Scott Thorne has a PhD in business administration, but if you were to spend your Friday and Saturday nights in October with him, you would think his doctorate was in the paranormal.
“I’ve had an interest in ghosts for a number of years,” Thorne said.
It’s not just an interest of his, but of the many people that join him on his Haunted Carbondale walking tour, where Thorne shows off many places around Carbondale that are rumored to be haunted.
“Especially this time of the year we get a lot more interest, people showing up wanting to have a walking tour,” Thorne said. “But you have to be interested in them, and if you get an interest in them, then you hear the stories.”
Ghosts and paranormal activity is a common thread, but, as Thorne mentioned, that interest won’t be realized unless there is an outlet to express it.
“That’s one of the reasons we do the Haunted Carbondale thing is to let people know about it,” Thorne said.
By day, Thorne is the owner of Castle Perilous, a games store that has been a fixture of downtown Carbondale since opening in 1990. Castle Perilous specializes in tabletop games, board games and role-playing games, and it also carries miniatures, comic books and graphic novels.
Although Castle Perilous’ product selection might not appeal to everyone, it has still seen plenty of business over the years from those interested in what the store has to offer.
“[It is] very much a niche, was more so several years ago. Especially the board gaming and the role-playing has exploded,” Thorne said.
He credits a recent increase in popularity of role-playing games to a shift in public perception.
“[W]ith celebrities like Vin Diesel, Stephen Colbert, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson becoming more open about their enjoyment of Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games,” Thorne said.
His interest in Dungeons & Dragons from the beginning of the game’s existence was the initial inspiration for his decision to open Castle Perilous.
“I was an early adopter of Dungeons & Dragons, I started playing when it first came out in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s,” Thorne said. “I liked selling stuff, and I decided to come down to SIU to get my master’s degree. I had extra money, and Carbondale did not have a game store. […] So I came in and I decided ‘okay, I want to open up a gaming store.’”
Castle Perilous opened on the upper level of The Island building, located where University and Normal Avenues split. The store gradually expanded from part of the second floor to the entire second floor, and then outgrew its space and relocated to its current location at 207 W. Main St. in 2007.
While initially focused on Dungeons & Dragons, Castle Perilous added different games to its lineup as it grew in popularity.
“About ‘93, we saw the advent of the collectible trading card game Magic The Gathering, […] and that got really big. It started to supplant the role-playing. We also saw the growth of the miniatures wargame, primarily Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40K,” Thorne said.
The selection at Castle Perilous continued to grow and expand as new communities and demands for different games would come up. Starting as a Dungeons & Dragons store, it became a central location for many looking for products for games not suported by chain retail stores.
“Pokémon was a monster, so to speak, in terms of, it drew a lot of attention to us because we were one of the few places that you could find Pokémon aside from the mass market at the time,” Thorne said.
The rise of games like Pokémon, which maintains a loyal fanbase after more than 20 years on the market, also has introduced the ability for Castle Perilous to appeal to multiple generations.
“We see people bringing their kids in, playing Pokémon back here in the ‘90s, they were eight or nine years old. Now they’re in their twenties and they’re starting to have kids and bringing their kids in, so we’re seeing the next generation coming in,” Thorne said.
Castle Perilous’ status as a sizable retailer with a niche selection makes it somewhat of an attraction for visitors from other towns, and even other states.
“We pull in from about two hours around. We get customers driving up from Poplar Bluff, we get customers driving up from Paducah, we have customers up over from Mt. Vernon,” Thorne said. “We get people who will drive on occasion down from St. Louis, even though there’s good gaming stores up there, but they just don’t have the selection that we do.”
In the age of the internet, games stores like Castle Perilous are not immune to the struggles of small business ownership.
“There’s been about four or five games stores that have opened since we did, they usually last about four years. And then, for one reason or another, they shutter,” Thorne said.
As highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic, the internet is well-equipped to handle turning traditionally in-person activities into digital experiences. With games, the internet provides plenty of resources to play without the use of physical materials, or even the presence of players.
Still, in 2021, players are continuing to turn to Castle Perilous for their tabletop gaming needs.
“Even with Zoom and other online functionality, most people still prefer sitting around a table and playing games with people they can see, not over a camera. You can see their full body, you can see their reactions. We just had some people last night that picked up a copy of Wingspan. They can play online, but they also prefer to have a physical game in front of them and a group of people,” Thorne said.
Whether he is hosting Haunted Carbondale or running Castle Perilous, Thorne has always pursued whatever interested him. Three decades after seeing his interests underserved, Thorne now owns and operates a local landmark, serving the interests of many people just like him.
Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandyn_2020
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