SHARON, Pa. – In the tabletop card game “Magic: The Gathering,” the Infinite Consortium was a mercantile organization capable of procuring all possible items in the game.
In 2013, the fictional location became the inspiration for a real business, Infinite Consortium Gaming. As in the game, the real Infinite Consortium sells various items to its customers. At its core, though, it’s a place of gathering. Co-owner Tom Vaughn says, “It’s a gathering of everybody working together to make this business succeed.”
Vaughn, with his wife, Michalena, opened Infinite Consortium nine years ago at 162 W. State St. in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Last November, they opened a second store inside the Eastwood Mall in Niles.
Infinite Consortium, which employs five, sells a wide variety of tabletop games, including popular card games such as Magic and Pokémon, as well as board games such as Dungeons and Dragons. “The collectability aspect, especially for Pokémon, is through the roof,” Vaughn says.
While all the games can be played, he says they’ve seen a big increase over the last two years in the demand for collectible gaming items, especially nonfungible tokens, or NFTs. An NFT is an item that can’t be reproduced. “It’s something that you can buy and hold and have and sit on and it’s never going to be made again,” Vaughn says.
As an example, he points to the Charizard Pokémon card in his display cabinet priced at $80.
What makes the Charizard so desirable is it’s “the iconic Pokémon” from the original game and the card will never be reprinted, Vaughn says.
“As a kid, you open a big pack of Pokémon and you got a Charizard. Now, fast-forward 20 years later you want to try to relive that,” he says.
The best-selling items at Infinite Consortium are Pokémon cards, although collectible gaming action figures are particularly popular at the Eastwood Mall store. “When we first opened, there were only a handful in the cases. Now they’re just packed full,” Vaughn says.
While many customers seek to obtain an item from their past, just as many are interested in playing the games.
Infinite Consortium hosts events such as game tournaments, often with as many as 70 people, at its store in Sharon. Hosting events was the core of the business for many years.
“The hard part,” Vaughn says, “was to get people to come to your store. So they would come to tournaments and be there for four or five hours and they would buy new cards or a board game.”
In fact, attending tournaments in the area is how the Vaughns got the idea for Infinite Consortium.
Both were in their mid-20s and working full-time. Vaughn worked in information technology and Michalena worked doing security clearances for the government. “We were both not very happy with our jobs,” Michalena says.
While attending tournaments on the weekends, both Tom and Michalena found the venues and stores to be lacking. They thought they could do better.
“Nowhere we went felt very welcoming to females specifically,” Michalena says. “It was all very clubhouse feely and very masculine and kind of dark and dirty. They were a place for men.”
So they quit their jobs, found a location and signed a five-year lease.
“Sometimes I wonder to myself how we even stayed afloat,” Tom says. “It’s such an interesting idea that we’re just selling games.”
Still, all was going well until the business was forced to shut its doors for six weeks when the pandemic hit in 2020.
“For the month-and-a-half that we were closed, we shifted everything to our website and tried to do everything digitally,” Vaughn says.
The pandemic wasn’t entirely bad for Infinite Consortium, particularly when it came to the collectible side of the business. As people went out less, they found they had more disposable income for items for their homes, Vaughn says.
“It’s very weird how the pandemic affected everybody in different ways” he says. “The collectible market, it didn’t hurt. It probably enhanced it.”
While curbside pickup and online sales helped Infinite Consortium to stay afloat, they were no substitute for the experience customers got when they came to the store, he says.
“That’s the draw to local. You can actually talk to someone. The biggest question I get is, ‘Where do I start?’ When you go online you can’t type that in,” Vaughn says.
As the pandemic has eased, the Vaughns have begun to host events again. Sales rebounded in 2021, thanks in part to what Vaughn labels the “insane” holiday season they had at the Eastwood Mall store.
“I have a huge plan for the mall store,” Michalena says.
Right now the Vaughns are in the “very beginning planning stages” of an idea to start hosting events at the Eastwood Mall. They plan to spend this year attending several large events to gather information and best practices.
“We want to have a once-a-year huge event at the Eastwood Event Center,” Michalena says. “Sort of like a comicon or a game convention.”
Tom says their events have a far reach, in part because of the strong sense of community among gamers.
“People will travel very far to come to our store,“ he says. “Especially when we have bigger events, we have people come from Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Erie. It’s more than a retail store. It literally is a community.”
Pictured: Tom Vaughn, posing with a statue of a character from Magic: The Gathering, owns the store with his wife, Michalena.
SHOP LOCAL is sponsored by the Eastwood Mall Complex.