Five Years In – Game Capital Filling Niche in Area
By Kat Halfman
DE PERE – In the early days, Jeff Wiza, proprietor of The Game Capital, located at 805 Main Ave in De Pere, said his clientele consisted mostly of competitive players, who typically care more about what they’re getting, than the experience of getting it.
As the business grew, Wiza said the store, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month, started to cater more toward the player base that looks beyond the worth of what they bring home from the event and more toward the fun they have playing and interacting with other players.
He said what sets The Game Capital apart from other game stores is the focus it has on Pokémon, Funko Pop figurines and Lego sets.
“Most other card stores focus on Magic the Gathering,” Wiza said. “Before opening, I went to game stores across Oshkosh and Fond Du Lac to check out their display cases and see what they’re offering, and I think maybe one game store had Pokémon cards on display. Pokémon has always been my background and my beginning, and there seemed to be a hole there, so that’s what we put the emphasis on.”
He said when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the interest increased, and the store’s focus on those niches paid off.
“COVID-19 happened, more people were collecting and playing online, and getting more into it, so we coincidentally ended up in a very good position,” Wiza said. “I think the focus on having the complete Pokémon experience is shifting, because it’s very much still a thing.”
Wiza said he first started The Game Capital as an online-only business, which became official in 2008, but the real beginning goes even further back to the fall of 2004, when he was a freshman in college.
It was then, he said that he discovered eBay, and quickly found himself the proud owner of a $200 Pokemon card collection.
To begin expanding his collection with new sets, Wiza said he started selling cards he didn’t need.
“It’s basically doubled in size every two years,” he said.
In 2017, Wiza and his wife, Hilary, opened the store’s first brick-and-mortar location on Reid Street.
With high hopes, Wiza said they moved The Game Capital to Main Avenue in December 2019.
Little did they know, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic would hit just a few months later, forcing closure.
“When it first happened, obviously it was a big shock, and full of massive uncertainties, like ‘What does tomorrow, and next week and next month look like? Who knows,’” he said. “Once we had to close in April (2020), it was just the two of us coming in to fulfill Amazon orders.”
Wiza said during that time, orders changed to mostly board games, as people found themselves cooped up inside and looking for something to do.
“It was an adapt or die situation,” he said. “If you stay in your ways, and the world around you changes, before you know it, things aren’t going very well.”
Filling a niche
Wiza said The Game Capital’s massive collection of Funko Pops is probably more than all the other stores in Brown County combined.
He said they’re also expanding the store’s Lego collection in hopes of having as many non-retired collections on the shelf as possible – with a goal of having a much wider selection than big brands like Target or Walmart.
“Our goal is to be family-friendly and to cater to more than just trading cards,” Hilary Wiza said.
Game Capital also hosts weekly events for Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic the Gathering, WIXOSS and Flesh and Blood.
Jeff Wiza said when there’s a new release, the store hosts pre-release and launch events, which brings in a lot of collectors, as well as some competitive players.
He said Game Capital’s main target is casual players, to keep the store accessible for new fans, but also host higher-level events like the Pokémon Elite Cup, which brings competitors in from as far as Milwaukee and Chicago.
Pokémon has restarted their regional tournaments, but Wiza said the Elite Cup has yet to be restarted since COVID.
In line with tournament rules, he said masks are required in the store’s play area, located to the right and in the back of the store, and only two people are permitted per six-foot table.
“We’re still being safer than the vast majority,” Wiza said. “It’s very unclear where it makes sense to lapse on that, because it’s an awkward thing, and I’m sure some people come in because we’re extra safe, while others might avoid us because they’re tired, fed-up and annoyed by it, but we try to do what’s best for the community.”
He said each Game Capital event has player caps because of space limitations and social distancing.
Wiza said starting Friday, May 20, Game Capital will introduce open play, where any customer who spends at least $5 in-store will receive a wristband that allows them to access the play area.
More information on The Game Capital and its event schedule can be found at thegamecapital.com/events.