The Nerd Herd

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Downtown Gettysburg Shop Takes Fun & Games to a New Level

By Karen Hendricks  |  Photography by Casey Martin

The term “nerd” is thought to have evolved from the 1950 Dr. Seuss book, “If I Ran the Zoo.” Today, “Merriam-Webster” defines “nerd” as “an unstylish, socially inept person; one who is slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits.”

However, a group of eight Gettysburg teenagers are not only embracing their nerd status, but also promoting it via a successful downtown shop, Nerd Herd Gifts & Games.

“I would define being a nerd as accepting you’re into something—maybe a little too much,” says Nick Wallace, 16. His circle of friends informally called themselves “the nerd herd” for years because they liked to hang out and play board games together; the group formally adopted the name for their Baltimore Street shop, which is dedicated to pop culture merchandise and games.

But, it’s not all fun and games (pun intended.) Even though the shop’s concept is focused on games, the teens behind the business are learning practical business skills and valuable life lessons.

Ahead of the Game

About a year ago, Lark Gift Shop relocated from Baltimore Street to Lincoln Square. Lark Owner Timbrel Wallace (Nick’s mother) says an idea “flashed in her head” to mentor Nick and his friends, providing the former shop space—which was already leased—to let them hatch their own business.

“I don’t think they believed me at first. Nick was a little skeptical in the beginning, but then once we got started, got painting…their eyes widened and they saw what it could be,” says Timbrel.

Nine months of groundwork paved the way for the shop to open under its new name and concept. Timbrel and husband Scott mentored the teens through countless meetings, creation of business plans, visits to trade shows, and preparation of the shop.

“The way we’ve set it up is we provide the framework and they fill the gaps,” she says. “We are more guiding than task-based. We’re trying to give them the big picture, letting them figure out what tasks need to be done, how to be a good proprietor of a business.”

Funding to finance the business came from Lark, she says. “The key is learning how to sustain the business and pay themselves. Everything is real—the money, the decisions…they all respect that.”

On May 6, 2016, Nerd Herd opened its doors. “It was so busy, I had to leave through the back door because I couldn’t get through the front,” Timbrel recalls. “The kids were having so much fun, and the community was embracing them.”

Nick describes the shop as “an eclectic collection of pop culture merchandise.” The shop carries 150 games of all styles—card games, board games, video games, and game add-ons—plus fun gift items such as space and planet-related merchandise including night lights, jewelry, and “Star Wars”-related items; brain-teasing puzzles similar to Rubik’s cubes; repurposed items such as artwork made from old dictionary pages; electronic items such as drones and wall-climbing cars; clothing ranging from Nintendo T-shirts to colorful socks; and even plush toys.

Customers are “kids” of all ages. “The goal is for anyone to find something they can enjoy,” Nick says. One of his favorite products is a game called Red Dragon Inn. “It was our group’s first game—it brought us together. We carry it because we love it so much.”

All eight of “the nerds” have roles in the business, but no titles. Nick and another teen handle payroll and all financials; others use their talents for social media marketing or keeping the shop displays organized and merchandise ordered.

For most of the teens, this is their first job. Nick says they’ve all developed people skills, since they all interact with customers. Timbrel believes the teens’ newly-acquired skills will have an impact on their college plans and careers. They’re learning effective communication, leadership, time management, planning, teamwork, and financial skills.

The adults have even picked up a few new technology skills from the teens. Team meetings are held every other week, and if teens can’t be present in person, they use Skype to join the discussions. Google Drive is used to collaborate on and share documents. Numerous apps are utilized to keep the shop on track—one helps the teens schedule their shifts, another maintains payroll via links to the teens’ bank accounts.

“We’ve Done Something Right”

Just a few months into their venture, the shop is flourishing and making a profit for the enterprising teens.

“I would like to own a business later in life—a bakery or a café—so this is great experience,” says Carley Haskins, 16, of Nerd Herd. “I feel a sense of accomplishment, that we’ve done something right.”

“It’s really exciting to see people buying the products that you enjoy,” says Cail Umbaugh, 17. The senior at Gettysburg Area High School plans on majoring in computer science in college, with plans to become a web designer or programmer. For now, he’s cutting his teeth on the creation of Nerd Herd’s website.

During the summer, the teens work at the shop around-the-clock, but during the school year their hours will be limited to weekends while a new college graduate, Sarah Strasbaugh, takes over managerial duties. In the future, as the teens go off to college, they plan to recruit a new round of “nerds” to continue the business and the unique opportunities it presents.

“More than anything it’s been a lot of fun,” Timbrel says. “It’s awesome to share this experience with my son, with our whole family. It has challenged me as a parent and as a business owner. All of the kids have been great, and overall I hope it’s something they can all look back on fondly and say, ‘I enjoyed it and learned a lot.’”

Nick says the venture has deepened Nerd Herd’s friendships, and he’s come to appreciate his mom’s talents in a new light. “I’ve learned a lot from my mom. My whole life, she’s been running businesses. I used to see it from the outside. I didn’t know how much went into picking products, creating displays…I can now appreciate how much work goes into this.”

Nerd Herd Gifts & Games
40 Baltimore St., Gettysburg
717-334-6373
www.nerdherdgettysburg.com

Facebook: NerdHerdGettysburg

Instagram: @nerdherd_gburg

Twitter: @nerdherd_gburg

Tip: Be sure to visit the lounge in the back of the shop where games go old-school. Guests can take free turns on the arcade-style Pac-Man video game—no coins needed!

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