Bolstered by state grant, Dungeons and Dodgers will expand
If owning a business in downtown Fort Dodge were treated like a video game, Ethan Becker just advanced to the next level.
Becker owns Dungeons and Dodgers, a game store located at 1018 Central Ave. His business was a finalist in the Main Street Iowa Open 4 Business Contest. As a result of that contest, Becker has been awarded a total of $18,000 in grants through the Iowa Economic Development Authority.
Becker will use those funds to expand products and accessories, purchase new furniture and create a party room for events.
“This has allowed me to take my five-year plan and turn it into a three-year plan,” said Becker who opened the Dungeon just over two years ago.
“We are very proud of Ethan,” said Luke Hugghins, Main Street Fort Dodge president. “He has worked very hard to grow his business.”
The Dungeon is a gathering place for gamers.
“I’ve had one customer describe us as a sober Irish pub house,” Becker said. “He likes to come in after work and see who’s here. Depending on who’s here, he might grab his book bag with his magic cards and comes in and hangs out and plays.”
The most popular product at the Dungeon is Magic: The Gathering, a collectible trading card game that’s been around for over 25 years.
“We have a really strong community here,” Becker said. “You can pick up sleeves and accessories for Magic: The Gathering. This is the closest around here. Otherwise, you’d have to go to Ames, Spencer, Mason City or Sioux City (to get Magic: The Gathering cards and sleeves).”
Becker sells singles of Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon cards.
His most valuable card to come through the shop recently?
A $160 Pokemon Charizard card.
“It’s the first printing of the Charizard,” Becker said. “This type of stuff doesn’t come in very often.”
Board games, retro video games, comic books and POP! figures are also sold at the Dungeon.
Every Wednesday through Sept. 9, Becker is offering free comic books to customers.
“Everyone gets a chance to get something cool,” Becker said. “I’ve been leaving those out so people can grab them on their way out the door. Limit one per person.”
In terms of video games, Becker sells mostly retro-style games.
“I keep having people come in to give me trade-ins because I give a better value than other places,” he said. “I sell NES games, Super Nintendo games, Nintendo 64 games, PlayStation 1, 2, 3 and 4. Xbox, Xbox 360. Someone even traded in a Switch game the other day. The older stuff is what people come into trade. I give cash or store credit. I don’t buy any new video games. The margins are too low for me to be able to compete with places like Walmart or Gamestop.”
In terms of board games, Becker said Ticket to Ride is increasingly popular.
“That’s one of my best sellers,” Becker said. “It’s a train building game and you can make your own railway from Miami to Los Angeles or something. Maybe that’s one of your objectives in the game. There’s a lot of great games that have come out over the last 10 to 20 years that get overshadowed by the traditional games. There’s so many different alternatives that are really fun. I think Ticket to Ride will be a traditional game in 20 to 30 years.”
Becker has had a passion for all things gaming since he was a child.
When his family moved from Massachusetts to Iowa, he remembers some of the things he brought with him.
“I’ve always enjoyed gaming and the interactions and the network I’ve evolved over my almost 40 years of being here,” Becker said. “When I moved out here, I was about 10 years old. I didn’t bring a lot of stuff, but I remember bringing my G.I. Joes, baseball cards and comic books that I had in milk crates.”
Later in life, when Becker became a father, games became even more important.
“When I got married and starting having kids, I enjoyed playing these games and introducing these games to my children,” Becker said. “It gives you the feel goods, the warm fuzzys.”
Becker went to alternative high school in Pocahontas, but did not graduate. He later earned his GED and then his electrical technologies degree from Iowa Central Community College.
Prior to opening the Dungeon, Becker worked at Chantland MHS Co. in Dakota City.
“After working at Chantlands for five years, I took my 401k and my extensive Magic: The Gathering collection and we opened the Dungeon,” Becker said. “We were selling pop out of a beach cooler at first.
“I named this shop after Dungeons and Dodgers after Dungeons and Dragons and the Fort Dodge Dodgers. I never understood when I opened two years ago how popular that game is. We have some players who have played for over 30 years.
The Dungeon was first located at 1214 Central Ave. before moving further west to its current location.
“There was another game store here in Fort Dodge, but he had gone out of business and I saw there was a need in the community,” Becker said. “I figured why not. I was always a big Magic: The Gathering player, not a professional. But I kind of like to take it serious.”
He likes being in the downtown area.
“We have a great community here,” Becker said. “When I was looking at different locations I couldn’t help but keep coming back to downtown. Central has had some good things going on the last few years and I wanted to be part of it. In my travels I have been seeing a return to main street kind of culture, not just here, but around the country. People are shopping in malls less — going more to a strip mall process. A lot of people love to shop local as well. Central is a good location for all of that. The history here and the community of people. All the other business owners I’ve met and trying to promote each other’s activities.”
One of his favorite parts about the Dungeon is seeing others interact.
“It’s really a social extension,” Becker said. “A lot of people come together through these games. They’ve met through these games and formed these relationships playing these games. A lot of these relationships form for some people who are socially inept and maybe don’t get out of the house that much. This gives them a chance. Not everybody’s a golfer.”
And Becker said it’s fun to introduce customers to new games.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve played a little less,” he said. “Now that I run the shop, I play very minimally because I just want my patrons to get a good experience. And if I’m playing a game, I’m not waiting on the customer at the counter.”
Becker’s current space, the former Dodge Theatre, occupies almost 6,000 square feet.
Much of that space is used for people to sit and play games. Becker also plans to use some of the space for special events.
For the Open 4 Business Contest, Becker had to make a five-minute video. Rusty McNeil, program coordinator and instructor of Iowa Central’s TV and Radio production, helped him with that. He also had to prepare a budget.
“Kris Patrick (executive director, Main Street Fort Dodge) and Rusty McNeil were very helpful in this process,” Becker said.
The grants will allow Becker to upgrade his inventory among other things.
He will be able to carry Asmodee’s best sellers. Asmodee is French board game manufacturer and distributor.
“I will be carrying two of their top 40 board games all of the time,” Becker said. “By carrying their top 40 it will allow me special promos and marketing materials.”
Becker will be adding Hyperkin products. Hyperkin provides accessories such as audio/video cables for major gaming consoles.
New chairs and tables, a paint rack and a new computer for Becker’s Ebay sales is also in the budget.
Becker said the contest helped him consider new ways to improve his business.
“This has forced me to look at my business in ways I hadn’t before and that will allow me to make the Dungeon better going forward,” he said.