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Board game boom helping Santa Barbara shop survive pandemic pain

Game Seeker
Ryan Fish/KEYT
Ingrid Estrella was the first employee at Santa Barbara's Game Seeker 15 years ago. Now, she and her husband own the shop.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - With people spending more time at home in 2020, board games and puzzles have seen a resurgence.

That has been a silver lining for ardent board game fan Ingrid Estrella, who owns Game Seeker on Santa Barbara's State Street.

“I didn’t grow up playing board games,” Estrella said. “My mom was a single mother who worked several jobs, so there [was] no time for board games… I just love [playing board games]. I love the wholesomeness of it.”

Estrella was the shop's first employee 15 years ago and felt strongly connected to it over the years. Then in February, she and her husband bought the store.

Just one month later as the pandemic intensified and lockdown orders began, they had to close their doors.

Estrella says she adjusted quickly, completing sales over conversations on Facebook, Instagram and even mobile payment service Venmo.

“I was literally doing FaceTime with people and showing them the store,” Estrella said. “And they’d say ‘This is what i’m looking for’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, this is my favorite part. Tell me the age, what you love, how many players and I’ve got a game for you.’”

Before they were allowed to welcome customers back into the store, Estrella and her husband got a boost from Old Town Coffee in Goleta, which offered part of its space as a makeshift storefront for the couple to sell games.

The shop is open to customers once again but maintaining it is a challenge for the Estrellas. Ingrid works another full time job, as does her husband, who is also working on a PhD. The two were also planning their wedding and got married this year.

Estrella says the lack of tourists this year crushed Game Seeker's business, but locals have enthusiastically supported the store and helped it survive a brutal year for small businesses.

“We were having people at one point buying a $25 board game and paying us $100, saying ‘Keep it, we wanna make sure that when this is all over, you’re still here,'" she said.

Estrella's passion is still on full display. She says introducing people to the games or helping them rediscover old favorites gives her joy puts her problems into perspective.

“I think sharing games with people and sharing that experience with them, for, even if it’s for one evening, it’s amazing," she said.

Article Topic Follows: Money and Business

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Ryan Fish

Ryan Fish is a reporter, sports anchor and forecaster for NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Ryan, click here.


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