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Embrace Geek Culture in Westminster, Maryland

Embrace Geek Culture in Westminster, Maryland

Westminster is more than a charming old railroad town—it’s also a teeming paradise for geek culture. Even as malls all over America are closing, successful ones are finding new ways to innovate themselves and reimagine gathering spots for social entertainment. The Townmall of Westminster is becoming just that—though it’s not the only place that puts this historic city on the board game map. I asked my friend Jon Sackett, a veritable expert in all things geek, comics, gaming, and fandom, to come with me to be my cultural attache and investigate geek culture in Westminster, Maryland.

We started our investigation at the Townmall, where they were just putting the finishing touches on the 17th Annual PEEPshow, which opened on March 22.

“Peeps First Contact” by Daniel Severe and Family—from the 2023 PEEPshow. Photo Credit: PEEPshow

The PEEPshow, a fundraiser for the Carroll County Arts Council, celebrates PEEPS®, that seasonal candy transformed into works of art and “marshmallow masterpieces” through the creativity of those who submit a diorama or sculpture using the squishy sweets. Here’s what we discovered at the mall. 

By the Power of Grayskull

Many a traveler ventures to Westminster specifically for one of the biggest vintage toy shops in the country (and the epicenter of geek culture in Westminster): Eternia Dreams Toys and Collectibles. Eternia Dreams trades in vintage toys, comics, and collectibles. Especially, as my friend Jon observed, items from the era of television shows made exclusively to sell toys to kids, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, He-Man, Transformers, Thundercats, etc. Walking into the store is like entering a time portal to the 80s.

Photo Credit: Joseph Peterson

Of course, there are also scale model kits of Star Wars ships, strategic board and card games, and volumes of comics. Looking to add to your collection of FUNKO Pop! figures? Eternia’s inventory of what I consider the incarnation of everything fandom culture distilled into a toy talisman numbers in the thousands. 

Something Wicked This Way Comes

There’s a new haunted attraction coming down the concourse from Eternia Dreams, and while “Hera’s Nightmare” proprietor Carlos Rivas is busy building three frightful attractions to experience this fall, the horror shop is already open and ready for business.

Photo Credit: Hera’s Nightmare

Filled with spooky music, giant props, and special effects like a thunderstorm and lightning display, the shop is almost a haunted attraction in itself. “The goal is to make you feel like you are inside a haunted attraction while you shop,” Rivas tells me. “We offer gifts, home decor, clothing, oddities, and one-of-a-kind horror artwork.” 

To Infinity and Beyond!

Hyperspace Rocket Designs & Tea Bar is a unique shop where you can get nerdy about tea while choosing the next model kit you want to build. There’s everything from model paint supplies to kits, books, and gifts in a setting that feels like part cafe and part living room. Stop for the retro upright arcade game Galaga, and stay for a cozy cuppa tea! And while this tea shop is a little more hobby-centric for those interested in model rockets, it has extended from there to include detailed model construction of all kinds, a crossover hobby with places like Eternia and elsewhere that also have paint supplies for tabletop game props and other creative craft modeling. There’s even a secondary Hyperspace shop across the plaza for model trains!

May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

Tables & Towers is a gaming and event center that has expanded across several of the TownMall’s retail spaces in various sections of the mall. Their Facebook page says they are “a premium social gaming lounge focused on uniting players of all ages.” You’ll find a sea of tables and a near-constant schedule of tournaments for games like Warhammer 40,000, Pokemon, and Magic the Gathering, just to name a few.

game culture in Westminster, MD
Photo Credit: Joseph Peterson

Tables & Towers is where serious gamers and competitive players come to do battle or geek out on intricately detailed miniature figurines. There’s also a good mix of free play times, pay-to-play tournaments, and a robust shop for all the cards, crafting, and supply needs attendant to the games. 

The Hero(s) This City Needs

Not to let the mall have all the fun, downtown Westminster also has institutions of geekdom and gaming culture. We ventured to Main Street to see what there was to see and grab a bite to eat. Giulianova Groceria, an Italian Deli and import market one would find right at home in a big city like Boston (or Gotham), caught our eye. The recommendations? Classic meatball marinara sub and Italian Cold Cuts. I got the latter and relished the generous slices of cured meats and cheese stacked high, in a ratio to the bread that was as perfect as I’ve ever seen. 

Speaking of Gotham, we took a trip to its underground. Seriously!

Photo Credit: Joseph Peterson

Right next door to Giulianova’s and down a staircase, we entered Gotham Comics, a proper comic-lovers shop with a massive single-issue collection as well as compilations, back volumes, and graphic novels. Budding Dungeons & Dragons players can find everything they need there, and any tabletop gamer would be right at home perusing their impressive stock of games. If only they had a giant FUNKO Pop! collection. Oh wait, they do!

The Campus Connection

Not to be left out, the nearby college is also in on the action. “It is a hub,” Amanda Gelber tells me of the gaming culture in Westminster. Gelber is the Director of Student Engagement at McDaniel College. She explains how campus life also reflects what’s happening in the city with multiple student organizations centered around gaming activitities from e-Sports to Magic the Gathering. As to why Westminster has become such a hub for this kind of activity? “It seems to have grown over time. I think that part of it is, to a degree, alumni-based,” she said, referencing alumni-founded organizations centered around gaming. Among them, Magic, a technology incubator in downtown Westminster that puts on the Good Game Fest, which it describes as “a family-friendly gaming festival that promotes healthy gaming attitudes, sportsmanship, and education.”

To the Batcave!

One newer downtown location that has been a hotspot for cold beer and game nights is the City Park Gaming & Brew Room—CPGB for short, a complimentary nod to the famed CBGB music club of NYC’s 1970s East Village.

With an eclectic array of merchandise, this record-shop-game-stop basement brew room feels like a Batcave with style. Owners Lann Lucas and Taylor Stetson bring their passions for craft beer, music, and games to a hopping mainstreet bar, quickly establishing CPGB as a cornerstone gathering spot for the gamer hub. 

“It feels like it’s been organic,” Gelber says, referencing the gradual and unorchestrated growth of gaming and geek culture in Westminster. “As a person who likes tabletop games, I think the culture is just growing. I go to [CBGB] a decent amount with a couple of my friends here on a Friday night [to] drink and play board games.”

Photo Credit: Joseph Peterson

Now that I think about it, in the midst of all this fantasy gaming, crafty hobbies, and fandom celebration, it seems only fitting that an annual PEEPS® contest and showcase extravaganza featuring many entries in homage or effigy to that popular fandom also finds its place in Westminster.

So head to Westminster, Roadtrippers! Check out the PEEPshow and embrace your inner (or outer) nerd by staying a while to play a game or join a tournament. Don’t forget to stock up on PEEPS®—you may need something to snack on during that 6-hour game of Magic the Gathering just a few doors down. 

Feature Photo of Jon Sackett inside City Park Gaming & Brew Room in Westminster, MD. Photo Credit: Joseph Peterson

About the Author

New to exploring Maryland, Joseph is always searching for that unexpected gem in unassuming places. From forgotten corners in big cities, to hidden historical markers in the middle of nowhere, he wants to find them all, and hit up every small town, museum, craft brewery and point of interest in between.

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