Game changers: Game Giant store joins Vinyl Giant in downtown Fargo

FARGO - Aaron Swinkels and Erica Sponsler are sure they've played their cards right in opening Game Giant in downtown Fargo. The store, which offers a wide variety of board games, learning toys, puzzles, cards and gifts, quietly opened two weeks ...
Erica Sponsler and Aaron Swinkles, co-owners of Game Giant, stand with shelves of merchandise in their new store Wednesday, July 18, 2018, in Fargo. Erin Bormett / The Forum

FARGO - Aaron Swinkels and Erica Sponsler are sure they've played their cards right in opening Game Giant in downtown Fargo.

The store, which offers a wide variety of board games, learning toys, puzzles, cards and gifts, quietly opened two weeks ago at 626 2nd Ave. N., but the couple and co-owners were bustling about early Wednesday morning, July 18, getting ready for the afternoon's grand opening celebration.

"Everything is kind of focused on people having more interaction with each other, more meaningful interaction," said Sponsler, who will manage the game shop side of the store. (It is co-located with their Vinyl Giant store.)

Swinkels, who manages record and stereo side of the space, said the involvement offered by music and games was a natural fit.

"We always had a really good time playing" games with friends. "It means people away from their phones," Swinkels said.

Records are tactile, requiring the listener to be physically as well as mentally involved, so what might seem to be divergent pursuits, "marry well," Swinkels said.

The front of the game shop features gifts and children's games, like Modarri cars, do-it-yourself candy and painting kits, Two Bros Bows (cushion-headed arrows and bows) and yard games. The farther back in the shop you move, the older the target audience for the games, such as Catan, Harry Potter, and for "Stranger Things" fans, Dungeons and Dragons. The back of the store has a room devoted to Ravensburger puzzles and a space filled with games requiring more tactical thinking, some of which take days or weeks to play out, Swinkels said.

Just a couple hours left before their grand opening, the couple were cleaning up and making last minute tweaks to stock and displays.

Swinkels, pushing a carpet sweeper with one hand and had a folding chair in the other, was moving a bit slow. A broken rib adding an edge to the day.

"It hurts a lot," Swinkels said.

Sponsler was working on just a couple of hours of sleep, he said.

They've put in about 80 days of work straight, sometimes 12 to 14 or more hours a day, to rehabilitate the shop in what in other iterations had been the lobby of the Graver Hotel, the Gaslight bar, and a real estate office, Swinkels said.

The space had been empty for about eight years and was rough to fit up, he said. Where walls had been removed were gouged lines in the concrete of the floor. The suspended ceilings hid other ills. And the HVAC system needed to be fixed, he said.

"It was a really big mess," he said. "We're half dead."

But the location by BernBaum's deli, Young Blood Coffee, and the new Roberts Commons building, should drive traffic.

Swinkels and Sponsler are used to hard work. They got their seed money for the Vinyl Giant by raising flowers to sell at the local farmer's market.

They also owned an antique store on Broadway called Junk Giant, but closed it after nine months.

In addition to Game Giant and Vinyl Giant, they also own an online outlet, Diamond Groove.

Hours for Game Giant are expected to be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.