After five years in Florida, Ben Callaway and his wife were ready for a change of scenery. He also decided he was ready for a change of pace.
So when family brought them to Signal Mountain last year, he decided to not go back into engineering, at least not immediately. Instead, he opened up Fantasy Mountain Board Gaming in the plaza across from Pruett's.
"I used to work for a utility company. I stared at a computer screen all day long," he said. "I liked games as a kid and played board games: Mouse Trap, Monopoly, Life, all the classics."
As he's thrown himself into his new business, he's learned a lot, he said — especially that board games have evolved. When he cites "the classics," which were popular this holiday season, he lists games including Catan and Ticket to Ride.
"This year, 2019, 5,000 games were released," said Callaway. "There are tons of games out there that are released that you never hear of because board games make up like 5% of the entertainment market."
His engineer tendencies haven't left him. He's run the numbers. It isn't money that drew him to board games.
"What attracted me more is just the community building aspect of it," Callaway said. "It doesn't necessarily generate tons of revenue, so I tried to make something that would fit into the community and feel welcoming and I could be proud of, so if it did fail, I could say I did my best."
He tries to foster that sense of community in his store. Clean tables and comfortable chairs welcome customers to learn to play games with Callaway as their teacher, or just to hang out. Whenever he's in the store, he's ready and willing to sit down and play with someone, he said.
If you go
Fantasy Mountain Board Gaming is located at 1213 Taft Hwy. on Signal Mountain. To learn more, call 541-3586 or visit fantasymountainboardgaming.com or facebook.com/FantasyMountainBoardGaming, where Callaway posts his demo day schedule and other upcoming events. Regular store hours are Tuesday from 6-9 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
"There are a lot of barriers to gaming, so I'm trying to minimize those barriers," said Callaway, listing as examples the time it takes to learn, having someone to play with, and just figuring out whether you like a game enough to buy it.
The store is filled with games of every type. Dozens upon dozens of titles line the shelves, including new releases and Kickstarter-funded games.
While Callaway enjoys the social aspect of playing any game, some of his current favorites are Forbidden Desert, Wingspan and Century Golem.
"I'm just trying to provide something that makes me happy and the community happy," he said. "If at the end of the day I can pay my bills and pay everybody and keep it flowing and the community proud of it, then I've definitely made it. And if it continues to grow from there, fantastic."
Email Jennifer Bardoner at firstname.lastname@example.org.