Rebuilding America: Our series dives into our community's efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Browsing The Gamers Guild on a recent Monday evening downtown, Melissa Proctor and her son and niece said it was their first time back to the retail gaming shop and community center since Gov. Laura Kelly’s stay-at-home order was issued in March.
Before that, they came every Monday and Friday to the shop’s Free Store at 200 E. 8th.
"I think they should have extended it," Proctor said of the order, now being lifted in phases.
She and her family have been cautious during the virus, keeping trips to a minimum, such as for grocery shopping.
"We go out afterward to the car and sanitize our hands," Proctor said. "Then when we get home we wash our hands with soap and water. We’re not freaking out about it, we’re just more cautious."
For their visit to Gamers Guild on Monday, they weren’t wearing masks.
Rex and Mallory Harshbarger, of Hays, also stopped at the shop on Monday. They were wearing masks.
"We come here mostly for playing games, socializing and hanging out with friends," said Mallory Harshbarger.
Everybody’s different, said Brandon Nimz, who owns the shop and runs it with his wife, Tella Nimz. The couple also operate the community center, a martial arts training hall and the nonprofit Unite ministry, which supplies a Free Store food and thrift shop, and the federal and Kansas’ low-income commodity food distribution program in the area.
"Frankly, our entity wants to respect everyone as an intelligent individual who can make their own choices, and we want to encourage others to respect each other," Nimz said.
"If someone comes in with mask and gloves, we want them to be respected," he said. "If someone comes in with no mask and gloves, we want people to understand that they’re also someone acting on the best information they have and maybe they value or need a social interaction. I want everyone to feel welcome and comfortable and just understand that people have differences of opinion."
Then there are the executive orders, which change from week to week and sometimes from day to day. The couple balance what is allowed with what is doable, such as pausing their pre-virus partnering with Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas or the behavioral hospital, KVC Health Systems.
"Really we don’t fall into a clear category within the state, because we primarily operate as a community center, in that we have family board and card game nights for free, partnerships with DSNWK and KVC for board and card game nights for free, and a variety of other community center events," he said. "We do also have board and card game tournaments that cost money, and that’s how we help pay the rent. Those are classified under leisure. We also sell board and card games, and that’s classified under retail. And at this time, retail is allowed to operate fully, community centers are not allowed to operate, leisure is not allowed to operate."
So two-thirds of their operation is currently not allowed, but one-third is, he said.
"Truthfully, we could probably interpret it however we wanted and possibly even host other events," Nimz said, "but I think that that would be violating the spirit of the law."
There’s little guidance from the state. Emails go unanswered and phone lines are overwhelmed, but that’s just part of a pandemic, he said.
"The nature of my general jobs is such that I have to be highly flexible for ministry needs anyway, so I’m pretty used to things shifting and changing," he said. "We do have to do extra work researching what’s allowed, what’s best, and we also have to figure out how to let people to be free to make their own decisions as to what’s best for them, realizing that there’s a broad array of opinions about that."
All in all, they keep a close eye on the governor’s orders.
"Because of my personal faith-based beliefs, I believe I’m supposed to honor the law of the land," Nimz said. "So we’re choosing to follow it as it seems to be intended."