Wyatt Tise greets me in the entry of Studio Games, takeout in hand. He hasn’t stopped to eat today.
Tise is probably most familiar to members of the Tech family from his role as visiting lecturer of Japanese and English. But Tise isn’t “visiting” the area.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite—he’s been doing double duty in the community as a part-time lecturer and downtown small business owner for seven years.
After spending several years in Asia teaching English, Tise brought back his love of teaching to Tech and his savings to open Russellville’s first game store, Studio Games.
Studio Games is a small space with game tables in the middle and merchandise lining the walls. “Games” doesn’t refer to video games, like one might assume in today’s age.
No, Tise only sells board and card games. Examples of games include “Magic the Gathering,” “Card Fight Vanguard,” “Force of Will” and other games one could be forgiven for not recognizing. These cards games are a niche interest with a small but dedicated group of players.
Tise had been a lifelong gamer, but he only began his studies in Japanese during his last year of a fine arts undergraduate degree at Tech.
“One of my friends talked me into taking Japanese; I took Japanese just to fill in a spot on my schedule,” he said. “I never thought I’d be taking Japanese.”
Tise ended up loving the study of Japanese and saw it as a break from his rigorous senior level course load in fine arts.
The graduate assistant teaching the course had been an exchange student from Komazawa, Japan, and convinced Tise to be the first exchange student from Tech to go to Komazawa.
Tise spent the next year beginning his master’s degree in liberal arts and preparing to go overseas. After arriving in Japan, he began his studies at Komazawa University while looking for part-time work.
“Tokyo’s expensive, and I was needing a part-time job, so I started working for a language school teaching English,” he said.
After coming back from his exchange program in Japan, Tise toyed with the idea of getting a certificate from Tech in TESOL, teaching English as a second language, but he decided against it, opting instead to wrap up his education and enter the workforce.
Tise would then go to Taiwan for four years to teach at another English language school.
“Throughout school, I was always an avid gamer,” he said. “In Japan, I helped them set up one of the game stores I hung out at. I helped them set up some of the games from Europe and stuff like that.”
Tise spent the first two years of work in Taiwan paying off his student loan debt. An ailing father and a life reassessment led him to begin saving to open a game shop of his own, back in the states near his family.
Tise had saved $18,000 by the time he returned to start a shop of his own.
The first few years had their hiccups—his first and second locations had serious issues with the buildings, which led him to his third and current location at 312 West B Street.
The economy tanked shortly after he opened his doors, but his business held on.
The key for Tise was networking, something he admits isn’t his strongest skill. The community in a small town game shop is everything. The only other shops in Arkansas are in Conway, Fayetteville and Little Rock, all of which are much bigger markets than Russellville. He said word of mouth is key, as most small businesses will tell you.
Currently, Tise is the sole employee working at the shop during the 45 hours a week it’s open. Between the shop and his work at Tech, he estimates he works a minimum of 60 hours every week.
He hopes to be able to hire a part-time employee this coming year, and looks to break into several new niche markets in the coming years.