by Theodore Tollefson One of the newest go-to destinations that has joined the downtown Hastings business scenes in the past two years is Level Up Games. Level Up Games opened in June 2019 and can be …
by Theodore Tollefson One of the newest go-to destinations that has joined the downtown Hastings business scenes in the past two years is Level Up Games. Level Up Games opened in June 2019 and can be described by many people as a gamer’s paradise.
This gamer’s paradise doesn’t apply to one genre of gamer culture, but all, whether it’s video games, board games, Dungeons and Dragons, or card games such as Magic the Gathering. For owners Ben Ubl and Pete Maccaroni, their main goal is to make Level Up Games a safe and welcoming place for all gamers to gather and connect with each other since they had taken ownership of Level Up in November of 2019.
“We were able to allocate and dig into all the different categories of the story and all the things that we really love, and then build on the community that’s already here,” said Ubl. “So for gaming, and D& D, and Magic there’s all these different little communities everybody likes. We just like to build around them.”
Many of these communities have been able to have dedicated event nights for themselves at Level Up Games. For example, on Saturday afternoon’s, people can bring their old TV sets in from the early 2000’s along with their Nintendo GameCubes to face off against each other in the classic 2001 Super Smash Bros Melee. Or on Wednesday nights, patrons can come in for open board game night to play any of their favorite board games against their current friends or new ones they make at the events.
As Level Up continues their current themed events, they hope to add more in the coming months as Maccaroni shared, “It’s called Midnight Board Meeting. So we keep the store open for people who are members. It’s a loose term, it’s basically anybody that wants to play and we’ll play games until two o’clock in the morning.We’ve got a Ticket to Ride tournament that’s coming up. It’s a five dollar entry, everybody gets a prize, but the top players will receive a copy of a deluxe edition. We’re trying to incentivize people to move in to play that way. Then the last one is Ladies Night. Level Up Ladies Night. Just a night for the ladies to play the games they like in the store to themselves. “
Organizing all these events for Level Up Games is employee Kay King, who is a gaming enthusiast that has enjoyed bringing people together for all types of events at Level Up. Kay was unavailable for comment for this story.
In November, Ubl and Maccaroni will be celebrating two full years of ownership and they continue to find ways to develop the space of Level Up into something of their own. Ubl is a wood worker in his spare time. Almost all the wood furnishing that customers can come across at Level Up was made by Ubl himself. The adaptation and development of changes at Level Up, whether it’s use of space or products available on shelves, comes down to what people enjoy.
“We just see what people like and you see where people, the whole point of this place is to have like a safe place to go hang out, to be and play games. So you just keep trying to make that work so that it’s cozier, more comfortable, safe for everybody to just be and play,” said Ubl.
Like every business, Level Up dealt with its share of challenges over the past year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately for Ubl and Maccaroni, they were able to keep paying their employees at the start of the pandemic while everyone was at home during the lockdown and none of their employees faced payment shortages. Level Up employees were also able to work from home and help coordinate finding products online for customers as well as research on how to expand the store once they were back from lockdown.
“We were very proud of the fact that before there were PPP loans, we paid everyone to stay home. The team was very insightful in understanding what was coming up. We were able to do online sales when we were completely shut down. Basically we had two months of just ten percent of our normal sales. We just weren’t able to operate at 100% for well over a year and we’re finally getting back to it,” said Maccaroni.
The main thing that kept Level Up going throughout the pandemic was customer and community support. As Maccaroni shared, “There were lots of people who were shopping with us, just because they wanted us to stick around. I mean it was really inconvenient to say the least for the customer but they were still shopping with us, just to give us something. I remember getting letters in the mail, it would just be like a $20 bill in the mail and it wasn’t about the money. It was that people really cared about what we were doing.”
With business now returning to normal for Level Up Games, they still face tough business competition that many other industries face these days thanks to the internet; convenience shopping. Although convenience shopping online isn’t a unique competition to Level Up, a lot of their products can still be found online quicker thanks to online shopping services such as Amazon or eBay. But the in person shopping experience and environment that Level Up provides customers gives Ubl and Maccaroni hope people will continue to come in.
“That’s the thing, anybody can just go on Amazon and click a button and grab their game like Ticket to Ride. It’s easy. And that’s what we’re up against right now. Luckily, everything shipping takes forever. So it’s easier for them to come in and just grab it. So we’re in a better place now,” said Ubl.
“Not even in a pandemic time coming to shop here is going out of people’s way, because you can click it and have something delivered to your door, sometimes the same day. We offer places for people to play and we pay taxes in our community. Our customers have recognized that. They’ve done that on their own and that means a lot,” said Maccaroni.
Being an owner at Level Up Games is a rewarding experience for both Ubl and Maccaroni as they are able to have great experiences going into work every day as they shared.
“I was on the phone with a distributor at my house, and I was ordering something. And my wife was in the other room. And all she heard me say was you know what, just add more dragons to that order. And then when she told me that story, it sort of allowed me to understand what it is that we’re doing, and it’s basically you know, I spent a lot of time in stores like this my whole life. And it really is something special to be able to be a part of the community and have, you know, some level of control of what we’re putting into that community. It’s really neat,” said Maccaroni.
“Our job is literally games. You get to go to work where everybody else is a nerd. That’s a good place to be like that’s a really good place to be. It’s the best job in the world,” said Ubl.