Gaming business opens through unique project helping residents become neighborhood entrepreneurs

FLINT, Michigan — The building has been many things in the past from a flower shop to a church supplies store. Now dragons, cyborg minions, and seven sided dice line the shelves. With over 125 board and strategy games to choose from and over a 100 titles to rent in the game library, Great Escape Games opened in October. 

Scott Hempel joined forces with Tyler Bienlein to open the business — a result of Habitat for Humanity’s Work and Live program and their work with the Entrepreneurs Society at the University of Michigan-Flint. Announced in May 2014, the nationwide pilot program was designed to help residents of the Grand Traverse Neighborhood open neighborhood businesses. Through the program, the two landed an interest-free mortgage to pay for the building and its renovations. 

The games filling the shelves at Great Escape are not your parents’ Milton & Bradley board games. You’ll find unique figurines, discover expansive narratives, and join a network of gaming enthusiasts — basically a full immersion in gaming culture. 

The two met at Gamer’s Sanctuary a decade ago. Bienlein, a Flint native and lifelong gamer, worked there at the time. “You do something so much, for so long, you kind of want to do it for yourself,” he says.

A Davison graduate and University of Michigan-Flint alum, Hempel works at the GM Tech Center in Warren but has extensive experience in retail. “I think with that its always been an idea we’ve had to own our own store and do our own thing when it comes to gaming,” Hempel said. 

Both Bienlein and Hempel have been avid gamers throughout their lives. Hempel’s interest was rekindled after high school with Magic: The Gathering. “I think games like Dungeons and Dragons and other strategy games like War Machines have made their way into mainstream culture because of the popularity of shows like Big Bang Theory,” Hempel said. “It's kind of easier to be a nerd these days,” Hempel shows a slow sly look that belies a rye sense of humor. 

Hempel also loves the location across from Totem Books and the White Horse Tavern. “We kind of have complimentary service with Totem and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love White Horse pizza,” he said. 

Bienlein said Great Escape is all about creating a comfortable, fun atmosphere. “I like that you can sit down with someone you hardly know and have a shared positive experience in a casual semi-competitive environment,” he says.

Great Escape Games is located at 706 W. Court Street in Flint. It is open noon to midnight Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 10 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, check out the Great Escape Games Facebook page

Read more articles by Jake Carah.

Signup for Email Alerts