If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
That’s how the saying goes, and Karl Myhre said it’s true.
Well, kind of.
Myhre is the owner of Strategy & Games, a gaming shop that’s been located in the Silver Lake Mall for 12 years. He earned a degree in small business management with the goal of running a store just like the one he owns today.
Once upon a time, Strategy & Games hosted weekly events in its 3,000 feet of play space — card game tournaments, tabletop gaming, miniature painting and more.
But that was before COVID-19.
Wizards of the Coast — the company that produces the popular card game Magic: The Gathering — has canceled all in-person events through at least Oct. 25 due to the coronavirus, including competitive tournaments. These events would normally draw a crowd to Strategy & Games.
Though Myhre has hosted a few private family events at the shop, coronavirus restrictions prevented larger gatherings.
“It’s hard to invite people from Montana and Washington for a tournament and keep everyone five feet apart,” he said.
Some customers are asking for tournaments to begin again — but at this stage, Myhre said, it’s not worth the risk. Some in-person gaming has resumed, mostly small groups of five or fewer people who play games like Dungeons & Dragons on a weekly basis.
Myhre cut the shop’s play space almost in half in order to expand the retail space, where board games, miniatures, paints and more are displayed. The spike in puzzle sales during lockdown wasn’t a shock — but Myhre was surprised by how long it lasted.
“I figured after everybody sat at home for 30 days, they wouldn’t want to do another puzzle,” he said.
Not all shops were positioned to make the same move, however.
Located at 2946 N. Government Way in Coeur d’Alene, The Mana Pool is primarily a space for Magic: The Gathering. Co-owner Rex Long estimates about half the shop’s normal sales are generated from in-person events.
“If someone’s not doing well with their deck, they’ll walk out and look at cards in the case to improve their deck,” Long said.
While the physical store was closed, online sales were sluggish.
“We were losing money per item,” he said.
Over the course of three months, The Mana Pool’s sales dropped to an eighth of what they were before COVID-19 shut down Idaho.
As the state moved through the stages of Gov. Brad Little’s Idaho Rebounds plan for reopening, however, some regular customers have been able to return. The shop can allow in-person gaming, provided the number of players are limited and physical distancing is maintained.
“The three months we were all but shut down were brutal, but being in Idaho has helped,” Long said, referring to Idaho’s comparatively loose COVID-19 restrictions.
Customers are coming from Washington, he noted, where measures to slow the spread of the virus are stricter.
Acquiring product has proved challenging for both shops. Supply lines were disrupted, shipments are delayed — and when they do arrive, they often contain fewer items than were originally ordered.
“We get emails saying it’s due to COVID,” Long said. “Our distributors say they don’t know, and they don’t know when they will know. It’s frustrating.”
Myhre said orders he placed in March still haven’t arrived. He’s sifting through products that were announced in the spring to see which ones actually made it to production.
“It’s affected how we do business,” he said.
Forecasting for the holiday season is a challenge this year. December sales are usually double that of a normal month for Strategy & Games, but in 2020, t’s hard to know what to expect.
“That dart board is a lot bigger than normal,” he said.
The Mana Pool, meanwhile, is focused on maintaining its presence as a community space. The shop is normally a place where people can gather and share in their hobbies.
COVID-19 made sharing a physical space impossible, and then a careful balancing act. But Long said he and his co-owner, JJ Conrad, are committed to their customers, who have showed support during challenging times.
“Our hopes are the same as everybody else — that this gets better before it gets worse,” Long said. “Until then, we’re just trying to survive.”