The pandemic has brought an increased awareness of the importance of finding optimal work-life balance in our hectic lives. Christine Hibbard, the owner of Xplore Games at 858 Millwood Rd., agrees with this sentiment, saying that “the element of play should be incorporated into everyone’s life” and it is her goal to facilitate that for Leasiders.
She adds that “games do so much for us as they teach cooperation from a young age, allow for bonding with friends and family and are even good for cognitive health.” She first started sharing her passion for games when she opened an escape-room venue, Looking Glass Adventures, at Danforth and Victoria Park, seven years ago.
That experience inspired her to open a retail space to house all the new games and activities now on the market. She was drawn to “the hidden gem” of Leaside since she grew up here and still has family and friends in the area. It is also a convenient location for her customers and is close to the family home at Danforth and Greenwood, where she lives with her husband and business partner, Jon Hoult, and their three children, Andrew, 18, attending Sheridan College for game design, Evan, 16, and Juliet, 12.
The store opened in August, 2022, and features a dazzling array of games for every age group in every category: table-top or board games; jigsaw puzzles (very popular in Leaside); toys and licensed collectibles such as Harry Potter gift sets; a variety of card games; sensory toys such as putty and fidget toys; a STEM line including National Geographic kits; and mystery or escape-room style games.
Christine and Jon have fun researching and trying out the new, streamlined games, which are easier to learn and faster to play. Along with staff members Caroline Spurr and Lizzy Carey, they also enjoy making suggestions to customers and will give demonstrations and teach them how to play games.
Not surprisingly, the store’s reception in the community has been “amazing,” Christine says, with word-of-mouth recommendations attracting new customers who quickly become regulars. Comments posted on an online Leaside group resulted in many sales over the holidays, which then generated a lot of feedback about the success of those holiday gifts.
Sam Craven, father of two young sons, is very impressed with the staff’s expertise and recommendations. He values board games as an alternative to “screen time” in developing social and problem-solving skills. He placed a special order for a game from his youth, HeroQuest, and feels fortunate to have a game store right here in Leaside. That sentiment was echoed by Leaside Life writer Susan Scandiffio, who also praised the “breadth of the selection” in the store and Christine’s knowledge and enthusiasm.
Always interested in finding new products, Christine reports that she and Jon are looking to expand their inventory to suit the needs of the community. They already carry outdoor items like bubbles and super bouncy balls, and are adding to their line of snacks and treats with the Pop Stand’s handcrafted popsicles and “unicorn fluff,” a mixture of cotton candy and candy popcorn. They also plan to host events featuring Pokemon trading cards, Dungeons and Dragons, and puzzles.
Both Christine and Jon appreciate the “sunny and cheerful” location of the store and encourage everyone to stop by for a chat, either inside or on the welcoming bench out front.