Geek Retreat is on a mission to bring a sense of belonging to us geeks and nerds everywhere. Founded in 2013 by Stephen Walsh, the original Geek Retreat RPG and table-top gamer’s cafe opened its doors in Glasgow as a fun place for people to play games and grab a milkshake. However, it quickly became a place where customers like us could be themselves and build lasting friendships (I go to one, myself, although I won’t say where). Now, the franchise is expanding, with plans to open a new store/cafe in Hartlepool’s York Road.
The new Hartlepool store will be a haven for fans of “geek culture”, offering a wide range of merchandise, including figures, posters, clothing, comics, and trading cards. In addition, this latest store will host daily events, such as comic book signings and trading card tournaments, and offer free to play board and video games.
In a planning statement submitted to Hartlepool Borough Council, the franchise’s applicant argued that the development would benefit both residents and the surrounding area. “The proposal will provide an excellent place for those members of the public who struggle with personal interactions or isolation of any sort to become part of a group and meet new people,” the statement said.
Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing recession and crazy pandemic shut-down, Geek Retreat remains committed to its mission of providing a welcoming home for geeks and nerds. A decision on the plans for the new store is expected in December 2022, and we can’t wait to see it open its doors and bring even more happiness to the marginalized community of geek culture fans.
It is with a heavy heart that we have to report the beloved gaming café and home for geeks and nerds has faced a set of many and varied shocking challenges in recent months, including the ongoing recession and pandemic shutdown.
In this vein, the Oxford location of their franchise has been closed for months and may never reopen.
The Oxford location, run by newlyweds Matthew Wellington and Andra Gheorghe, opened its doors in August last year (2021). The cafe invited all those who love board games, Pokémon, and comics to settle in and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. However, its proximity to the well-established Thirsty Meeples cafe in Gloucester Green may have contributed to its struggles. Additionally, the couple running the cafe did not live in Oxford, so they had to factor in a long commute to their working days.
In a message to customers on the cafe’s Facebook page, Matthew and Andra finally confided, “It is with a heavy heart that myself and Andra are announcing the closing of Geek Retreat Oxford as of this evening. It has been a fun 6 months but ultimately covid got us. We are still overwhelmed by the amount of support and how quickly we grew the communities in the store. We are proud of what we have achieved and we hope that someone eventually takes what we have built and runs with it to improve it further.”
Unfortunately, the Galashiels’ locations of the franchise also recently shut and may never reopen.
The Galashiels location, on Channel Street, not only offered a safe space for people of all ages to come together and enjoy all things “nerdy”, but it also provided a haven for the community looking for somewhere to feel comfortable.
In a message to customers on Facebook, the Galashiels store posted, “With heavy heart, the difficult decision has been taken to close Geek Retreat Galashiels from today until further notice. Thank you everyone, for your kindness, support, and laughter. It’s been an amazing journey and you, the community, have all made it magical. We wish Charlie and the team all the best and it’s our hope that this will not be so much a goodbye but rather, see you soon.”
The Geek Retreat gaming store in Preston was also a beloved hub for gaming fans, but this store unbelievably fell victim to countless acts of vandalism, forcing the owners to close its doors.
On Friargate opposite the Harris Museum, the cafe generated a lot of footfall, but its prominent spot also made it a target for anti-social behavior. Despite the owners’ efforts to keep the venue running, they have been forced to make the tough decision to close until they can find a safer location.
In a statement posted on one of their few remaining windows, the owners expressed their sadness at the situation and thanked the community for their support. “We’re very sorry to announce that due to the sustained and severe anti-social behavior experienced at the Preston Geek Retreat store over recent months, we feel that it is impossible to ensure the safety of employees and customers,” the statement read.
The closure of the Preston Geek Retreat store is a blow to the geek and nerd community, which has faced many challenges in recent years. The ongoing recession following two years of pandemic shutdown has been very hard on businesses like Geek Retreat, and the closure of this beloved store is a reminder of the difficulties faced by the marginalized community of geeks and nerds. The cafes are a balm for mental health which we do need (perhaps more than ever).
The party is also over for fans of tabletop games in Reigate, Surrey, as the Geek Retreat cafe there recently announced on Facebook that it too will close its doors with “immediate effect” in November 2022. The cafe, which was opened earlier this year by founders Jim Beasley and Rhys Whiteside, offered a fun and casual space for fans of games like Dungeons and Dragons and Pokemon to gather, play games, and enjoy food and drinks.
In the Facebook post announcing the closure, the owners expressed their sadness at the decision but hoped that they could find a new franchisee to bring the cafe back to Reigate in the future. However, they cited specific financial factors related to the lease agreement as the reason for the closure (we suspect, but can’t confirm, the freeholders stuck up the costs to its leaseholders by eye-wateringly high amounts, which is what often happens to many struggling shop owners, sadly).
While the news may be disappointing for Reigate-based fans of the cafe, they can take solace in the fact that the closure is not permanent, and that there is still hope for a return in the future. In the meantime, fans of tabletop games in the area will have to find a new place to gather and play their favorite games.
Despite these challenges, the owners and staff of the Geek Retreat stores remain committed to bringing joy and happiness to their customers. Their stores’ closures may be temporary, but the spirit of our geek community will continue to thrive.
As an example of the plucky fighting spirit of the store chain’s franchisees, the new Geek Retreat café in Kettering is thriving and continues to be a haven for gamers in the area. Since opening its doors in February this year, the café has been building a loyal following and creating a vibrant and inclusive community throughout 2022.
Husband and wife team Dan and Fiona Powell, the owners of the cafe, are working hard to create a safe and welcoming environment for all customers, particularly those from vulnerable and marginalised communities, such as people with ADHD and autism. Besides offering a wide range of games and hosting regular weekly events, the Kettering cafe also support several initiatives, such as theatre groups, markets, and home educators.
Despite the challenges facing many high street retailers in the current economic climate, the Geek Retreat café in Kettering continues to thrive and serve as a gathering place for the local gaming community.
Can the chain as a whole survive and even prosper? Well, Geek Retreat as an organisation reported record sales over the first nine months of 2022, this despite challenging conditions on the high street. The company has seen its revenues grow by 138% over the year so far.
Geek Retreat currently operates 57 outlets, they note, up from 10 at the end of 2019, following a period of rapid expansion. However, the company has had to scale back its growth ambitions because of the above mentioned difficult economic environment. Despite this, it still plans to have 70 venues operating in total by the end of 2022.
The company closed 14 cafes this year, primarily because of poor financial performance or changes in franchisee circumstances, such as illness. However, it stated that it is working hard to reopen as many of these stores as possible.
Chant a Prayer of Healing and roll a 2D8 for these great cafes, folks, because we need the Geek Retreat, and we will always require a safe and friendly space to meet up in person! The friendship is free, while the burgers and chocolate milkshakes are an optional extra.