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Along with sharing my own Magic: the Gathering journey, I want to share what's going on with others in the community. Not just the players, but the people that provide a place to gather. The Greater Cincinnati/Dayton area is fortunate to have a lot of options when it comes to Magic and gaming in general. Here's a glimpse into one of them.
Come On Down!
What are your names, the name of your place, and where you're located?
We're Scott Hughes and Nick Milligan. We're two of the owner's of Hero's Hearth and Cincy Book Rack in Cincinnati, OH. We're located on the southeast side in Anderson Township.
Two of the owners? How many owners do you have?
Scott: Between the two stores we have four owners. We all help in the day-to-day, but we each have our specialty. Nick oversees the gaming side with support from Tiffany, our "Dice Queen." She's a jack-of-all-trades and takes care of the store in many ways. She has a soft spot for D&D and is a large part of its success here. Our fourth owner focuses on the book store and I, of course, support all facets of the business.
I see, a group effort! So, how did it all begin?
Scott: My wife was the impetus. Around 2017, she got tired of teaching and wanted to do something different, such as owning a flower shop or bookstore. This location was originally part of a chain of used bookstores since the '70s and was up for sale. After some discussion, we went for it.
The store was pretty rough. Very reminiscent of an indoor flea market. They took any and all books, no matter the condition or type, and sold them on these old 1" by 4" wooden shelves. We had a small staff of little old ladies and for about a year, it went as you might expect. Until my wife decided to return to teaching. She took a position at a new school and absolutely loved it. Enough that she didn't want to run the bookstore anymore, but we kept it and I took up the mantle.
About three years ago, we finally decided to update those shelves. I tell you, it looked like a hurricane had blown through; the place was a mess. During the rebuild, Nick and his family stopped in, and while browsing, he offered to help with the shelves. I replied with an "Oh, YES! Please and thank you!" From that point, Nick continued to help and be involved with the store, and eventually become a co-owner.
What drove you to open up Hero's Hearth?
Scott: Shortly before the pandemic hit, we started offering Dungeons & Dragons and along with that, Magic: the Gathering. We didn't have a lot of room, and had to either use the back room, which is very small, or pull the tables out into the bookstore, which wasn't great either.
As we got more involved in gaming and more players started attending, we just needed more room. Fortunately, in February 2021, the kickboxing place right beside us left, and that gave us the opportunity to expand.
When are you open?
Scott: Both storefronts are open every day except for major holidays.
So, How do you reach out and connect to your customers?
Nick: We reach out through our Facebook pages and the Cincy Book Rack website, but word of mouth is gigantic for us. I enjoy reaching out in that fashion, personally. I used to work in the restaurant industry, and that was the main way we connected with the customers. I try to carry over the same type of service to our customers here. If you provide a great experience, people will not only come back, they'll tell others.
We also have a Discord account for our customers, and you can find us on TikTok!
Scott: We have Twitter and Instagram pages as well, but they focus more on the books. We update them periodically, but the best way to get the most recent information or to touch base is through Facebook or Discord.
What gaming experiences do you offer?
Nick: We support Magic five days a week; Wednesday through Sunday. We have events for Commander, Draft, Modern and Pauper. We also have Warhammer and five or six different RPGs. On Saturdays we have a Family Game Night! We provide board game demos and offer discounts for the game of the night, along with hosting a Modern event.
We have a popular Commander league event on Wednesdays. The way it works is players can take one of the $40 pre-constructed Commander decks, add in one pack from the latest set, like Double Masters 2022, and battle! It's a nice event to keep everyone on even footing as well as something fresh for the enfranchised Commander players.
Our D&D night on Monday's is huge. We have a great need for DMs [Dungeon Masters], so if you know anyone interested in leading a campaign, send them our way!
Do you host events like pre-releases or have plans for larger tournaments?
Nick: We would love to, but currently aren't in the Wizards Premium Network. We submitted our application and are hopeful we'll hear back from Wizards soon. Another item that we're missing is an in-house judge, and we feel that's essential. I've considered becoming a Magic judge, but I'm hesitant to take on that role myself, since we are both pretty new to the process. We want to do it right.
Scott: We have discussed hosting a larger event, like a 1K tournament, sometime late 2022 or early 2023. It's still in the planning stages though.
So, with all that, what have been your most popular formats?
Nick: Commander, but I would say, believe it or not, Pauper. I love Pauper because of the ability to brew these crazy, hair-brained decks. It's like a weird Modern or Legacy format. You can play cards that would be terrible to play in any other format, but in Pauper, they're great!
Scott: Our most consistent has been Draft, though. That's how we started, was with Sunday afternoon drafts. It wasn't every Sunday in the beginning, but now, we fire every week.
Nick: Yea, on second thought, I would agree. Commander, Draft, then Pauper.
Scott: Pauper would be our most popular, by attendance, but our longest running event has been Draft.
When do you play Pauper?
Nick: Our Pauper event is on Thursdays.
What have been some of your hot sellers lately?
Nick: Double Masters 2022, Modern Horizons 2, and lately Strixhaven. I believe people are chasing some of those Mystical Archive cards. People around here are always looking for staples, like shocks and fetches, but we've been seeing consistent interest in the Eldrazi Titans and Tron lands.
Scott: Mind you, we don't sell singles currently. We want to, but honestly, we're somewhat tentative about it. We know if you provide that service, you can't just dip your toes in. You've got to jump in and it's a large investment to consider.
Nick, to Scott: Well then, I've got a proposal for you after we're done here.
So, what makes the Book Rack and Hero's Hearth special to the community?
Scott: The whole idea is that we want to provide an alternative to screen time. Online gaming and other computer-type activities have their place, but we want to help people exercise their critical thinking and social skills. Whether it's immersing yourself in a book, a board game, or a card game. With my wife, Nick's wife, and I coming from teaching backgrounds, it is something we work to promote.
Nick: Scott shared his philosophy with me early on and I latched onto it wholeheartedly. We want to be that place you think of to go and have fun. We work hard to provide excellent customer service and a pleasant atmosphere. From the positive feedback we've received so far, we believe that we're proceeding in the right direction, and we're happy to do it. We want our players and customers to look forward to being here.
Scott: I'd like to jump in on that. One, we the employees work well together. Two, I feel we are very fortunate to have great customers. For the most part, everyone is laid back, very welcoming, and they make their own effort to invite others in. That says that we're doing something right. I also want to say a lot of it starts with Nick, and his welcoming personality.
Nick: Well, thank you Scott, I appreciate that.
So, what are a few things each of you have learned from being a part of this adventure?
Scott: I've been involved with books and games for a long time; I won't tell you how long that's been, though! My interest started in eighth grade with D&D. I didn't get into Magic when it initially came out, but still appreciated it. I admit I had a little hubris at times, where I felt I've forgotten more about these things then most everyone I know.
What I have come to discover is that I'm humbled by meeting new people who might know more about a topic or something different than what I perceived. To be able to see the creativeness of our customers, it's exciting. I've come to see that it doesn't detract from my contribution, it adds to it.
We want to apply this effort in our relationships with similar stores in the area. We want to support the overall community. There are a lot of great game stores to play at, so we're here to not only promote our own store, but our LGS community.
Nick: One of the big things I learned from working here was how to play Magic! I've always been interested in the game, since when I was about twelve with my brother, but we never got too serious about it. Working here has lit that fire again. I do wish we still had those cards though.
Working here has helped me to meet many different people from many walks of life. When I bartended and managed restaurants, you have the same thing, but you typically get more repeat customers at a restaurant, which give it a different feel. I've learned about the retail side of business quite a bit more, which has been great.
On a related note, I briefly attended a culinary school to expand myself and have been able to cross over some of that knowledge into the store. I know making a poached egg doesn't help with running an LGS very well, but some of the behind-the-scenes responsibilities, like ordering supplies, has helped me improve in a more general sense.
Do you play Magic, Scott?
Scott: I do not. I've sat in for players from time to time, but I don't have the personal bandwidth to get into it.
I can understand that. I'm sure you keep pretty busy with everything else.
Nick: I've seen him play in a draft!
Nick, since you are more immersed in Magic, what specific formats or decks do you enjoy?
Nick: Along with Pauper, I really enjoy Modern. I currently have four decks, Boros Burn, Storm, UR Murktide, and Esper Control. My first love is Boros Burn. Playing a Burn deck scratches my competitive itch. It's a quick I win or I don't. After playing Burn for a while, I moved into the Esper Control deck for a more interactive strategy, and it's now my current love.
Modern Esper Control
What are a couple of your favorite Magic cards?
Nick: Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Cryptic Command, and Unholy Heat are up there, but my all-time favorite is Lightning Bolt.
Scott, do you have any favorite Magic cards or something about them you like?
Scott: I don't know if I'm qualified to provide an answer and it might sound trite, but I do like the lands.
Not at all, Scott. Many people enjoy various aspects of the lands, even the basic lands.
Scott: Tangential to that, I do enjoy hearing the player base talk about the "meta." Hearing the back-and-forth on which cards are better or testing out something new. I'm not up on the cards themselves, but I find those discussions very interesting.
To finish up, is there anything else either of you would like to share?
Scott: Nick mentioned we want to be that place people want to come to. To be good corporate citizens and play well with others. We want to continue being here for the long term and have a great gaming community as well.
We try to do our best to think ahead. We've discussed about starting up Day Camps, where we can introduce Magic as well as other types of gaming. Having after-school events, things to encourage gameplay. Kind of going off the reservation here, but as an extra note, I would absolutely love to see a bunch of people out in the nearby parks LARPing.
Nick: I do have something to add to that. When we were talking about being responsible stewards with our customers. I have a close friend that's trying to save for a house. He came in one time thinking about buying a box of cards. Even though we're trying to make money, I reminded him about saving for that home. He still bought the box, but I enjoy getting to know and help our customers with more than just books and cards.
My relationship with our customers has been amazing. They are so great and help me personally on a day-to-day basis. Getting to know the people here and making those relationships is very special for me. One customer even bought my daughter a birthday present!
Scott: Definitely. Nick is a large part of why our business is thriving. He makes a point to get to know everyone and help everyone feel comfortable. Back in 2017, Half Price Books opened a mile down the road and we were very concerned. We then realized that they're focused on transactions: how much can we sell? We're looking to build a community and relationships through that community.
LGS Is Where the Heart Is
I want to thank Scott and Nick for providing us a glimpse into Hero's Hearth and the Book Rack. I hope you enjoyed the visit and look forward to the next! Do you know the story behind your own LGS? Feel free to share in the comments. And if not, maybe now's a good time to get up to speed...