A while back I tracked down and contacted the propriators of the book and game store that really molded my gaming (and reading) future and asked a few questions, which they were kind enough to answer. The Griffon has been the 'go-to' place for gaming in South Bend Indiana for more than 30 years now and I cannot help but wish that it was not 7-8 hours away from me now (oh, to browse the used-book shelves...)
It's taken me too long to get this posted, and I plan to do some follow up questions too. Thank you Ken and Sarah for taking the time to respond, and thank you also for all the years of providing a welcoming environment!
When did you open The Griffon?
Why did you? It's obvious that the early seventies saw a sort of phenomenal growth of the gaming-market - but it seems the case that small business book stores/game stores are often opened more out of the proprietor(s) interest in the subject itself than making money off it.
Sarah and I were both teachers and the job market at that time especially for Russian language was very soft so we saved up for two years by working various minimum wage jobs to open the Griffon. Yes, we wanted to carry items that we were familiar with and that included both books and games although we thought then that the games would play the minor role.
Was it more 'game-oriented' at the start? I have only vague memories of the original location. Was there as much of a selection of books at the first location? Did either of you run RPGs there? I remember (again vaguely) a pretty large area dedicated to gaming tables there. Mostly miniatures?
For the first 5 years books dominated both sales and square footage of space by a 80 to 20 margin. By the time we were in our 10th year the balance was 50/50 and after 20 years the pendulum had swung to 75% games and 25% books mostly due to the appearance of the book superstores such as Crown, Borders and Barnes & Noble. Today, even though we devote 40% of our square footage to books, it still only accounts for about 15% of our yearly sales. We stay with that mix however because it provides the academic atmosphere we prefer in a gaming store rather than the comic book look.
Ken, I remember interrupting a pretty involved strategy/wargame you were involved with on the second floor of the Colfax store. What kinds of rules have you played, or if that is too inclusive, perhaps a better question would be - what rules do you prefer to play under?
The game you are referring to was Empires in Arms, produced by Avalon Hill. Now out of print. We play more games that involve less setup time and can be finished in one evening of play. Usually no more than 5 hours. That eliminates quite a few of the longer game systems. We particularly enjoy being able to play three 90-minute games in one setting rather than one long game.
What years did you put on conventions? I seem to remember two of them. What are the event count/attendance figures? - if that information is handy (or a ballpark...)
We ran Griffcon for 5 years and the attendance by the end was 300 people over a two day period. We also helped stage the Michiana Valley Wargamers conventions at IUSB for 4 years and the attendance there was about 200 for a two-day convention. We stopped running them because of the constraints due to increased rental prices, fewer people willing to run games, and little profit for a lot of work.