The business of play

Hobby shop evolves with times to remain a customer favorite

Posted on May 1, 2017 :: Small Business Spotlight
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

When Bob Moses started Chimera Hobby Shop in Fond du Lac more than 25 years ago, he stocked it with sports cards, comic books and Dungeons & Dragons items, which were all the rage.

Today, Moses says sports cards have faded in popularity and comic book characters have taken off in a huge way. As for D&D, well, it’s not as big anymore, but now it’s cool to be nerdy. Chimera has maintained its success over the years by staying on top of trends and offering a diverse range of products.

Moses began Chimera as a college student in 1990 and ran it out of his parents’ store, Moses Service Hardware. His parents were preparing to get out of the business, so he started phasing in comic books and games as hardware phased out.

“Some of my old-time customers still say, ‘I remember when you could pick up a hammer and your comic books,’” Moses says.

Moses and his buddies, “a bunch of geeky college guys,” came up with the name Chimera, which is pronounced with a hard C, not a “ch” sound. Chimera is the name for a mythological monster.

The moniker fit the store’s image at the time but not as well now, Moses says. He’s kicked around the idea of changing it over the years, but his customers will not hear of it. “They probably are more in love with it than I am,” he says. “But it’s unique.”

Keeping the hobby shop open long-term wasn’t necessarily the plan initially, but accounting degree in hand, Moses did some job interviews and discovered he’d rather stick with what he’d been doing.

Three stores and 27 years later, it looks like he made the right decision, and Moses says the business still brings him joy. Chimera has locations on Main Street in Fond du Lac and Wisconsin Avenue in Appleton as well as a small shop in Forest Mall in Fond du Lac.

Moses draws a contrast between working in his parents’ store growing up and running a hobby shop. People always came into his parents’ business with problems. It was nice to help people solve those, he says, but it still meant an issue to resolve.

Customers come into Chimera with an entirely different desire.

“You get to show them the new comic book, or you get to show them the new game, or you get to talk to them about what they’re doing for fun,” Moses says.

Over the years, Moses has watched customers’ interests evolve, and he attributes the store’s longevity to a willingness to diversify. Zach Wilson, owner of Appleton’s Power House Comics, a frequent Chimera shopper, agrees. He appreciates the store’s range of products as well as its long-standing staff members, who greet him and his kids by name.

“(Bob) has been able to slowly branch out a bit at a time here and there,” Wilson says of Chimera’s wide selection.

Moses says games of all types — board, miniature, card and roleplaying — make up his biggest sellers, but his stores also stock comic books as well as educational and plush toys for kids and puzzles for people of all ages.

Tabletop gaming has surged in popularity in recent years, and Chimera has stayed on top of that trend, continually adding more stock. “It’s definitely by leaps and bounds way more mainstream than it used to be back in the ’70s or ’80s or ’90s when we opened,” Moses says.

Chimera carries a wide range of games, from new favorites like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride to card games like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic to pen-and-paper roleplaying games.

The more electronics vie for people’s attention, the more many seem to seek out activities that aren’t screen-based, says Moses, whose stores don’t stock anything electronic. He sees parents increasingly wanting to find activities that will get their kids off screens and interacting.

“When you play a board game, you’re playing the game, but you’re also sitting around the table talking,” Moses says. “I know I get together with friends, and I bet half the time isn’t really playing the game, it’s just having a conversation about other stuff.”

Both of Chimera’s larger stores hold events several nights a week and have areas where people can gather to play games like Pokemon, Star Wars and Amonkhet. Most of this is free to customers, but the store also holds pay-to-play tournaments.

Monty Bevers, who runs Appleton Area Adventurers Roleplaying Guild, has shopped at Chimera for 15 years and meets friends to play D&D and World of Darkness there on a regular basis.

Bevers enjoys the social connection and says it serves an even greater purpose. “I find it a very useful tool for helping people learn life skills.”

Moses says the camaraderie Bevers describes is the best part of his job. “With game stores, it’s really about community,” he says. “People still want to play a game sitting across from somebody.”