RACINE — Dan Padilla has loved tabletop games like Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon since he was 8. Christine Padilla, his wife of six years, never really encountered them until they started dating eight years ago when they were 23.
“We literally had our dates at gaming stores,” Christine said, laughing.
She always enjoyed games, but never realized the passion people had for tabletop games, or the strength of the community around them, until she met Dan.
“When you enter the tabletop world, there are so many people in it who have the same interest as you,” Christine said.
It had long been Dan’s dream to own a gaming store, but he wasn’t planning on pursuing that until he was in his 40s.
But in 2015, while working in HVAC in Lake Geneva, and living in Wind Lake at the time, Dan was injured in an accident that left him unable to continue with that job. That’s when Pokemon saved the couple.
He had a massive collection of trading cards tucked away. They started selling collectibles piecemeal on eBay to make ends meet.
Soon after, they started collaborating with the Double Daggers Artisan Emporium in Kenosha, where they helped organize events while also selling cards inside the shop.
They called their business Twin Dragon Games LLC.
But since December 2017, Twin Dragon has found a home in Not Your Parents Basement Gaming Lounge, 410 Main St. in Downtown Racine.
They don’t have to pawn Dan’s stuff anymore either, having been certified to be distributors of new board games and new releases for hot-ticket titles like Dungeons & Dragons, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon — the same games the Padillas fell in love playing.
“Every day when we played those games, it was couple therapy. We could grow together,” Dan said.
Five days a week (Wednesday-Sunday), the Mount Pleasant couple is working in Not Your Parents Basement, setting up shop as a sort-of store-within-a-store.
Dan is often found standing working behind the Plexiglas counter, filled with Pokemon cards, multicolored dice and fandom figurines. Christine does a lot of the teaching and customer relations.
Last Sunday, she sat down for an hour to play Pokemon with a young boy who found the game through an event Twin Dragon Games co-hosted with Racine Unified School District’s Extended Learning Programs.
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The Padillas are constantly organizing events, such as the Racine Public Library’s Pokemon Club, board game nights at Divino Gelato Cafe and Racine Brewing Company, and almost daily competitions at NYPB. They’ll teach newbies the ropes of different games, like Warhammer and Bloodbowl, while ensuring gamers treat each other with the same respect the Padillas show their customers.
“Racine is such a vibrant community that needed something like this,” Christine said.
That family-friendly mentality is what keeps bringing James Serum-Wood of Racine back to the store.
“Dan is helpful. And Christine is so energetic … if there is something wrong, they talk to you about it,” Serum-Wood said. “It’s their attitude. It’s so welcoming.”
Serum-Wood discovered Twin Dragon Games in 2018 while trying to find a place to play the game Lightseekers, a more niche tabletop battle game. Of course, the Padillas knew how to play it.
“We both play and teach all of the games we offer,” Christine said. “You can point to a game and say ‘I want to learn that.’ And I can say, ‘OK! I have a demo deck and I can teach you.’ ”
Andrew Stelloh of Milwaukee found the store for a similar reason. He was looking to get back into playing Magic: The Gathering, and found a consistent community of players there.
But it’s not just about the games here.
“I want to make our customers feel safe,” Dan said. “I feel like I’m their bartender.”
A teen once turned to Dan, asking for advice on how to ask a girl to a Homecoming dance. A week later, that same teen sprinted down the NYPB steps, ecstatic.
“He got the date,” Dan said, smiling at the memory.
The Padillas, both originally from Pleasant Prairie, credit the success of their business, and other gaming-focused mom-and-pop shops like it, to the community they create.
“You can be a part of a league. You can be a part of something,” Christine said. “That means so much to kids, or anyone: To be a part of something.”