Sharing a passion

SCHYLER GARZA, CO-OWNER of The Pad in Berlin, displays some of the pop culture memorabilia offered at the shop. Garza opened the Berlin location earlier this year with his lifelong friend, Peter Ozminkowski. Joe Schulz photo

by Joe Schulz

Schyler Garza and Peter Ozminkowski are lifelong friends, who have loved video games for as long as they can remember.

“It’s been a part of our lives since we were kids and we carried it into adulthood,” Garza said. 

Since 2017, they’ve turned their passion for video games and pop culture into a business in New London, Wis., called “The Pad.”

This year has provided an array of unforeseen challenges, as two months into opening a location in Berlin, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the United States, shuttering both locations. 

In early August, the business closed again because of a family matter. The Pad reopened for service at both locations Friday, Aug. 27. Getting to that point, however, was a long time coming.

A few years ago, when Garza and Ozminkowksi became co-workers at the Pine Tree Supper Club in New London they had an idea.

And that was opening a store selling new and used video games, DVDs and collectables, known as “The Pad,” a place where the community could buy, sell or trade-in various pieces of pop culture memorabilia. 

“We always wanted a game store in town,” Garza said. “Growing up, we’d have to always drive to Mega Media Xchange in Appleton if we wanted to buy a game.”

At first, the duo opened The Pad in its home town of New London, offering video games, collectables and movies. 

“A lot of video game stores strictly do just video games, but we try to broaden our horizons by carrying a lot of different things,” Garza said.

After two years of serving New London’s “geek community needs,” Garza and Ozminkowski purchased a building in Berlin. 

Prior to purchasing the Berlin location, Garza noted the duo felt the area lacked a retail outlet celebrating geek culture.

“There’s a lot of people around here that are really into it, and I think this style of business works in just about any community,” he said. 

Garza noted the building didn’t require much in the way of renovations after it was purchased.

“The building was in pretty good shape when we moved in,” he said. “Mostly it was just putting up shelves, getting games out and transferring inventory. We didn’t really have to do anything too crazy.”

On Jan. 10 of this year, The Pad opened in Berlin at 161 West Huron St. But two months later, in March, the coronavirus had other plans. 

The Pad was deemed a “non-essential business” under Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order and the business closed. 

Garza and Ozminkowski were able to obtain a “We’re All In Small Business Grant” from the state, which helped keep the business afloat. 

“I didn’t file for unemployment or anything at the time. I had been doing a lot of online sales in the meantime,” Garza said. 

The business reopened in May, but closed again in August because Garza’s mother was dealing with a medical condition that appeared to be worsening. 

“My mother’s not doing well, so I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could,” Garza said. “Coming here and potentially being exposed to COVID every day and going to visit her when she was in a very sensitive condition just didn’t seem right.”

His mother’s condition has improved to the point where he and she are comfortable with The Pad reopening. 

To give Garza more time to spend with his mother, The Pad’s hours have changed. The shop is closed Sundays through Tuesdays, and open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

“We used to always be open on Tuesdays, but I wanted to take that extra day off to go spend as much time with my mother as I can,” Garza said. 

In terms of the future of the business, Garza and Ozminkowski are looking to renovate the Berlin location’s lower level to host game nights for Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games. 

“It’s a thing that’s growing in popularity,” Garza said of role-playing games. “It’s always been a bit popular, but it’s becoming a bit more common.”

Overall, Garza’s proud of the progress The Pad has made since opening and overcoming adversity, but he hopes the business can grow into a staple of Berlin’s business community.