CARROLLWOOD – Jennifer Tkalec of Carrollwood likes to cultivate what she admiringly calls the “geek culture” at Anthem Games and Cafe.
Tkalec and her husband, Stephen, bought Anthem Games in October 2012. In January of this year, they moved the 8-year-old gaming business across the street to 5380 W. Village Drive, Tampa, so they would have more space for games and toys as well as art exhibits.
“My husband and I have created, collected and supported art all of our adult lives,” she said. “While you wouldn’t think of game store and art shows together, with the addition of our square footage, we decided to devote space to local artists and craftsmen.”
She said their new store, which is near Alex’s Southern Style BBQ and Gator Fred’s Fun and Party Center, includes a lounge area with furniture, a cafe area that sells food from outside catering and an outdoor patio with free Wi-Fi.
“We will have not only our feature artists each month, but displays for local handmade geekery items – everything from ‘Star Trek’ baby wear and chain mail jewelry to cosplay apparel and My Little Pony Parody plushies,” Tkalec said. “I believe we’re really fortunate to have so many talented people in our area.”
Tkalec said they plan to feature one or two local artists every four to six weeks.
“We will usually coincide the artist opening with a large gaming event,” she said. “This allows the art and the customers maximum exposure on opening night.”
Tim Gibbons of Seminole Heights will be the first artist to display his sci-fi work at the game store. His solo art show, “Games of Bones,” will be up through April 26.
Tkalec said the “Games of Bones” art show opened the same night as the Grand Prix Trial Magic The Gathering event.
Jayne Lisbeth, who helps coordinate the art exhibits at local businesses, said she is excited her husband, Tim, will be the first to kick off the art exhibits at Anthem Games. Lisbeth said she admires Tkalec’s passion for business and the arts.
“She’s a really neat, creative woman who has been a very successful business woman in this fairly new field of games/role playing,” Lisbeth said.
Tkalec said her goal is to go beyond gaming and make Anthem the “go-to place” for people to play games and socialize.
Although many people think of game stores as a place that draws male customers, Tkalec said that’s changing.
“Since our move, I have seen a huge increase in the female customer base,” she said. “It used to be three to four females a month who came into the store and sometimes played in tournaments. Now, we have women come in all the time and not only play Magic, but also role-playing games, board games and tabletop miniatures. Munchkin, Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan are among the most popular with our female clients.”
She said the female customers also resonate with “Dr. Who” merchandise and “swanky” gaming accessories such as dice that sparkle.
Tkalec herself is new to the world of gaming. Her husband – a collector of comics, toys and hobby items – always wanted to own a game store.
“He is a Canadian immigrant, and was overjoyed when he found Anthem Games so close to our house,” she said. “While I was always happy that he left his home country to marry me and live in Tampa, I’ve come to realize that Anthem, perhaps, was a factor in his decision. He used to frequent Anthem during his visits, and play Magic the Gathering on Fridays.”
Stephen was working part-time for Anthem when it went up for sale. They readily made the decision to become the new owners.
“Having never set foot in a game store before, I admit it was a subculture with which I was not familiar,” she said. “I’m from the hardcore corporate world, but as I got to know the gaming community, I’ve experienced an indescribable kindness. I’ve grown so close to the gaming community in such a short time, it is very easy to refer to them as family. The gamers have inspired us to commit to providing the best store possible.”
Anthem has different scheduled tournament nights, but open gaming occurs anytime.
They host Magic the Gathering events six nights a week as well as role-playing nights for Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. They also have board game nights for Warhammer, My Little Pony and Pokemon.
For more information on Anthem Games and Café, 5380 W. Village Drive, Tampa, call (813) 968-5380. The game store is open Mondays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.