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A De Pere video game store undergoes remodel, expansion

Game Trade closed for two weeks to complete the work – a big deal, but worth it

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May 5, 2023

DE PERE – After being in business for 12 years, Game Trade owner Gregg Johnson said the expansion the De Pere video gaming store recently underwent felt natural to him.

“Really, for me, it was to feel more comfortable in my own space,” he said. “I worked at GameStop for 11 years before I left to open up Game Trade – so I’ve been selling video games personally in my life for 23 years. Every now and then, I think you need a bit of a shot in the arm.”

Johnson said the biggest reason for the expansion of the store (400 Reid St.) – which he has now dubbed the “Super Game Trade” – was a need for more space.

This is Game Trade’s second move – having opened in an even smaller space one door down on Reid Street before moving to the 400 location seven years ago.

Over the past 12 years, Johnson said the store has continued to obtain more and more stuff and found itself running out of room.

This, he said, prompted him to obtain the space next to the current shop location – the space where Game Trade got its start – tear down some walls and create “Super Game Trade.”

Much has changed
When Johnson first opened Game Trade in 2011, he was the only employee for the first three years.

Now the shop has four full-time employees and most of the time, Johnson said, laughing, “more work than they can handle.”

Johnson said he never envisioned himself as a small business owner, but when the opportunities at GameStop started dwindling, he said the chance to branch out on his own presented itself through the generosity of his grandmother – after banks weren’t giving out loans without a large down payment or collateral in the aftermath of the 2008 recession.

“She was the most selfless person I’d ever known – just a beautiful person,” he said. “She helped me with the initial seed money.”

Johnson said he’s carried his grandmother’s generous spirit with him over the past 12 years in business.

“She would have given her last dollar to make her children and grandchildren successful,” he said. “I’ve carried that with me in how I’ve handled my business. So, there’s a little extra love here. It’s weird to say about a business I suppose, but compared to corporate, it’s more personal – and that’s how I’ve continued to run my business.”

Johnson said he never expected the business to grow as it has.

In his mind, he said he was opening a small game store to help a few customers, play some games, sell some games and do a job he loves – while not working too hard.

Of course, as soon as he started, Johnson said he quickly realized that running a business was harder than he anticipated.

But looking back, he said he knows it’s paid off – living by his dad’s mantra: “you take care of the customers, they’ll take care of you back.”

// Gregg Johnson said one of the things that sets Game Trade apart is its focus on just video games – especially retro ones. Submitted Photo

Johnson said every time his crew helps a customer it seems that customer comes back with friends – note the plural.

“All of a sudden, it got to the point where I’m running a whole crew, we’re doing crazy sales numbers rivaling what I used to do at the busiest GameStop stores, which was never my goal,” he said. “I just wanted to have a nice little successful business, make some money and now here I am. I work more than I ever did at a corporate level.”

The difference, Johnson said, is the time and effort he’s putting in is toward a store he created.

“You created it, you built it and it’s yours,” he said. “Someone may look at my store and think, ‘it’s just a video game store’ – but for me, it’s my life’s work and purpose.”

He said one of the things that set Game Trade apart from others in the area was its focus on just video games.

“When I first opened, we were the only store in the area selling just video games,” he said. “Everybody else did video games, music, movies, they were basically a media store.”

In the time since, Johnson said more stores have opened, creating a lot of good competition.

“They’re newer and fresher and squeakier and cleaner – so, I think the remodel will put me back where I want to be mentally,” he said. “It will give me the feeling like I’ve got ‘the fancy new store.’”

Immel Construction is serving as the construction manager for the project, which consists of 2,300 square feet of remodeled retail space.

As for what the new store will offer, Johnson said he has some ideas he is toying around with.

One such idea is incorporating the “sports bar wall of TVs” – with the goal of becoming a hub for information, fun and all things video games.

Another idea in the works is having a workstation where Johnson said he will be able to do repairs on old systems – something his shop to date has never been able to offer.

Johnson said the store is a piece of nostalgia for many of his customers.

However, staying relevant in a traditionally “old-school system” kind of world, he said, is of the utmost importance.

“What I love about my job is no one’s being forced to come here,” he said. “There’s a positive energy that resides here when people are here. I want to keep that as much as possible.”

Johnson said everything Game Trade does is kept local, and that’s by design.

The store, he said, gets all its products from customers, opting not to sell their items on eBay, Amazon or any other online service because it goes to destinations unknown.

“We’re all part of a thriving ecosystem,” he said. “I think there’s something special about having a store that if anybody wants to do business with us, they have to come see us.”

The store’s annual anniversary sale has been pushed back slightly due to the shop’s renovations.

“I figured what we’ll do is a grand reopening/12th-year anniversary sale of some sort either at the end of May or early June,” he said. “We’re starting year 13 already, which is crazy. I don’t know where the time goes.”

Community outreach and staying local
Much like his board-gaming counterpart, Johnson said Pat Fuge, owner of Gnome Games, and his team are an inspiration to him when it comes to community outreach.

“He brings something to the community, and I think there’s something to be said about that,” he said. “In my opinion, the responsibility of a successful business is to help create a community that is more successful.”

Although Johnson may not go out into the community directly as his business type and model don’t necessarily allow for that, he said he does raise money through Game Trade for Extra Life, a fundraising program through the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

Through Extra Life, Johnson said gamers pledge and raise funds by playing video games.

Funds raised go toward life-saving treatments and healthcare services in the hospital network, along with innovative research, vital pediatric medical equipment and child life services.

Johnson said he’s proud to be able to use his storefront to promote the cause.

Last year, he said the store raised $16,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

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