Chris Gensy and Corey Hall play the Mystic Vale board game at Gauntlet Games store in University Heights shopping centre.                                 Travis Paterson/News Staff

Chris Gensy and Corey Hall play the Mystic Vale board game at Gauntlet Games store in University Heights shopping centre. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Gaming store looks to the future in University Heights

New businesses open while University Heights’ future hangs in question

A new business has brought a small but vibrant breath of fresh air to the core of Saanich’s University Heights shopping centre.

With a central area lined with tables and chairs, and store hours that run from 2 to 10 p.m., Gauntlet Games, opened by 31-year-old Brodie Cawdell in June, brings a different look for the mall.

The gaming store has brought some added foot traffic to the mall’s inner courtyard, a space far quieter than the mall’s highly successful anchor tenants, Home Depot, Save-On-Foods and Landmark Cinemas.

How many of Gauntlet’s customers hang around and use other mall services is tough to gauge at this point, Cawdell said. But its nightly events are certainly bringing people to University Heights who weren’t going to be there (gamers will travel the region for organized events).

“The mall isn’t overly busy but we’re a destination store, people go out of their way to come see us,” Cawdell said. “We do get some walk-bys, but most come to our store with a purpose.”

Built in 1988, University Heights is comprised of 205,500 square-feet of leasable space, with RBC, CIBC, restaurants, Thrifty Foods Liquor and several independent shops. Cawdell’s store moved into the once-popular Jan’s Fine Footwear which closed in June after 24 years.

As gaming stores go, Gauntlet’s model is similar to other gaming outlets that have popped up in Saanich and Victoria over the past decade. That includes Skyhaven Games (Tillicum), or even the Interactivity Board Game Cafe (Yates Street), though each has its differences, Cawdell said.

Gauntlet, like Skyhaven, focuses on multi-player role-playing games, but is also well stocked on the popular contemporary board games (think Settlers of Catan) and modern card games.

What makes Gauntlet different is its daily events, where gamers show up to a buy-in and compete against each other. The store will regularly get quite full (filling on many occasions), with the top three winners of the event earning store credit.

Most show up to play the “grandaddy” of all role playing games, Magic the Gathering. There are others, including the original, Dungeons and Dragons, which has enjoyed a rebirth, though no game enjoys the participation of Magic the Gathering, Cawdell said.

Aside from the organized events, table space at Gauntlet is free. The model is nothing new, there are stores that do the same thing, Cawdell added.

What’s certain is that the demographic is mostly 18 to 30, with fringe groups on either side of the bracket. And the traffic Gauntlet draws to University Heights is user specific.

Cawdell chose University Heights because he was ready to start his own business and recognized the area as a major hub away from Victoria.

He signed a three-year lease with an option to renew.

Jennifer Derbyshire is the director of marketing and community relations with Wesbild Holdings, which purchased University Heights for a reported $52 million in 2015.

She said the future of University Heights is up in the air and any redevelopment would be based on community consultation.

“We’ve heard the mall needs refreshing. There’s lots of opinions out there but really, we’re not totally sure yet what we’ll do,” Derbyshire said. “We’ve been out getting opinions on what our long-term plan should be, talking to Saanich, talking to tenants and we’ll continue to talk to key stakeholders and the community.”

Adding rental housing is a possibility too, as a lot of people have said they’d like to see rental units available at a newly developed University Heights, Derbyshire said.

Wesbild owns several shopping centres and commercial properties, including the McKenzie Professional Centre across the street.

“Our mandate is to make the shopping centres better amenities than what is there.”

If there is to be a redevelopment, Cawdell isn’t too worried.

“For now, things are going well and at worst, if they want to do major [renos] and I have to move out, I’d probably get the same people coming by. And at that point, we could seek out a larger store.”

“People typically bring their own games, which is why I don’t charge them [just to hang out and play here],” Cawdell said.

Granted, by offering space free to play, it’s with the hopes visitors will, at some point, purchase either a board or card game, or an add-on to modify a game they already own. Or maybe they’ll pick up a bag of chips and a soda pop.

reporter@saanichnews.com