SUNBURY, Pa. — Troy Witmer took a risk three months ago when he opened Grogg’s Club on Market Street.
The 39-year-old Sunbury resident quit his $31,000 a year job as a central sterile technician at Geisinger Medical Center, cashed out his 401(K) and hatched out a plan to open a gaming club in the middle of Sunbury. It was admittedly an idea that could easily have drastically backfired.
“I spent eight years at Geisinger and I wasn’t completely happy with my job; I wasn’t in a good place,” Witmer said. “When I decided to move on, I wanted to be happy with what I was doing. Even if I failed, at least I would be happy doing it for a little while. I just wanted a little bit of fun and happiness.”
It was well worth the risk, Witmer said.
The location at 448 Market St., which was once home to another gaming shop called The Board Gamer, is now constantly packed with people of all ages and backgrounds since it opened May 16. And it’s not just a game shop, it’s also a social club that boasts 130 different members and has at least 15 to 30 people stopping by on regular nights and nearly 40 people for Friday Night Magic. Fridays have gotten so popular that the store is now open through Friday night and into Saturday morning.
“It’s not just about the games,” Witmer, a tabletop gamer since 1992, said. “It’s about the people that come here. It’s about the gaming community.”
The place has become a hub for the local tabletop, board and card gaming community. Several spaces have been set up in the shop for people to play games, including a long and painted table for people to play Warhammer, a miniature wargame. The table includes miniature buildings made from a 3D printer.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Alexandros Chapin, of Sunbury, said of the community.
Chapin said it’s not easy for a game shop to maintain a casual environment while fostering a competitive atmosphere. Many places fail, he said.
Richard Shellehamer, of Sunbury, said Witmer was not trying to just fill a niche when he opened the store.
“He loves games and gaming,” Shellehamer said. “It’s a place for like-minded people to come together.”
He comes in three times a week to play Magic.
Many of the players and members have formed friendships through the club and it’s not uncommon for a group to go out for food at Applebee’s after a night of gaming. A group of Grogg gamers also recently rented a cabin for a vacation, they said.
Club members pay $10 a month to be a member of Grogg’s. Membership allows them to be involved in the regular gaming nights, including Friday Night Magic, a 10 percent discount on merchandise and a chance to win prizes. If members bring in new members, they get a free pack of gaming cards or another reward.
Non-members are free to shop in the store as they please and even stick around for a game night or two to see if they want to join.
Members play a variety of games including Magic, Blackwater Gulch, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Super Smash Brothers for the Nintendo WiiU, Rock Band for Xbox 360 and access to nearly “any game you can think of,” Witmer said.
“We have set nights,” Witmer said, “but we’re here to game in general. I might structure out a Magic night, but others can come in and play other stuff. The club is theirs.”
Sunbury District Judge Benjamin Apfelbaum often brings his son into the club to play Connect Four or Monopoly.
“The nice thing is that families can come in and play and then leave the games behind,” Apfelbaum said.
The community that has built up around the club is exactly what “I hoped for,” Witmer said.
“It was definitely worth it,” Witmer said. “It was the best decision I ever made. I never thought it would grow to this in this short of time.”
Grogg’s Club opens at noon every day and closes whenever people are ready to go home. On Friday nights, it stays open all night into Saturday.
Information from: The Daily Item, http://www.dailyitem.com