World Tree Games owner Erin Kendall hopes the game shop serves as a safe place for kids to gather and have fun.
Cathy Cook | El Defensor Chieftain

Game nights at World Tree Games are quieter than they were before the pandemic.

Business declined 30 percent during 2020, but the game shop still serves as a hub for locals to get their game on and business is consistently improving.

“We just got a bunch of new freshmen from Tech that are coming up, so we’re seeing a lot of new faces,” said shop owner Erin Kendall.

Kendall grew up in Socorro. After 19 years away, he moved back to his hometown and realized there still weren’t a lot of activities to keep kids busy and out of trouble.

“The bowling alley had just been torn down for the new MVD building and recreation for kids in Socorro was getting scarce,” said Kendall. “I wanted something for my kids, for my kids’ friends and for all the other kids in Socorro that don’t have sports, that don’t have anything else to do but to get in trouble.”

The original vision for the business was a geeky teen center, but Kendall knew he wouldn’t be able to pay the bills without a storefront.

“When I was in high school a game store opened up next to El Camino and it changed my life. Me and numerous friends were headed down paths that probably would have ended most of us up in jail.”

That comic and card shop opened around the same time that Magic the Gathering, the popular card game, was released and Kendall became a devoted player.

“I spent far too much time in that store, but it changed my life, it really did. I’m hoping that with my store I can change at least one life, that doesn’t take the path that I almost took, be it drugs, alcoholism or crime.”

He was also tired of driving to Albuquerque just to buy a pack of Magic cards or a comic book. Unfortunately, Kendall’s store no longer carries comics.

“Myself, I’m an avid comic book reader, so I’m sad to see that go away. We ended that in January of 2020. But my games always carried the comic book sales. It took me a long time of lying to myself that it was going to get better with the comics and it never did.”

Instead, the business has shifted to focus solely on games. Tabletop games like Warhammer and Dungeons and Dragons, card games, cooperative games and even puzzles can be found on the shelves.

Although, Socorro doesn’t seem to care much for puzzles.

“I talked to game stores all over the country and people were saying they can’t keep puzzles on their shelves during the pandemic, that’s all people want is puzzles, puzzles, puzzles,” said Kendall. “So I brought in my puzzles. I think it took five months for them to get here because the company was so backed up. And they didn’t sell.”

Kendall’s happy to guide customers to a game that will match their interests.

“Some people don’t realize there’s a whole genre of cooperative board games,” he said. “People come in and they’re like,’ I like games but I don’t like conflict. What do you have?’ I have games that you work with your friends instead of against your friends. Then I also have games that were specifically designed to ruin friendships.”

Magic the Gathering and Warhammer are the two biggest sellers in Socorro. During the pandemic, Kendall also stocked more single-player and two-player games, as people who lived alone and couples came in asking for games they could play without gathering with people outside of their home.

“Gaming’s not just for geeks anymore,” said Kendall. “It’s become pretty mainstream. There’s far less stigma attached to it than there was even 10 years ago, much less when I was in school. I was teased mercilessly for my geeky interests.”

Kendall sees a wide variety of kids and adults come into his store. His customer base includes a lot of people from town, but business definitely slows down when NM Tech is on break.

“I’d like to see more and more people from more and more walks of life come in. Don’t think that just because we’ve got geeky stuff that you have to be a geek to come in. Everyone’s welcome.”

Cathy Cook, Editor, El Defensor Chieftain