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30 years of Days of Knights

Mar 31, 2015 02:09PM, Published by Steven Hoffman, Categories: Business



When John Corradin first played Dungeons & Dragons as a graduate student on the campus of the University of Florida, the enormously popular fantasy role-playing game was still early in its development stages. D & D was about to open the door to the modern role-playing world -- and explode in popularity — but relatively few people realized it at the time.

Corradin finished work on a master’s degree in education and returned to Delaware, his home state, for a teaching job. He was disappointed to find that the First State was anything but first when it came to groundbreaking role-playing games.

“When I moved back to Delaware,” he recalled, “I couldn’t find anyone to play Dungeons & Dragons with.”

He eventually befriended Dan Farrow, IV and Lee McCormick, two Delawareans who played Dungeons & Dragons. It was still hard to find the books and accessories for the game, and there was no ordering the materials online — that convenience was still far in the future.

“Lee had the idea that we should open a store and sell that stuff,” Corradin recalled. He and his wife, Micaela, both University of Delaware graduates, discussed the idea of opening a store.

“I wanted to open up a store that would sell science fiction and fantasy arts and crafts,” Corradin explained. But he liked teaching, and when they looked around, they couldn’t find a suitable location for such a store in the preferred location in the Greenville area.

Eventually, the friends convinced the owner of Punch and Judy’s, a store on Main Street in Newark, to carry some Dungeons & Dragons accessories, and before long the Corradins were part of a group that formed a Subchapter S corporation to open their own store. Some of the friends purchased stock in the business and Lee McCormick served as the manager of the store. Corradin continued teaching, helping out whenever he could.

Like many small businesses, this one struggled early on. A year after it opened, McCormick decided to pursue another business opportunity out of state.

“That forced us to make a decision,” Corradin said. “We could all lose our initial investment or someone had to step in.” Taking a leave of absence from his teaching job, Corradin was the one to take over the fledgling business.

Three decades later, he’s still at it, now assisted by Micaela, who retired from her job with the University of Delaware. Over the years, the Corradins bought out all the other shareholders so when the store reached the 30-year milestone in November of 2011 it was a special achievement for them. They celebrated the official anniversary with 30 days of special events and sales.

Main Street has proven to be a good place for this kind of shop. While countless businesses opened and closed over the years, Days of Knights has been a mainstay. It was located in the mini-mall on Main Street for quite a while before moving to its current location at 173 E. Main St. 19 years ago.

In the early days, Dungeons & Dragons accounted for a large percentage of the business. But the store has seen many trends and changes in the marketplace since then. One major change is the perception of gaming. When the store first opened, customers were typically young males. But now, new games like Settlers of Catan have broken through the barrier and are popular with women as well.

“We used to have ten new board games a year,” Corradin explained. “Now we have over 100 new board games per year and women are playing a lot of those games.”

Another significant change was undoubtedly the evolution of computer and online games. Days of Knights instead focused on classic board games, war games, and the like. That has proven to be a smart business decision.

“We decided early on that {computer games} weren’t something that we were going to carry because we couldn’t compete with the bigger chain stores on that,” Corradin explained.

“To me, one of the things that made a difference for us was the popularity of big collectible card games like Magic and then the war-gaming,” he said.

One way that the store attracts business is by hosting in-store gaming events. Magic: The Gathering nights are Monday and Friday. Board games are featured every Tuesday and there’s a Board Game Day once a month. Pokemon is played on Sunday and Yu-gi-oh events are held on Wednesday. There are numerous annual events as well. Days of Knights has built a reputation as a treasure trove for anyone who likes gaming or games.

“We try to be a place where we can introduce people to new games,” Micaela explained. “We want this to be a place where you can bring your kids. We have a lot of loyal, core customers, but we are welcoming to the younger folks who are new as well.”

Many people, upon entering Days of Knights for the first time, are amazed at the selection and variety of games that are available.

“We probably have the largest collection of chess sets in the tri-state area,” Corradin said. “We also have an incredible inventory of out-of-print stuff. We are able to sell a lot of that in the store and on auction sites.”

Corradin said that one decision that has always helped keep the business afloat through good economic times and bad is that the store also carries products that aren’t related to gaming.

“I wanted the chance of attracting everyone who comes in,” Corradin explained. “I didn’t want mothers coming in with their kids and just waiting to get out the door.”

According to the owners, Days of Knights has thrived in part because the university does a good job of enhancing the cultural diversity of the area.

“Not a day goes by when we don’t have people from other states in here,” Corradin said.

Micaela pointed out that the store offers a discount to University of Delaware students, and the university has a gaming club that stokes their interest in the hobby.

The internet has had a tremendous impact on the business. It allows Days of Knights to sell to people all over the world, but it also makes those same products available to customers from a thousand different sources, often at a reduced price.

Corradin explained that even the most loyal customer would have a hard time passing up a discount of $17 on a new $40 book. While Days of Knights has a strong web presence at www.daysofknights.com, the owners focus on attracting customers to the shop by being a haven for people who like games or gaming.

“A game store has to find other ways to get people to come out to the store to buy things,” Micaela explained.

For a while, retail gaming stores like this one were closing up, but as the economy has slumped, many people are seeking out more cost-effective forms of entertainment.

“One of the things that we’ve learned over the years is that when the economy stinks, people will cut back on the big-ticket items, but they will still come in for a game because they still need to be entertained,” Corradin explained. “You can still come in and buy a good game for $20 to $25.”

Even with three decades in the business, Corradin said that it’s difficult to predict the future of the gaming industry.

“You just can’t tell what concepts are going to work,” he said.

Magic remains enormously popular and draws more people to Days of Knights than any other single game. “We’ve sold more of the last set of Magic that came out than any other set that has been released,” Corradin explained. “New players are always coming into it. Magic has accounted for about 18 percent of all our sales this year.”

And Dungeons & Dragons, that old favorite, remains a stalwart leader in the role-playing industry.

One thing that Corradin has learned in his three decades in the business? Be honest with customers about the quality of a game.

“I pride myself on giving my customers good, honest recommendations,” he said. “I am brutally honest with my customers. I don’t want them to buy something that they won’t like.”

Corradin never returned to that teaching position that he took a leave of absence from. But, according to Micaela, he never really stopped teaching, either. He likes nothing more than helping a customer learn about a new game.

“He’s always been a little bit of a teacher here when young people come in and learn how to play a new game,” she explained. “I think he thinks of this store as a kind of community center where people can come and enjoy themselves.”

“It’s our job,” he added, “to serve the community.”



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