With International Tabletop Day around the corner, we’re counting down the days to the big celebration by highlighting friendly local gaming stores, their owners, and their awesome stories. Be sure to find an ITTD event near you so you can enjoy the festivities in your community.
Sentry Box is a geeky institution in Calgary, having been a part of the scene for decades. It’s a celebration of geekdom and the tabletop hobby, and there’s a magical feeling that you get walking through its doors. It’s something I’ve done many times, and the feeling of awe never truly ceases. From the many feature walls, such as the hieroglyphics wall that greets customers as they walk in, to the castle walls that surround the gaming areas, there is an unabashed expression of love for the passions that drive those who stop in. To say the store is full of geeky goodness is an understatement. They have a book section the size of most neighborhood bookstores, an alcove dedicated to CCGs, a selection of miniature wargames that spans two different sections (including a separate section for historical games), a massive board game selection, and a boardgame library so expansive that would rival the collection of even the most dedicated hobbyist gamer.
Being in my hometown, it was the store I bought my first RPG books from (Vampire: The Masquerade, when I was 13 years old, in case you were wondering). I’ve seen it grow, change, renovate, and survive the boom and bust cycles of a town built on oil. As such, it was a pleasure to sit down with Gord Johansen, the owner of Sentry Box, and chat with him about how he was able to build Sentry Box into a geeky touchpoint for the city and region.
The story starts with a gamer opening a tiny 250 square foot store to fulfill a geeky dream. Along the line, and having dealt with challenging landlords, Gord ended up purchasing a building just outside of Calgary’s downtown core in a light industrial area to set up shop. “It was supposed to be a little nest egg that I would eventually sell so that I could have something when I retire,” Gord told me, later reflecting, “nearly 40 years later, I don’t think I can.”
The store has grown over the decades and now spans a massive 13,000 square feet, with 3,000 square feet dedicated to gaming and community events. They’ve hosted large regional events for games like X-Wing, and even on weeknights, there’s normally at least 50 gamers just getting together and playing RPGs, CCGs and mini wargames in the store on any given night. Supporting that vast and diverse community is a staff of nearly 30, all of whom are as into games as the customers who visit the store.
One of the highlights Gord mentioned was hosting a wedding within the store. “The bride phoned me up and was asking about the space and to see if it would be possible…I asked why they wanted to have the wedding in the store and she said, ‘Well, we didn’t meet there, but we have more fond memories there than anywhere else we could think of.” When the bride asked about how much renting the space for the wedding would cost, Gord’s response was simple. “You’re customers, so I already have your money. I won’t charge you for this.”
That’s not the only time Gord chose the community over easy money. Over the years, Calgary’s real estate market exploded. The area where the store is located becoming much more desirable for businesses, with the city investing in infrastructure (such as a light rail train line stop a couple blocks away from the store.) It’s also meant Gord has been met with offers from real estate investors, looking to build condos or office buildings where the store stands. He (abashedly) admitted to me that, yes, he has turned down a seven-figure offer to buy out the store from one intrepid developer. It’s telling of how dedicated Gord is to the community he’s built within his store.
Image Credits: Sentry Box
Teri Litorco is a tabletop gamer, professional fangirl and author of “ The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming“, which is also sold at the Sentry Box. She talks about board games and mini wargames on her YouTube channel and overshares on social media.