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Watchtower Game Lounge Brings Tabletop Fun to Austintown

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio – A lifelong passion of tabletop and video games has taught Robert Simkins just how big a dent it can make in people’s pockets. And beyond the expense, how it can cause tight-knit groups to splinter as members work to coordinate schedules and take part in long-running games.

To alleviate the high costs a gamer may face and to create a more unified, open space for gamers, Simkins has taken on the role of a business owner by opening the Watchtower Game Lounge in Austintown Plaza, 5700 Mahoning Ave. 

“There’s so many splintered groups,” he said at the shop’s ribbon cutting Monday. “I know two groups of people forming up at different bars or meeting up for fighting game tournaments at their own houses and six gaming groups that don’t even know each other exist. I want to give that place where all of these people can come together and create one unified community.” 

To get the Watchtower up and running for business, Simkins has invested $30,000 into the space. Not only does he want his business in Austintown because it’s its home for 17 years, but also because of recent development throughout the township. 

“I see a lot of businesses coming in and even just this plaza. There’s a lot of foot traffic coming through this plaza, so it really caught my eye,” Simkins said. 

Watchtower provides gamers a space to test games they’re interested in – but maybe not ready to buy. About a fifth of the 130 board games are vintage games, while the store also offers about 350 video games, with 200 more available to stream.

“A lot of the video games – that’s just me being obsessed with video games,” Simkins said with a laugh. “I’ve had nearly all of them before we opened.”

Simkins offers half-day and all-day pricing for customers. For board games, it’s $7.50 to play them for 90 minutes or $10 for all day play. For video games, it’s $10 for 90 minutes and $15 for a full day. Monthly memberships are also offered: $37.50 for board games and $50 for video games. 

“There are a lot of people who could just play at home, but we offer an opportunity to integrate with people you may not know,” Simkins said.

As of now, Simkins and his sister, Amanda Bacha, are the only employees at the Watchtower, Simkins said. As time goes on, he plans to expand with more employees, he said.

Bacha is “ecstatic” about her brother doing this for Austintown and the surrounding communities, she said. Since Simkins was 15, he’s been wanting to open his own gaming business, she said. 

“Getting together with your family and friends – you can do that at home, but you don’t necessarily have all of the games we have,” Bacha said. “A lot of people are going to be drawn in by the video games, but then once they get here, they’ll see more and more board games that are interesting. That will hopefully expand that market in this area.” 

While board games may be for the older crowd, the video games will still bring in something for younger people, Bacha said. With the combination of the two, people can get together at the Watchtower with family.

“I think that’s going to be a big thing with us,” she said. “For the games you don’t know how to play, we can always instruct on how to play them as well, so we can get you and your family interested in a new game together that you might even purchase and take home with you.” 

While technology has advanced within the gaming industry, Simkins said nostalgia still drives people to play board games. 

“Even if it’s just Monopoly,” Simkins said, “we’ve all spent some time playing board games when we were younger and that’s what drives a lot of gamers to get into the modern ones. You’re so used to those childhood memories.” 

Within the next two months, he wants to double the amount of board games for people to play as well as increase the amount of game systems that are already hooked up, he said. 

“Within the next two years, we should really fill in this space,” Simkins said. “This place has really become who I am and I want this to be here for the next decade.”

Pictured: Robert Simkins opened Watchtower Game Lounge in Austintown. He works with his sister Amanda Bacha.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.