In recent years, the City of Kilgore has become sort of a hub for all things 'geeky' — comics, sci-fi, fantasy and fun.
Two local stores, RC Comics' Geektopia and the Dragon's Nest, lean into this to create places for people to gather to enjoy and express their interest in these things.
Rick Custor, owner of Geektopia, began an annual event in Kilgore called Geekend eight years ago.
"I think that kind of woke people up and got some people's attention a little bit eight years ago," Custor said. "So I'd like to take a little bit of credit for bringing it to people's attention and getting people excited about it, so I think that may have had something to do with it. I started out just trying to give people -- a lot of geeks feel isolated and they don't have that much in common with just everybody, and I think it gave those types of people a place to meet other geeks that they had something in common with. They could talk about the latest movies or the latest books or the latest whatever, and word kinda got out, and it's 'Hey, we can meet people here; we can find somebody that we can be friends with.' I think it just kind of grew from there."
Custor said you'd be surprised how many geeks are in Kilgore.
"I've had people tell me 'well there's no geeks in Kilgore,' but there are," he said. "You don't see them as much. There's people that are into that kind of thing that you'd never suspect are into that kind of thing. It really appeals to all ages, not just kids or even teenagers. I have all ages of customers that come in, and like I said I have books, I have non-geeky books. I've got history books and that kind of thing too. I try to appeal to as many different demographics in the entertainment field that I can. Everybody likes to be entertained. Everybody has something that they geek out about."
Stevan Beets, owner of the Dragon's Nest, said something similar.
"I say it's bigger than most people would think because back in the day it wasn't cool, now it is. So everybody is embracing the geek culture, and it's like, it's the new norm," he said. "It's not the bad thing anymore to be a geek. So it's like everybody thinks it's cool. It's actually in style."
Although both stores appeal to those interested in geek culture, they're both unique.
"I sell pop culture items, comics, records, books," said Custor of Geektopia. "Kind of like a mini Hastings or Half Priced Books sort of, that kind of thing, and entertainment type stuff, we have collectables and toys and a little bit of everything, as long as it's cool. We try to sell cool stuff... We have events pretty often in the store. We have guest vendors come out sometimes and sit out outside. We have what we call model mania, where we build models for a couple hours on Saturday. We have guest authors come in once in a while and anything we think might be fun. We do some kids crafting days every so often, and whatever we can think of that might be fun really."
The Dragon's Nest is more centered around games. They sell a lot of different board games and roleplay games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, as well as card games like Magic the Gathering, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, in addition to 3D printing commissions of miniatures for games.
"There's a need for something here in Kilgore for something like this for people to be able to come up here and get games, play games, sit down, have snacks with friends, play games," Beets said. "I have private rooms for private rental for people to come in and play privately... it's mostly people gathering and getting to play games together. We actually do Magic tournaments on Sundays. So we do what we call Commander. Commander is a form in Magic that we do. The last Sunday I had 16 people in the tournament, and it's been growing ever since."
The Dragon's Nest has only been open since July, but they've been getting a lot of business.
"I've been getting a lot of good stuff, a lot of good feedback," Beets said. "People (are) just excited about the shop, that something's here for them to come do and play and stuff now. I've gotten so many 'Thanks for opening this shop' when they come in here, so it's been kind of fun, seeing the excitement of all the people that come in, they're just so happy to see something like this here... We're actually already looking at expanding some. I've got a contractor coming to open some more room for us, because we have a storeroom and a little kitchenette that I'm going to knock out and make into more floor space because we're already running out of room for people and floor space for retail."
The rental room at the Dragon's Nest is quite popular. It can be rented out for two hour blocks, $15 for two hours, $25 for four hours and $30 for six hours. For just $10 more, you can rent out the popcorn machine for all you can eat popcorn.
"My room on the weekends is getting rented out quite often for people coming into play. They don't all play Dungeons & Dragons, but that's the most popular one, but there are some other people that come in that play other types of RPGs that just like to rent the room because it is really cool in here," Beets said. "It's got a custom game table. I've got custom artwork done on the walls. I've got cool stuff, if you could see in the pictures there, as far as like, the dragon room. We went all out with this room, and it's back here in the back of the shop, so you're away from the crowd or anything, so you just come in here and rent the room and you have your own game in private."
Geektopia, located at 207 E. Main St. in Kilgore, is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The Dragon's Nest, located at 413 E. Lantrip St. in Kilgore, is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sundays from 2 to 10 p.m.