… even if it didn’t work out for us,” she said.
Kiselewicz said that she’ll still be around in Athens despite the store closing. If anyone wants help planning or finding a space for Magic the Gathering or tabletop gaming events, they can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.