We talk to Matt Prinzivalli about Covid-19 and the difficulties game stores are facing during the pandemic.

By Gene Radebaugh

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused major disruption to a significant portion of the Austin community at large. With our shared hobby conventionally requiring us to gather in large groups, it makes sense to be concerned for the spaces we congregate in, and what this all means to our beloved Local Game Shops. This week, I sat down (from the comfort of our computers!) with Matt Prinzivalli from Wonko’s Toys and Games to discuss the pandemic, our hobby, and what we can expect going forward.

Gene Radebaugh: Before the county orders were put in place, what concerns did you have about Covid-19? Were any actions taken to help mitigate impact before they became mandatory?

Matt Prinzivalli: I think our first main concern was after canceling our events. We were one of the first local shops to do so and during the early days of this we were worried it may upset some of our regulars. Luckily everyone else in town followed quickly enough to where it just became normal operating procedure. After that it just became “how do we do as much business as possible before we just have to close the doors?” Becky and Seth had the idea of delivering orders to customers so that they didn’t have to physically come to the store, and thankfully that turned out to be a huge success….also puzzles….they bought a lot of puzzles….and those sold like crazy.

GR: he delivery idea was something that was really unique to my knowledge, do you think Wonko’s will continue to offer a service like that?

MP: I suppose that depends on demand. Logistically it’s not the most convenient way of doing things because it’s very time intensive. But if once everything clears up if there is a big enough demand for it, it might be something worth discussing.

GR: Does your store have a plan for an extended quarantine situation?

MP: Most of that plan was implemented early on. We reduced store hours and kept the staffing to just the three of us to reduce the initial impact. The future just sort of depends on if we can still make deliveries during this time as long as the store front itself isn’t open to the public. During this down time I’m mostly focusing on coming up with a new events roster, bringing more things into the business so that when we can reopen we can hopefully increase business flowing into the store. There have also been projects Becky and Seth have wanted to work on that are harder to do when the store is open its normal hours so we may just focus on improving those things for when business returns to normal.

GR: Any sneak peaks on what some of those projects may entail? If you can mention them; obviously we don’t expect any firm promises.

MP: There are some store aesthetics that we have wanted to improve for a while and I’ve been combing through the stores terrain, clearing out the more damaged useless items and reorganizing what is left so we know what we need to make or purchase to ramp up our ability to increase the quality of life for miniature wargaming moving forward in the store. Just for starters.

GR: I know that within our club we have a dedicated “Wonko’s Terrain Project”, it’s definitely great to have everyone involved!

MP: Agreed. And I’m super excited for that project to move forward.

GR: So, Games Workshop recently announced that they would be suspending all online orders, was this extended to their brick and mortar store partners? Did this have any impact on your business going into the more stringent quarantine orders? Has GW provided any additional insight into why this decision was made, or when it may be reversed?

MP: Not being able to order the new upcoming products was a bit of a sting obviously. Games Workshop being one of our best selling product lines of course means we want to be able to provide all the new shiny things, but obviously shutting down their operations was the right decision for the health and safety of their employees. I know that they had all their reps working from home early on and the warehouses were still operational for a time, until things got more serious. At this time we haven’t been given a timeline as to when things will return to normal but our rep has been in contact either through email or phone calls pretty regularly during all of this so I imagine that when he knows more, so will we.

GR: No one in our community wants to see a shop’s doors close. What can we as a community do to help ensure our favorite places to play will be open after the pandemic has run its course?

MP: Our community has been incredible through all this. Especially the wargaming community. So many of our regulars came into the store to stock up on supplies, finish armies they had always wanted to work on, or just pick up something to do while they are stuck at home. The outpouring of support we’ve seen from our customers during this time has been really humbling and it’s an amazing reminder as to why I love what I do for a living. 

As far as what the community can do? Just keep an eye on social media. If your local shop has a way of continuing to do business through this, either through online sales, deliveries, preorders for when the store reopens, or whatever. Just support where you can. I understand of course a lot of people aren’t working right now or have lost their jobs, and obviously money may be an issue. But we as a store plan on ramping up our list of events for when we reopen to give a wider variety of activities to our customers, so even if you can buy some toys right now, just come see us when we reopen, come play and enjoy yourself and help get the communities back to where they were. We are all in this together and we miss you all a lot.

GR: Is there anything else that you’d like to say to the community?

MP: I just want to thank everyone again. Truly, the support everyone has shown us has been incredible. An LGS is a difficult business to make succeed during the best times, and things like this make it incredibly difficult to push through. We live and die by our communities, and Wonkos is so fortunate to have such an amazing and supportive community. I grew up in stores like this as I’m sure many of us have, and it’s terrible when they go away for whatever reason. We aren’t just a store, we are a second home to a lot of people, myself included. And having the support and love we do from the community has just been the most amazing feeling. Wonkos isn’t going anywhere, and when we all come out on the other side of this, we can’t wait to see you all again and have some fun. We love you all, really. Be safe, be healthy, take care of each other, and we will see you all again soon.

It’s really heartening to see such a bright outlook in a tumultuous time. Wonkos has been a place of stability and communal good vibes for many of us in the Weirdnobz community, and thankfully there is no sign of that stopping. A big thank you to Matt for taking the time to chat with me, and for Wonko’s always exceeding what I expect in a game store. For everyone reading this, I just want to echo Matt’s closing sentiment; be safe, be healthy, and take care of each other.

Gene is relatively new to Age of Sigmar, and has been playing for a little under a year. While new to the game, he is extremely passionate about the local community and supporting its future growth.