As board gaming was slowly making a resurgence as a billion-dollar industry, Common Ground Games opened in 2013 and grew into more than one of the few dedicated places in Dallas where players could take home card drafting games like 7 Wonders and strategy challenges like Race for the Galaxy.
Common Ground Games was one of the only spots in Dallas where you could actually play these and many other games without having to pay for admission or buy a copy.
"At every anniversary birthday celebration, I say a little thing to the people there," says DR Hanson, who owns the store with his husband Jamison Sacks. "I say it takes a lot to open a new business, any business. It's a giant leap of faith, and what we didn't know when we opened the business nine years ago that there was a community waiting to catch us and grow with us and learn with us. It's intentional in our name Common Ground Games, and I think that naming convention has become the foundation for who we are."
The longtime board game hobby store has taken another leap of faith that seems to be paying off: moving into a bigger 10,000-square-foot space in the same Inwood Road shopping center that just reopened. Hanson and Sacks may have a bigger space, but they're still applying their business philosophy of catering to game players and not just to buyers, giving them lots of public and private space to have a game night and offering a selection from the short and simple like Uno and Care Bears Monopoly to the long and complex like Gloomhaven and Twilight Imperium.
"It's kind of a weird thing to watch," Sacks says. "Some of my peers and stuff like that who were struggling through the pandemic when our community was consistently showing up and turning out for us and people were telling their friends, 'Hey, go buy games here.' By default, we became Dallas' premier game store because most of them are out in the suburbs. When people walk in here, it's fun to see their reactions because they're not used to game stores this large."
"We've been looking to expand before the pandemic started," Hanson says. "We kind of plateaued with the audience we could serve and take care of, which is a good problem to have, but it's still a problem nonetheless."
Sacks and Hanson's original 4,000-square-foot location attracted a regular stream of players and dedicated customers, but they didn't have the room to implement these and other ideas for their retail and playing space. They found the larger store space in the same strip of stores, so they wouldn't have to move to a whole new place and reintroduce its new and current customers to a new setting.
"When a business moves in this specialty retail kind of thing, it doesn't matter how much signage you have," Hanson says. "If you're not there and people drive up, they just assume you've closed."
The plan to move started before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, a new landlord took over the shopping center that housed Common Ground Games and worked with Sacks and Hanson to move to a larger location. The landlord was on the way to pick up Sacks and Hanson's check to move into the new space when the coronavirus lockdown put their expansion plans and central business on hold.
"We continued to have conversations and used that time to be mindful of how to move into the new space," Hanson says. "So while we're dealing with all the other hurdles and experiencing the pandemic for the first time in a small business, we were also working on this move into this new space."
The pandemic also gave Common Ground Games time to readjust to its new space and to learn ways to maintain safety and comfort for its customers with amenities like a centralized air filtration system. Sacks and Hanson also designed and implemented a new customer membership program with perks like special discounts, free T-shirts with new monthly designs and early access to highly anticipated titles.
"It was a big lesson in patience for both of us," Sacks says. "It served us well, as frustrating it may have been at times."
The store started to allow masked, in-store traffic the following June, and the owners revisited plans to move to the new space. It took almost two more years to complete all the steps needed to reach its grand opening last month.
"Permits kept getting pushed back and construction kept getting pushed back so we could fill that space with a bunch of new products," Sacks says. "Now, the retail side is much more spread out and visible and we even have room for demo spaces on some of our end caps with games set up so guests can see the games and employees can explain them. It allows them to get their hands on the product, look through the instruction manual and see if it's something they're interested in, and employees can show them how to play a round."
The duo plans to unveil even more features for the space, with the goal to keep building a community around a common love of board games.
"We're really happy to be in this new space," Hanson says. "It's been a long time coming and a lot of blood, sweat and tears and it's wonderful to see it come to fruition. We're excited to serve the gaming community of DFW."