Redevelopment poses new challenge for popular games and comic book storeChallenges Games and Comics owner Tony Cade. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the July 1 Decaturish E-edition. The E-edition is an exclusive product for our paying supporters. To become a paying supporter for as little as $6 a month, visit supportmylocalnews.com
Greater Decatur, GA — Tony Cade spends his days building a community, one comic book and one game at a time.
He owns one of the few stores at the mostly empty North DeKalb Mall. The future of Challenges Games and Comics is still unknown, as the mall is slated for redevelopment as a mixed use project. Cade is looking for a new space for his store and hopes to stay in the area.
Challenges will celebrate their ninth year in business in November.
“I know for a fact we’re going to have to move somewhere. Even if we were lucky enough to be part of the new plans for it, we still have to go somewhere when they do the construction,” Cade said.
Developer Edens plans to create a mixed-use development with retail, a hotel, apartments, and townhomes. Plans call for about 300,000 square feet of retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space, a 150-room hotel, 1,700 apartment units and 100 townhomes.
The project’s estimated completion date is 2028. The plan also shows nearly 50,000 square feet allocated for a grocery store, but doesn’t name the store. To see previous renderings of the plan obtained by Decaturish, click here. The project will set aside 10% units for workforce housing and will include a retail incubator. The developer is not asking for anything in exchange for providing the affordable units.
The DeKalb County Commission at a May 26 meeting approved the rezoning for the project.
Edens so far has declined to discuss the project outside public meetings.
Cade has been collecting comic books and playing strategy games since he was about nine years old.
“My dad used to work in food service. He was a manager at the Atlanta airport,” Cade said. “People used to buy comic books and stuff while they were waiting for their planes, and they’d leave the comic books. My dad would collect the comic books up and would bring them home to me. That’s how I got into reading comic books.”
As a kid, he was hanging out on his front stoop one day when a neighborhood kid came by and asked if Cade collected comic books too. He said, “yeah, I collect comic books,” and he went and looked at his new friend’s comic book collection.
“I’ve got a little bitty stack of comics in the house on the shelf,” Cade said. “I go over to this kid’s house, and he has rows of long boxes of comics all bagged and boarded. [It] completely blows my little mind.”
Cade’s dad was supportive of this new interest, and soon they began going to comic book conventions. Cade would get a $20 bill and get as many comic books as he could out of quarter boxes that had comics for sale for 25 cents.
Cade also learned how to play chess at the age of eight, and by the time he was nine-years-old he was playing in chess tournaments. Chess exposed Cade to other strategy games like Dungeons and Dragons.
In college, Cade majored in journalism and started to become interested in photography. He was on the newspaper staff at his junior college.
“I was like, ‘Hey, maybe they need a staff photographer,’ so I went to one of their staff meetings to volunteer to be at the Atlanta Fantasy Fair,” Cade said. “This was back in the mid-80s. I was lucky enough to get on staff as a staff photographer, and that just opened everything up, as far as Atlanta fandom is concerned.”
In the early 1990s, Cade’s friend Tim Cummings approached him one day and said he wanted to open a comic book store.
Cade was originally supposed to be a silent partner, providing the back issues of the comics for the business. Another friend, Don Hillsman — who is a comic book artist — also got involved in the business. The trio got together and opened a comic book store, art studio and a photography studio called Midtown Studio.
They rented space from Cade’s hairstylist for a while, and had to move to another space in 1994. The business underwent a name change and became Quantum Comics. At that time, it was just a comic book store.
“Then, my buddy Tim basically was separating and had to pull out of the company,” Cade said. “I basically took everything, packed everything up and reopened in Stone Mountain as the Dragon’s Horde.”
Eight years ago, Cade moved his business to North DeKalb Mall.
“This spot right here was an arcade for like 30 plus years. I used to play here as a kid back in the 80’s. The name of it was Challenges Amusement Arcade,” Cade said. “Since the signage and stuff was historic, and I was able to save some of the neon lights, I’m like let’s go ahead and change the name to Challenges Games and Comics. Because everyone who’s ever grown up in this area knows this arcade.”
He added that Challenges is like a landmark for those who grew up in the area.
Cade also ran the Atlanta Science Fiction and Fantasy Expo at the mall before the COVID-19 pandemic. The expo had over 50 vendors and 60 hours worth of programming. The expo was free to the public, and was one of the largest free events in Atlanta, Cade said.
The expo was supposed to be held March 14-15, 2020 at the mall, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
When the interior of North DeKalb Mall closed, “that whole dream of when we will do our next show, died away,” Cade said.
He added that people still ask when they will do another show, but Cade has to figure out where he will move the shop before he does another convention.
For now, the store remains open for comic book and game sales, community events and tournaments. Challenges has a wide variety of inventory from anime, gunpla and model kits, board games, miniatures and paints, comic books, action figures and apparel.
Groups come into the store as well to play Warhammer, Dungeons and Dragons or Magic: The Gathering. Challenges hosts tournaments occasionally.
“My business idea was always to grow my own community. A lot of the Magic players that we here now for Magic: The Gathering, these are all kids that we taught to play Magic: The Gathering,” Cade said. “Since the years I’ve been here in the mall, I’ve taught them how to play something when they were in elementary school, and now they’re going off to college and I only seem them during the summertime when they come home from college.”
Matt Senrad of Decatur said he goes to Challenges every Friday night.
“Maybe six to eight kids come over around 3 – 3:30 after school, and we eat pizza, play games, then we come here and play at 6:30, then back home at midnight,” Semrad said.
Seth Bellenguez has been coming to Challenges for four years.
“I’d say this place is just really comfortable. There are a lot of game stores out there that like you go and play there, but you don’t really feel like it’s a safe place, like it’s a place you want to have fun and make memories. I think Challenges absolutely has that kind of homey atmosphere that makes it a fun place to be and comforting to be,” Bellenguez said during a game of Magic: The Gathering on Friday, June 17.
Some of Cade’s customer base are people who he taught to play Pokémon as kids, who are now 40-years-old bringing their kids into the shop.
“That always feels good,” Cade said.
Editor Dan Whisenhunt and Contributor Dean Hesse contributed to this article.
Want Decaturish delivered to your inbox every day? Sign up for our free newsletter by clicking here.