Adam Johnson’s love for games came as a young boy when he played chess for the first time against a girl in his neighborhood.
“I remember playing chess and falling in love with it, and I was like, ‘This is awesome! Are there other games?’” Johnson said.
From that point on, Johnson’s love for games grew, and he said he remembers telling his mom from a young age that he wanted to own a toy store when he grew up, and then playing “Magic: The Gathering” on the bleachers of the old gym at Tallassee High School in 1993.
“When I was a child, everyone else said they wanted to be a fireman, an astronaut, a police officer or something like that,” Johnson said. “I told my mother I wanted to own a Toys ‘R’ Us, and to this day she reminds me of that.”
After a long career in international higher education lasting over 15 years of travelling around the world and helping students abroad, Johnson, 39, said he decided to quit and open up a game store in Opelika with the help of his longtime friend and co-owner Bo Bailey.
“I was really focused on this idea of education being the way to alleviate a lot of the fear and suffering that was in the world,” Johnsons said. “So when I look at a game, I think, ‘This is an opportunity for someone to learn and to play and have a good time.’”
Gear Gaming Opelika, which has a sister store in Birmingham, celebrated its grand opening at 817 South Railroad Avenue on May 1, offering shelves full of board games, cards, collectibles, miniatures, dice and more to buy as well as over a dozen games to rent for $10 per visit.
“People come in, pay a rental fee [of $10] that goes towards a purchase of a game, and you can sit down, grab a beer, grab a game and play with some friends,” Johnson said.
While Gear Gaming might not yet have classic board games like Monopoly, Risk or Candyland for rent, Johnson said the games available were based on their international popularity, like Lords of Waterdeep, Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride.
“Right now, our games are focusing on the best sellers in the entire world, and the best sellers are always in our store,” Johnsons sai. “We’ll rotate out and try to keep in stock things that are well reviewed and rated highly so you’ll know that when you come in, whatever you get off the shelf is going to be an absolute success.”
Gear Gaming is currently equipped with a bar stocked with wine, beer, cider and mead for guests to enjoy while they play, and Johnson said he hopes to expand to include more food options next month.
Along with games to buy and rent, Gear Gaming offers weekly special events like miniature painting workshops taught by Johnson on Thursdays and Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League sessions on Wednesdays.
Regardless of a customer’s gaming experience, play style, age or gender, Johnson said he wants Gear Gaming to be open to everyone who loves to play games.
“Can they breathe, can they read and do they have money? That’s my target customer base,” Johnsons said. “We want to be inclusive to everyone from every walk of life. No matter how you identify as, we want you to have a safe place to be, and we hope to become a certified safe space in the future. … I want people to walk in our door and say, ‘This is my home. This is where I belong.’”
Johnson said wanting to create a welcoming space is one of his primary missions in opening Gear Gaming Opelika because of his desire to push back against a cultural stigma around hobbies and interests deemed “nerdy” that existed even when he was a kid.
“I want a place where people who come feel happy and welcome and they can thrive. I’ve seen so many people come into game shops in the past and didn’t say a word the first day … but by the time they’d been there for the first week everyone knew who they were and they came out of their shell,” Johnson said. “They became who they wanted to be because they found out there were other people like them, and now they have a place to grow.”