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Toys on Fire employee Cameron Standish-Dutton, manning the counter. Photo provided by Grayson Doherty

Ottawa gaming businesses in a post-pandemic world, Part 2: Hobby shops

By Matthew Guida on September 7, 2021

From trading cards, figurines, board games and other pop culture merchandise, hobby shops are an ideal place for people to pick up new hobbies, show off their skills in official card game tournaments, or even help collectors expand their collections.

Like many other businesses, the gaming ones had to make some changes to adapt to the pandemic. Here’s how these two businesses managed to weather the storm:

Toys on Fire

Toys on Fire employee Cameron Standish-Dutton, manning the counter. Photo provided by Grayson Doherty.

Since May 2005, Toys on Fire has provided Ottawa’s gaming enthusiasts and collectors with a wide assortment of merchandise. While they do feature classic trading card games such as Pokémon and Magic, their primary focus is toys and collectibles.

“We just kind of have that extra stuff as somewhat of a convenience for our customers (…) but our real expertise is with the toys, collectibles, statues and stuff like that,” says Grayson Doherty, the manager of Toys on Fire, during a phone interview.

Toys on Fire was also home to the Ottawa City Pokémon League, offering customers a space to play and even hosting official tournaments. Sadly, the pandemic has majorly impacted the community.

“Since the pandemic started, our business plan around that has kind of changed,” says Doherty. “We’re not able to host the events or anything like that anymore, and The Pokémon Company is encouraging events not to happen for the time being.”

Along with having to close their doors between lockdowns, they were also unable to attend conventions, which was a major source of revenue for them.

“We normally do about 15 or 16 of [conventions] a year around Ontario and Quebec,” says Doherty. “All of those have been cancelled for the past two years.”

As a result, Toys on Fire has had to modify its business plan.

“We’ve kind of shifted towards more local sales and also more online sales than we used to do,” says Doherty.

Fortunately, Doherty explained that going online was much easier for them than expected.

“We’ve been offering this curbside pickup that everyone’s doing now for several years before the pandemic even happened. In that regard, we were fully prepared for this to happen.”

Interestingly, with the pandemic causing more people to pick up new hobbies, Doherty said they’ve experienced a spike in sales for various products such as model kits, puzzles, and board games. Even trading cards have seen an increase in demand.

 

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“I would say that the increases in demand for all these hobbies have pretty equally made up for the shortcomings that we experienced not having the Comic Cons and in-store events that we used to do. It’s almost completely balanced out for us,” says Doherty.

While Doherty is still unsure whether they will ever go back to in-store events and conventions, they’ve been able to allocate those extra resources to support their new business plan. They’ve also made sure to follow public health guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety.

When the pandemic first started, Doherty was not sure how things would go. Fortunately, they haven’t had to rely on government support programs or wage subsidies, and have instead collaborated with other businesses through the Barrhaven Business Improvement Association.

“The association has been helping all of the other businesses help each other. So, it’s brought pretty much all the businesses in Barrhaven a lot closer together,” says Doherty.

Overall, Toys on Fire has greatly benefitted from its customers and community.

“They’ve all come back to support us. So, that’s been really reassuring, and we’re very glad that we have this big community behind us,” says Doherty.

Carta Magica Ottawa

The inside of Carta Magica Ottawa. Photo provided by Alexander St. Louis.

Along with its wide selection of games and collectibles, Carta Magica is also well-known for its events.

“I’d say event management is one of our strongest skills,” says Alexander St-Louis, the Regional Manager of Carta Magica, during a phone interview. “What sets us apart from some of the other organizers, we tend to run much larger scale events.”

Originally from Montréal, the 25-year-old business decided to open an Ottawa location around 2014.

“We had a lot of people that wanted us to come to Ottawa and help organize these types of events that we run,” says St-Louis. “Ottawa didn’t exactly have that landscape before, so we wanted to diversify the communities which we could support.”

After the initial shutdown forced them to close their doors for two months—and later quarantines forced them to operate via online orders and curbside pickup—they moved their business in a new direction.

“We ended up moving towards online events and then, on top of that, we wanted to start diversifying our product line to ensure that we could support not only our existing clientele but reach out to other clienteles,” says St-Louis.

Photo provided by Alexander St-Louis.

The hobby boom also proved beneficial for Carta Magica, as people sought to pick up new activities to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. Additionally, Carta Magica seeks to expand its merchandise by offering a variety of items normally sold during convention season, as well as add new items such as sports cards.

On the other hand, St-Louis said the pandemic shutdowns caused a decline in the volume of sales. However, them no longer being able to have in-person interactions with their communities was more challenging.

“Before the pandemic, we had events running every day of the week with all the respective games, so we got to interact with a whole bunch of people,” says St-Louis. “And it was tough to not be able to interact with them as we did.”

Fortunately, moving their business online also allowed them to hold virtual events and engage with their communities via virtual applications like Discord.

“We were very happy when we finally made the jump towards online events and be able to support people again,” says St-Louis.

As they slowly bring back in-store events, Carta Magica has implemented safety precautions and continues to monitor public health recommendations. They’ve also been working with other similar businesses and organizers to ensure that the community continues to thrive.

“Collectibles is a great industry. It’s a very tough one to work in, but we are lucky enough to have a lot of people in our communities that support us whether it’s through trading cards, board games, anime and the whole geek culture,” says St-Louis.

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For more information about Toys on Fire and Carta Magica Ottawa visit their websites or follow them on social media. Stay tuned for Part 3 in this series, where we’ll dive into how Ottawa’s escape rooms are doing their part to adapt to a post-pandemic world.