- Associated Press - Saturday, August 13, 2016

STREATOR, Ill. (AP) - Starting a business can be a large undertaking, but it’s made easier when your business is your passion.

Ian Ernst started selling trading cards from a binder while attending Streator High School. Today, the 21-year-old operates Maelstrom Gaming from within the Streator Incubator.

A small collective of friends from school would gather in his parents’ basement to play games like “Magic: The Gathering” and “Dungeons & Dragons.” Back then, the idea of opening a store was fun to fantasize about.

“It was always a dream. I didn’t know if it would work or not,” Ernst said. “We’re getting there, slowly in bits and pieces.”

Ernst and his friends originally thought the idea of opening a trading card shop in high school was enticing as the nearest shops that sold similar merchandise were located in the La Salle area. He was certain there was a demand for a similar store in Streator, which is what he told the Streator Incubator Small Business Coordinator, Jason Marvel.

Ernst discussed with Marvel the potential demand in the store, but that wasn’t what really assured Marvel the business was a good addition to the Incubator.

“He was trying to take advantage of his passion and create a business out of it,” Marvel said. “I really appreciated that because you don’t see a lot of people taking something that is their passion and try turning it into a business.”

Marvel was unfamiliar with the games themselves, but was willing to roll the dice with Ernst and get him an office space. Maelstrom Gaming was given two different spaces they quickly outgrew before taking their current office in room four on the east side of the Incubator.

Ernst’s passion stretches as far back as age 5 when his father taught him how to play “Magic: The Gathering” and early in high school when he met a large group of students playing “Dungeons & Dragons.”

Eventually discussions revolving around opening up a trading card shop became more serious.

“I was like, ‘OK, let’s figure out a way to do it.’ So I took all of my personal rare (cards) that I had, stuck them in a binder and started selling them to people.”

Ernst would sell pieces of his collection to other students during his junior year. He would also regularly sell cards at Safe Haven, a community youth organization where trading card players would meet frequently.

This process of selling cards and buying more cards worked for a while, but Ernst knew he had enough of a customer base that a set location would be worthwhile.

His father was the one who ignited the passion in Ernst and it was his mother who got him started on running a business. She notified Ernst about the Incubator and both of them gave him the funding to get started.

“Her and my father have been a huge help because I really don’t make enough money to have afforded the cases you see here,” Ernst said. “They were all gifts from them and from my aunt and uncle. They wanted me to succeed.”

The process of officially starting up a business was relatively easy, according to Ernst. He did reach out to the gaming shops he once frequented in La Salle such as Metropolis Comics and Mind Games Hobby for advice.

The shop offers not only “Magic: The Gathering” but also “Pokemon” and “Yu-gi-oh!” cards and regularly hosts tournaments.

Ernst is asking for additional financial support through a GoFundMe account to finalize his position as a business within the city by setting up a small business banking account. Additionally, by finalizing the business he would be able to purchase large shipments of cards directly from distributors which would help in drawing repeat customers.

“The customers I built the shop for don’t spend money here because I don’t have new products all the time,” Ernst said. “But I can’t get new products if they don’t spend money. It’s one of those vicious cycles.”

The small collective that formed in his parents’ basement years ago has now grown considerably as the store draws not only from Streator but also from Ottawa and occasionally Mendota.

Moving forward Ernst believes his business has the legs to thrive in a brick-and-mortar store outside of the Incubator in the future, and he’s not the only one.

“He really is a good kid and not only is that evident but I think he has a viable little business that he can turn into something in one of the corridors downtown,” Marvel said.

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Source: The (Ottawa) Times, https://bit.ly/2age1rf

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Information from: The Daily Times, https://www.mywebtimes.com

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