Game shop owner draws on childhood joys

Walter Sheppard of Palouse Games worked in cubicle, fast food, cleaned porta-potties before buying store



Owner Walter Sheppard discusses he came to own his games and hobby shop Wednesday afternoon at Palouse Games Store.

ALANA LACKNER, Evergreen managing editor

Not many people can say their obsession from childhood relates to the career they have now. Walter Sheppard, owner of Palouse Games in downtown Pullman, can say exactly that.

Palouse Games is a hobby store that specializes in board and card games. The store also hosts many events and serves as a hangout spot. Many people stop by exclusively to go into the backroom and play tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.

Sheppard has owned the store for five years but admitted it had never been his plan.

“I had a pretty good job,” Sheppard said. “It was a standard nine-to-five kind of thing working in cubicle land and it was pretty soul-crushing.”

Sheppard said he searched for a new job, and when he saw an opportunity to buy the store for a reasonable price, he had to.

“So I just kind of dove in,” Sheppard said.

Of course, this was sort of a dream come true in its own way. Sheppard always had an interest in games.

“When I was growing up, I probably spent 40 hours a week at my games store,” he said. “Like, I was there all the time. All of my allowance money, birthday money, Christmas money — it all went to the store.”

Sheppard grew up in Pullman. The store he frequented was called Wally’s World. Sheppard said the store sold hobbies and role-playing games. He remembered a room patrons could rent for an hour to play on a gaming computer.

“Back in the day when gaming was starting to happen, before World of Warcraft even,” he said. “I would just go down there and meet people and we’d play games all the time.”

Sheppard explained the store’s closing left Pullman with a void. There just wasn’t a place where Pullmanites could go and play games. Stores in Moscow didn’t have spaces to play and were farther away. Kids couldn’t just stop by on their way home from school, Sheppard said.

“When Billy opened [Palouse Games] eight years ago it was something that I think the community really needed,” Sheppard said.

The shop has changed a lot since Sheppard purchased it. Space that once contained comics and action figures now holds board games. The store is still phasing out comics, and no longer contains action figures.

They do however have printable figurines used for tabletop RPGs. The store also has a lot more cards from the popular game Magic the Gathering than it once did, Sheppard said.

“We went from two glass cases to now — ” Sheppard interrupted himself to count — “eight cases. So we have like four times the amount of Magic cards.”

He said Magic players are a large part of the store’s demographic.

“Magic has become absurdly popular — it’s crazy,” Sheppard said. “As far as Magic players go, we now have pre-releases which Billy started at his shop.”

Pre-release events allow patrons to buy cards a week before their official release.

“[We’ll have] like two hundred people here over the course of two days, playing Magic,” he said.

Middle and high school students make up another chunk of the store’s demographics. They show up three or four times a week to go in the backroom and play D&D with friends.

“They’re not doing the rules right but they’re all having fun,” Sheppard said. “They get the opportunity to be themselves in a judgment-free atmosphere and just hang out.”

Sheppard said Palouse Games means a lot for the community, but it’s clear how much it means to Sheppard himself. In a way, Palouse Games was his new beginning.

“I’ve put in my time as far as I just need to have a job to pay the bills, so it’s very nice to have a job that I enjoy going to,” he said. “I was a janitor, I was in fast food, I was working in a cubicle. I spent part of a summer working at the renaissance fair cleaning Porta-Potties.”

Of course, owning Palouse Games isn’t all board games and Magic cards.

“You’re still a janitor if you own your own business,” he said. “If the toilet breaks, you still have to fix it — you can never escape being a janitor.”

Palouse Games is located at 141 N Grand Ave., right across from Neill Public Library. It is open every weekday from 12 p.m. to “Late!” according to the store’s website, except Saturdays when they close at 6 p.m.

Sheppard said every day is worth the work.

“There are trying aspects to it, as with any job, but my worst day here beats my average day at any of my other jobs.”