In the hotbed of “Nerd Culture” that Pensacola is with events such as Pensacon being widely celebrated, a new game store is not an uncommon sight. These local staples host wall to wall products supporting card games, such as “Magic the Gathering,” tabletop games, like “Warhammer 40,000,” and pen-and-paper games, in the same vein as “Dungeons and Dragons,” often alongside the space to play them inside the store itself. That being said, never before has a game store had such an ambitious debut.
They call themselves Level Up Gaming, a brand new store opening on Creighton road this weekend. The building itself is an immense 7,300 square feet and houses 32 tables just for tabletop and card gaming, not including a private room for pen-and-paper groups and rack after rack of merchandise. Their stock includes everything from miniatures and paints to board games and handbooks and even some things that can only be purchased straight from the developer otherwise.
“I didn’t have enough space to play,” Level Up Gaming owner Will Brandenburg said was the issue that inspired him to start this new business.
He then expounded to say that several games with active fan bases had died out in the area simply because there was no store with enough space to house them all, and he hopes to give them the space that they not only need but also deserve.
He also stated that most stores have to stock very little on-hand inventory because of the lack of space, so they have to special order what most people want. Brandenburg intends to cut this from the equation entirely by having enough space to stock more product and by giving enough incentives so that customers will want to order through the store.
For most of the more avid gamers in the area, the question of community comes up more often than not. Veteran gamers will often wonder, “what will the people be like?” and new gamers often ask, “will I enjoy the people that I can play with?”
“I want people who want to win but know how to lose…I want a ‘noob’ friendly environment, not everyone’s an expert after all,” Brandenburg said.
“I want people to be able to walk in and look at a game and say ‘I want to play that’ and feel welcome to find a table and just play,” Brandenburg said, alluding to the store’s mission statement.
But the story behind the store’s founding goes even deeper than this, and it starts with two childhood friends.
Will Brandenburg and his close friend and advisor Blade Handler, as children, made a promise to each other that they would start a game store, and Brandenburg took it to heart and set forth on a mission.
He studied business at the University of South Alabama, using every paper possible to pitch a different idea for the game store of his dreams. Shortly after graduating, he began to buy and sell in the local market, becoming a local name in the miniature hobby. However, a shock soon came to the young entrepreneur.
Brandenburg was diagnosed with cancer at a fairly young age and battled with it for some time. Several years later, Brandenburg was told that the cancer may have returned, shaking his life up once again, but soon would be told that it was a false alarm.
With this second scare, he told himself that it was now or never and founded the store.
Blade Handler, on the other hand, has also been integral in this process, donating countless hours to help serve this project all while working both as a Financial Consultant and as a full time student here at the University of West Florida, where he studies cultural anthropology.
Both of them will be on site this weekend at the grand opening of Level Up Gaming. The event begins at noon April 6 and April 7 at 1132 Creighton Rd. The event will feature door prizes, giveaways and demo games to show some new games being offered.
“If you’re a current gamer, come check us out,” Bradenburg said. “If you’ve never gamed before, come learn something new!”