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New game store in play in West End Cloquet

Ten-year-old Cyleiona Almenares made three trips to Cloquet's new game store on the first day it opened at 305 Broadway St. On trip No. 2, she carefully counted out her change to pay for Demon Slayer cards under the watchful eye of her dad, Tyler Almenares, an unabashed Pokémon fan.

The father-daughter duo is exactly the target audience Sara Kenwood and her wife, Gabrielle, were thinking of when they decided to open the store in Cloquet. Game players. Card collectors. People who enjoy the art of the game.

The name says it all: Game Play Stay.

Sara said the store is a dream come true. It's a small-business venture, but it's also an attempt to make the world a better place or, as she puts it, "to bring enjoyment to our world because we need it."

"You know, you enjoy yourself and the company of others," she said. "It's just nice and relaxing for the most part, unless you play a competitive game."

Beyond the varied Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Magic, Naruto, Harry Potter, Charizard, Star Wars and vintage NHL trading cards at the front counters, there are shelves lined with games galore: role playing, board games, games targeting children (Yeti in My Spaghetti, anyone?), yard games and even more card games, like Exploding Kitten, for example.

"If you get the exploding kitten card, you lose, but there are cards to negate it," Sara explained. She knows her game world.

There are two places to play games at the store: a picnic table near the front and a "game room" along the north wall featuring a long table with an open ledge so others can watch. Playing is free; a selection of used games is piled high next to the picnic table for players of all ages to choose from. There's no charge to hang out and play. There are some drinks and snacks available for purchase.

They also have copies of two locally made games - All Hallows' Eve and Skirmish - created by Darrell Davey, game owner and designer (and, full disclosure, part-time CAT-7 employee at the Pine Knot).

Davey said Cloquet has "desperately needed" a game store for quite some time.

"It is truly wonderful to have a local, safe space to get together around a table and have some actual face-to-face time with others of all backgrounds, ages and abilities," said Davey.

A sign on the front door states that the store is a "LGBTQ+ Safe Space."

Creating a safe space was key for the locally grown store owners. Sara graduated from Cloquet High School in 2011 and Gabrielle is a 2010 Wrenshall grad. Sara works at Sappi full-time; both of them are also very involved with the local Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary.

"We just want everyone to feel welcome and safe," Sara said. "Definitely no bullying is tolerated. We hear something not nice, they're gonna be asked to leave because we want a positive environment. Everyone can play and have fun and not have to worry."

People are excited to have a local place to play instead of having to travel, she added.

Davey said it's past time for something local.

"'Why not just go to Duluth or Superior?' was the question of the day whenever it was brought up," he said. "We certainly don't ask those same questions when a new restaurant or bar opens up. ... This fills a sorely needed role in a town that already has access to many amazing outdoor and athletic facilities. And it brings me hope that our town will have a new central hub which will continue to flourish in the years to come and [bring] more creative businesses."

Sara and her sisters will staff the store for now, which means store hours are limited to times that youngish people and families are usually out and about: 5-8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Fridays, 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday.

They expect customers of all ages, because games and cards are definitely not just for kids anymore.

On Friday, Tyler was wearing a shiny red jacket with "Charizard" embroidered on the back in the evening chill. He bantered with another adult Pokémon fan about his favorite character and the latest game, which he proclaims "has a lot of glitches" but the best storyline he's seen.

"We'll be back," Tyler promised during Friday's soft opening.