Wharton: Clearfield store is a smorgasbord of board games
Clearfield • Elvis and Batman Mr. Potato Head toys! A John Elway autographed helmet! A life-sized cutout of Penny from the Big Bang Theory! A Marvel comics acoustic guitar! Plastic Godzillas! Four different kinds of Rubik cubes! Justice League Pez dispensers! Disney collector cards from 1991!
Those are among the hundreds of treasures found at the Endzone Hobby Center in Clearfield.
The surprisingly large, one-of-a-kind store features an eclectic mix of board games, comic books, sports memorabilia, bobbleheads, puzzles and toys. Add to that a separate room where game enthusiasts gather weekly to compete in Pokeman, Magic Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh and other popular games, and this is a place that would make the characters from the Big Bang Theory become downright giddy.
Owner John Irsik said he relates to Stuart, the Big Bang Theory's comic book store owner. He said he laughed the hardest when Stuart haggled over the price of a comic book sword and finally sold it.
"Yeah! I get to eat meat this week!" exclaimed the actor.
Irsik said that much of what he sells promotes a sense of dreaming and thinking.
"A lot of people forget that time to just set aside for themselves," he said. "I like to hide in a nice quiet room and read. I don't know of one man who hasn't dreamed of being Spiderman or Superman. The younger generation wants to catch on to that. It's a wonderful time when you have yourself and your comic books and your thoughts."
Yet, to make a store like this work in an age where many items can be found on the Internet, Irsik must offer service, a huge selection and rare games and collectibles.
For example, on a recent morning, a customer came in looking for a Rubik's cube. Irsik was able to show him several different types and models in different price ranges.
"It's hard to compete with the Internet, especially with board games, so we had to change our business," said Irsik. "We carry stuff that is out of print or hard to find. When we do go to the Internet for a newer game, we try to offer a better deal. The biggest thing we did to compete with the Internet is to offer discounts and immediate selection. If you need a gift, we have free gift wrapping."
And the owner tries to find rare items for customers, though he had to admit that he couldn't help a woman who once came in asking for a bra made from chainmail.
Some collectables are so pricey they must be locked up behind cabinets. That might include an autographed Stan Lee collection of comic books, an Alex Rodriguez signed jersey, a Derek Jeter rookie autographed bat or rare statues of Dr. Doom and Captain America. The oldest game in the store is a 1965 version of Stratego.
Classics such as Life and Monopoly (with many different versions) still sell well. One game pack contained a Slinky, Crayola crayons, Silly Putty and a Duncan yo yo.
For his part, Irsik enjoys making miniature game sets such as ruined terrain cities where many of the buildings are trashed. Game fans come to the store and use these sets to stage battles.
The store's customer base includes military personnel from nearby Hill Air Force Base, families, game geeks, businessmen in suits and ties, kids, guys in jeans and their favorite Marvel T-shirt, teachers and professors.
Irsik combined three stores into this one large facility, a fact that says makes coming to work each day a delight.
"It's easier to run one store and more fun for me because I can spend more time with the customers," he said. "I can talk to them. This is one of the very few jobs that I look forward to doing. Who am I going to meet today? Who is going to come in?"
As for me, a Big Bang Theory and Three and a Half Men fan, I purchased a Sheldon Cooper bobblehead and a Charlie Sheen comic book and wish I had left with the soft plush kitty doll with Penny singing to Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory.
That will give me another excuse to return Endzone Hobby Center, wander the aisles and become a kid again.