NEW MINAS, N.S. —
He wants members of the Annapolis Valley gaming and hobby community to think of his store as a second home.
GameTronics owner Matt Balcom said they feature an array of gaming and hobby items that someone might take home to enjoy individually or socially with two or more players or a group. This includes a plethora of video and board games, including hard-to-find retro video games.
He said they focus on used video games, which fits with his idea of promoting a sense of community among Annapolis Valley gamers. Balcom thinks of these customers like an extended family.
He said people recognize sincerity and a sense of community is something that has to grow organically. There is little margin when selling new games and it doesn’t promote the same sense of community. GameTronics likes building what Balcom refers to as the “game economy”, where everyone involved in a transaction gets some sort of benefit.
“Buying, selling and trading those games creates that little economy for everybody that’s involved in it, whereas buying new just puts the money in the pockets of the big-wigs,” Balcom said.
For example, when the store buys a used game, the person selling it gets some value for it, whether it’s $1 or $100. The business benefits when that game is sold to another customer who then gets the enjoyment of playing it.
The business is tailored to hobby and gaming enthusiasts who want an interactive experience, opposed to simply clicking a button and buying something online.
Balcom said there are those customers they don’t see any more since the pandemic hit. He thinks this is because they have legitimate health concerns or are no longer comfortable attending public places.
Because of COVID-19, the store isn’t able to host the large groups of people for themed game nights that it once did. Balcom said the human experience is about interacting with others, so he doesn’t like the thought of people who enjoy such activities being isolated.
Because of this, Balcom said, they’ve continued to host group gaming activities in the store as much as possible while limiting numbers and following public health protocols.
Theoretically, the store has enough space that they could isolate three groups of 10. However, Balcom said this isn’t the same experience as having 30 people interacting, so they’ve been limiting the numbers to two groups of 10. This also allows plenty of space for shoppers to browse while keeping a safe physical distance.
After a customer convinced Balcom to start working out a couple of years ago, Balcom discovered powerlifter Mark Bell’s Super Training Gym online videos. Balcom was inspired to improve his health and continues to work out in the weightlifting gym in the back of his store. In turn, this has inspired some of his customers to get in better shape.
Balcom said most of us don’t think of ourselves as being anything special. When you do something because you love it, especially if it results in self-improvement, this sets a positive example for others to follow.
Balcom was also inspired by the late Cole Wittenberg, who passed away in 2017 at age four-and-a-half following a battle with cancer, to donate as much as he can to causes such as Make-A-Wish Canada.
Balcom worked for the former owner of GameTronics for 10 years before deciding to buy the business in 2010. He describes it as a natural progression as opposed to something he planned. GameTronics has been in its current location at 9049 Commercial St. in New Minas for about seven years.
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Through late summer and early fall, Tim Ball spent as much time as possible underwater in his dive gear, scouring the seabed off the Burin Peninsula for scallops.
It’s an ocean-to-table operation that sees his hand-harvested scallops quickly making their way to dinner plates in the downtown of St. John’s.
“I try to keep it all local,” said Ball about his business philosophy.
With a provincial economy that’s in dire straits and in need of reversing its course, Ball thinks every little bit can help— especially if the focus is keeping as many of those little bits as possible in the province.
For Ball, that means, among other things, using locally made bags and boxes for packing his scallops and using a Burin Peninsula cab company for sending his catch into St. John’s.
“Because this is a primary industry … we are in, and we are getting the actual resources from the bottom, this is creating new money for the economy,” Ball said. “If the money is staying in Newfoundland, then great.”
Terre Restaurant in St. John’s is one of the destinations for Ball’s scallops. Before the season ended last month they could be found listed on the menu as “Seared Diver Scallops.”
“They’re amazing,” said head chef Matthew Swift.
“Anywhere else in the world … the idea of marketing day boat scallops is sort of a pipe dream. If I were to tell friends in other places that Tim gets out of the water, and I get the scallops in as long as it takes to drive in from Burin? It’s insane,” he said.
On top of the quality, it’s Ball’s business recipe that also interests Swift.
“Just in terms of having a diverse and smaller economy, where we can support people on a more individual level,” he said.
This way of thinking is something that also strikes a chord with John Schouten — Memorial University’s Canada Research Chair in Social Enterprise.
Schouten says Ball’s operation means more than just local spending on his supply chain. There’s also a spillover effect which would also see Ball spend money at local businesses in and around Garnish, where he fishes from.
“So every hundred dollars that passes from me, to you, to somebody else here locally, that $100 is working the whole time in our favour here in the province,” said Schouten in an interview last month.
Patch the bucket
It may be a small example, but there’s a bigger lesson in it for the provincial government, said Schouten. He thinks the government should treat the economy like a leaky bucket, where money comes in and goes out.
“If the government could, using that metaphor, start patching the bucket to keep the money in the province longer, working harder for local businesses, local people, people who are making a living wage — that would do wonders for the stability of the economy here,” he said.
Speaking of helping the economy, Ball thinks what he’s doing is scalable. In addition to scallops, Ball also hand harvests sea urchin, but he thinks there’s more that can be harvested as well — including kelp, sea cucumbers and periwinkles.
For that to happen, there would have to be consistent licensing periods from the federal government and more divers with commercial dive training.
Eventually Ball would like to see a special school that trains up to a dozen divers a year for this type of work.
If a community had a handful of divers, Ball said, the economic spin-off is easy to see — you need people shucking scallops and spotting the divers, gear needs repairing, supplies need to be bought.
“I think it’s just a win-win situation for small communities,” he said. “It could be a good economic boon.”
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