By Steven Brasley and Hayleigh Gowans
After being in Ithaca for seven years, Providence Hobbies, a gaming, hobby and comic book store, is closing its doors on November 20th, but two employees of the store are hoping to keep its spirit alive in the community.
Providence Hobbies started as a small store on State St., said Jeffrey Witty, the store’s owner and founder. After the economic downturn in 2008, the store moved to its current location, 631 West Buffalo St.
One of the biggest draws to the store during its time in operation was its weekly tournaments and meet-ups to play tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering, Witty said. On average, 20 to 30 people gather for each Friday Night Magic event.
Building a community through these games was an initial goal for the store, and Witty said he accomplished that.
“We’ve gotten kids off the street and doing something constructive with each other,” he added.
The store has been very important to Ithaca gamers since it opened in 2005, said Margaret Hinsvark and David Jones, two managers at Providence Hobbies.
“The gaming community we see here every week, it’s massive,” Hinsvark said.
That massive community might be moving to a new venue soon.
Hinsvark and Jones are hoping to start a new hobby store in Ithaca similar to Providence Hobbies. They created a page on Indiegogo.com asking for donations to help fund their store, to be named “The Dragon’s Den.” It will operate similarly to Providence Hobbies, including hosting weekly game meet-ups and tournaments.
“It’s been really great that we’ve gotten that much attention in the two days since we put [the Indiegogo page] up,” Jones said. “The community that we have here really backs me and Margaret taking over.”
Celia Pearce, professor of digital media at Georgia Tech and author of Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds, said that having shops that offer events like the ones The Dragon’s Den plans to host are important to build the community of gaming in an area.
“If people are really interested in something, they want to share that interest with other people, that’s really the core,” Pearce said. “Communities are very organic and emerging and it’s really important to pay attention and be responsive to what is going on.
Comics for Collectors is a similar hobby store in Ithaca that sells comic books as well as tabletop games. The business has been in the area for more than 30 years. Tim Gray, owner of Comics for Collectors, said he believes that starting a business like this in Ithaca is tricky.
“Population is too small, rents are too high,” Gray said. “A lot of the customer base is college, but they’re here for academics, so they don’t have the time. Even though you think you’re going to have a lot of business through the colleges, you’re not going to have it.”
A good portion of start-up money, Gray explained, is needed for owners to succeed until the store starts picking up business in order for them to be able to continue.
Joseph McCheyne, a resident of Interlaken, said that he has been coming to Providence Hobbies for over 10 years, since he was a young teenager.
“I’m sad to see it closing. I understand Jeff wants to retire,” McCheyne said. “You see all the younger kids that come here and play, and it’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing. There’s definitely worse things they could be doing.”