ST. ALBANS CITY – In St. Albans’s downtown, where an ogre watches over Main Street and promises sweets both frozen and thawed, Erik Stumpf toils over a stack of board games, scratching numbers onto makeshift price tags ahead of an upcoming sidewalk sale.
Inside, board games line one wall, while all manner of toys and models are displayed on shelves everywhere else around the store.
A glass case near the front counter advertises tradable card games for popular names from videogames like Final Fantasy and Fortnite and hallowed mainstays like Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic: The Gathering.
Behind the counter, a frozen yogurt machine quietly hums.
Erik and “partner in crime” Jes Stumpf manage the Frozen Ogre, a game store in the heart of St. Albans, where they sell all manner of “niche products” like toys, board games, card games, candy and… frozen yogurt?
The way Jes and Erik describe it, the Frozen Ogre has become a sort of “collection of niches” they filled when similar businesses closed in St. Albans. Frozen yogurt came from their purchase of Maggie O’s, for example.
“All of these things that can’t survive on their own,” Erik said.
But together, they’re the economic leg for the Frozen Ogre to stand on and allow it to thrive while it continues to provide for the Ogre’s real core: gaming.
And gaming is still very much the store’s centerpiece.
Aside from the regularly scheduled card game tournaments, there are figurines for tabletop games like Warhammer and Star Wars: Legion, with accompanying terrain set up on a nearby table.
There are also books and guides for Dungeons & Dragons, the fantasy role-playing game that inspired so much of today’s gaming culture and helped guide Erik, an accountant by trade, to eventually owning a gaming store.
Gaming is where the Frozen Ogre started, Erik and Jes explained, and it’s still what builds the community at the heart of the Ogre’s regular game nights.
The Frozen Ogre started solely as a gaming store in a downstairs apartment below a St. Albans karate dojo.
At the time, it went by a different name: Rocket Punch Games, a play on both the “RPG” acronym that typically refers to role-playing games and on the fact they opened in “a sort of a hole in a wall” below a karate dojo, Erik explained.
“It was a lot of fun,” Jes said. “It wasn’t bad for a starting point.”
While there, it provided an outlet for its core group of gamers and gave them something to do when school wound down or, as Jes explained, when school could become the most intense.
“It gave kids a place to be,” Jes said. “It needed to be that space for kids to go after school.
“It needed to be something to give people an option.”
It also needed to become a business, Jes admitted.
Starting as a side-project for the then-husband and wife duo – they told the Messenger they’ve since divorced – Erik and Jes both came to the conclusion that, to keep Rocket Punch open, they’d have to offer more.
For all of those reasons, Rocket Punch moved from beneath the dojo to a one-lane alley off of Main Street.
Eventually, after purchasing Maggie O’s, the two moved Rocket Punch into their current home on Main Street. Accompanying the move was a changed name, and the Frozen Ogre was born.
“It sounds like yogurt,” Erik said.
As a modern toy store and gaming store, Erik said they face the same challenge that anyone staking a claim in a brick and mortar storefront faces: Amazon.
As an online marketplace and one of the biggest companies in the world, Amazon is capable of leveraging low prices and conveniences that smaller companies like the Ogre likely couldn’t match.
“We acknowledge we’re never going to beat Amazon,” Erik said. Instead, Erik said, the Frozen Ogre can provide services an Internet marketplace couldn’t, like an intimate knowledge base, personal connections and, maybe most importantly, a community space.
In the Frozen Ogre, a handful of upstairs table and an entire downstairs common space are open for events organized by the Ogre.
There are summer camps for card games, role-playing games and even robot building being held in the Ogre.
The Ogre hosts regular nights for Magic: The Gathering drafts, Warhammer games, Dungeons & Dragons and board games.
Every so often, the now local Groennfell Meadery hosts their own gaming nights out of the Frozen Ogre, filling a gap left open when they closed their gaming-friendly mead hall in Colchester.
The Frozen Ogre also participates in after school programs, bringing Dungeons & Dragons and card games, where, according to Erik and Jes, students who might typically keep their interests quiet are able to enjoy themselves with similarly-minded students.
“They sometimes don’t even realize who in their school is into the same things,” Erik said.
“These are kids who are incredibly intelligent… give them something productive,” Jes said. “They need that outlet.”
There are also science, technology, engineering and math – better known as STEM – events sometimes coordinated through the Frozen Ogre, like robot building.
Games change, as does what’s popular.
According to Erik, a transition to an online version of Magic: The Gathering means the popular card game might recede from the limelight for a while. Meanwhile, miniature games like Warhammer are becoming increasingly popular, meaning a hesitant Erik finally caved into stocking figure sets downtown.
Perennial favorites like Dungeons & Dragons still keep a steady presence, with some folks returning to the dice-based role-playing game after years of not playing and new players joining the fray with the rise of podcasts built around role-playing games.
“Everyday, I feel like I talk to someone new or returning,” Erik said. “There are people you would never peg as gamers.”
And Erik glowed about the community that grew around those games, whether it was when kids played and spontaneously imagined “bizarre love triangles” for a dungeon’s monsters, or when it was longtime veterans opening a seat to literally anyone looking to give role-playing games a shot.
“It’s the new poker night,” Erik said. “The new bowling league.”
And for anyone interested in experiencing that new poker night, Erik and Jes have “a hole in the wall” to play right in St. Albans’s downtown.