Still a family after 40 years

Published 6:49 pm Friday, July 7, 2023

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Games People Play to celebrate four decades with community party


On July 17, 1983, fresh out of graduating college, Lance and Snow Pogones opened Games People Play in the Oak Park Mall.

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Lance remembers those early years and the struggles that came with first starting out including growing pains and city-affecting events like the Hormel strike.

In fact, Pogones credits the Minnesota Twins in being a major reason for keeping the doors open in those early years.

“It was hard in the mall just to pay the rent,” Pogones said. “The Twins won the World Series in 1987 and that really helped us turn things around. We got caught up on rent and it was kind of starting to happen again in ‘91.”

“We need more of those Minnesota teams to win world championships,” he quipped.

Forty years later, however, Games People Play is rolling steadily along and thriving behind its screen printing and retail sales and it’s ready to celebrate with the community that’s supported them for so many years. 

On Friday, July 14, GPP will be hosting a private celebration with current and former employees and their families and then the following day, Saturday, July 15, the party opens up to the community from 2-9 p.m. in Bandshell Park. 

There will be live music throughout the day, food trucks and a beer garden, family activities and a cornhole tournament.

Games People Play has been a fixture in Austin for 40 years and will celebrate the milestone this coming weekend. Eric Johnson/

The two days will be more than a party, however. It will be something more akin to a family reunion with memories to go around.

“All of these high school kids over the years, we’ve been a part of their lives and at weddings and now weddings of their kids,” Pogones said. “There are so many good memories, some tragic. When you have a big family like that you will suffer with their challenges and their losses.”

“When Darren Lewis died, that was really hard,” Pogones continued. “He worked here and played at our house when he was younger. When I think of him now, I think about all the happy memories.”

It’s been a long run up to what GPP is today — rising from just the Pogones running the business to around 60 full and part time workers today.

Pogones followed his dad, Ron Pogones, who was an entrepreneur and something he encouraged his kids to explore. It worked with Pogones’ love of sports and the importance they played in his own life growing up.

Over time, GPP has become the go-to stop for school apparel and more over those four decades, a much different business than what people first experienced.

“We had a little bit of everything,” Pogones said, touching on items such as games, fishing equipment, camping and more. “We really didn’t have any certain focus. We had a little bit of everything and we weren’t really good at anything.”

Games People Play was in the mall for 13 years before moving to its new location in 1996 where it continued to build.

Things began to really change, though, when the screen printing side of Games People Play was added. It opened up an entirely new avenue for the business.

Pogones estimates that just 10% of GPP’s business comes from the retail side, driven primarily by teens,  young adults and their families, while most now comes from the screen printing side.

“It’s hard to compete with all brands,” Pogones said. “Finding stuff you can print yourself, like Minnesota stuff, has done really well. Local schools have done well.”

After gaining steam over the years, however, things slowed with the COVID-19 pandemic. But GPP had built to a point where it was able to adapt. A deal with a contact in China for medical masks filled the gap in sales.

“That helped us a lot to stay in business,” Pogones said.

However, Pogones is vividly aware that it’s the people and the relationships that have been built that have really helped GPP steadily move along and grow, in particular, those that have counted among the around 400 people who have come and gone as employees over the last 40 years.

That too was noticeable during the pandemic years. 

“We let people have the option to come to work,” Pogones said. “Everyone came to work and I don’t think we lost anybody during COVID.”

That appreciation stretches to include all employees that have been a part of GPP.

“I’ve liked the relationships we’ve made with kids over the years,” he said. “The seniors that are graduating help us hire the next group of kids.”

Partnerships with entities like Hormel Food Corps. has also been a vital part of GPP over the years.

It’s contributed to an extremely optimistic vision for the future, that Pogones credits with the team currently in place.

Pogones said that since 1983 he’s come to reevaluate what success means. GPP is one of the longest running businesses in Austin and has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“I don’t think of it being successful other than being happy,” he said. “We like to make money, but what we like as co-workers is that it’s so fun. It’s like a big family now.”

“When people recognize you and know you from the community, it means something to me,” he continued. “It’s fun to be a part of it.”