Few things can tell a community’s story better than its business residents’ insights. This is why we created the “Why Midlothian?” series.
In this series, Midlothian companies share their experiences, observations and impressions about why Midlothian has proven a great fit for their business needs. We hope their stories will inspire you to consider how you can make something great with us in Midlothian.
A Conversation With … Ryan Stewart, Owner, Games Unplugged, Midlothian, TX
Pokemon. Deception. Codename. Ticket to Ride. One Night Werewolf. Catan. Love Letter. Munchkin.
For die-hard game lovers, these names are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to options for fun. Gaming fun. And not the electronic kind.
Born and raised in Midlothian, Ryan Stewart has always been drawn to board games. Risk — among other board games— strategizing, and whimsical miniature figurines filled much of the time he and his family and friends spent together when he was growing up.
With no retail gaming outlets close by at that time, Stewart often visited gaming shops in Arlington and Grapevine to indulge his craving for tabletop gaming, social interaction and friendly off-line competition.
Fast-forward to 2016. With the closing of an area Hastings Entertainment store, a favored haven for local gamers, Stewart saw a perfect opportunity to develop an idea he had long pondered: a gaming store of his own.
Driven to create a destination for like-minded gaming enthusiasts to meet, partake in gaming tournaments, and enjoy some face-to-face interaction, Stewart opened Games Unplugged in Midlothian in April 2016. He moved Games Unplugged to a larger Midlothian location in January 2017, and has enjoyed a steady stream of eager gamers of all ages since opening doors.
Currently, board game cafes are a hot trend globally. From Galveston, Texas and Beijing to Toronto and Melbourne — and myriad places in between — board game cafes are all the rage.
Whether this board game renaissance is fueled by nostalgia or simply a desire to trade screen time for face time, this trend is gaining momentum.
Stewart’s store embraces the same principles underscoring gaming cafes around the world: meet people, play games, have fun. Toss in some drinks and snacks for good measure.
It’s truly that simple. And it works.
Games Unplugged is open seven days a week and offers some type of organized play event every night of the week. At any given moment during the store’s operating hours, Games Unplugged is likely to have a mixed gathering of gaming aficionados engaged in cooperative board games, calculated thought and colorful conversation.
Stewart says his patrons range in age from 4 years old to over 80 years young. He’s even had people who are visiting the area from out of state discover his store and stop in for a gaming break.
Against a backdrop of striking pop culture artwork created by one of Stewart’s sisters, iconic mural subjects, shelves of games, display cases of figurines, vending machines and, most importantly, tables and chairs, Games Unplugged delivers a one-of-a-kind destination for meaningful connectivity and interactive play.
No screen required.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/GamesUnpluggedStore.
Midlothian Economic Development: Please share a little background on Games Unplugged?
Ryan Stewart: It really all started at the kitchen table. I have lived here in my whole life and I have always wanted a game store here locally. There’s never really been a place nearby. I have always had to drive to Duncanville, Grapevine, Arlington – all over the place. This store was really all about creating a community – especially in this Internet age – where people could come, make friends, play games and simply hang out. People often say they make friends online but it’s much more difficult to do so in person. And, in my mind, an online friend is very different than a genuine, in-person friend.
MED: Why did you choose to locate your business in Midlothian?
RS: That was an easy decision since I am from Midlothian. I had a lot of advantages here – family connections that could help me build my business, friends here, and I have grown up here. I also wanted to give this community a new outlet for entertainment and interaction. We are all social creatures by nature and most people enjoy spending time with other people. Playing games is a great way to achieve that social interaction.
MED: How would you characterize your experience thus far in Midlothian?
RS: This is definitely a word-of-mouth community and a very supportive community, as well. Midlothian is home to great schools, churches, restaurants and offers an exceptional quality of life. There is a lot of opportunity for growth, especially with all the new families moving here. It’s a numbers thing. But even beyond the numbers, I really like the kind of people this community attracts. There are good people here and that attracts more good people. Residents really care about this community and want to make sure it does not change negatively. A variety of reasons make Midlothian a great place to do business.
MED: What is the popularity of board-game cafes saying about current cultural/social trends and the inherent need to connect with people?
RS: Usually in an electronic game, there is only one way to win. Board games involve more finesse, people-reading skills and recognizing patterns. You have to use your brain and be aware of the other player. It’s a different dynamic and it’s never the same thing twice.
I am trying to offer something that people can’t get online; “retailtainment.” To that end, if you come into Games Unplugged, we will explain our products to you and sit down and teach you how to play games. Customers can try games out before they buy them. If you go to a big-box retail chain store, no one is interested in giving you an experience. It’s simply all about stocking the shelves and making sales.
I make it my business to know what these games are and to create an atmosphere that is engaging and unique. My focus on running events and creating tournaments sets my business apart from other big chain retailers and franchises. There is always something to do here, and it doesn’t necessarily have to cost anything. I believe that in this digital era, people of all ages are looking for ways to disconnect from today’s frantic pace and reconnect on a more emotional and personal level. Our store provides the perfect environment in which to do that. If you are having a good time, age is irrelevant. There’s a spot here for everybody.
MED: What makes Midlothian an ideal place to do business?
RS: For me, the large school district was perfect for my business. People here have a healthy interest in hobbies. Additionally, we are centrally located among other larger and smaller cities. We are not only 20 minutes from large cities like Dallas, but also 20 minutes from smaller, more rural areas as well. A Midlothian location gives businesses an opportunity to tap into a variety of regional demographics that span a wide range of income and education levels. If you create a business that is compelling enough, people are willing to drive for it. They will spend the gas money to have the experience they want to have.
My customers come from all over — the north side of Fort Worth, Mansfield, Ellis County and beyond. I have even had people from out of state who are in town visiting family or friends. Most people who come here also want this store to succeed. They want to bring new people. They like that this is their store also. It’s something that they are passionate and energetic about and they share that passion and energy with our newer customers.
MED: What advice would you give to other companies considering locating in Midlothian?
RS: Have a mindset that is focused on the community, because the people here will support you. People here talk. And when they like things, they talk about it. Also, when you consider the highway access, airport access, school district, proximity to DFW amenities and upscale quality of life, Midlothian just makes good business sense.