In mid-June, a crossover multiverse portal seemed to open outside Sylvan Factory near the south end of Westgate Plaza. Peter Parker, his Spiderman mask in hand, talked casually with Halo’s fully armored Master Chief. A curious trucker stopped to ask a giant Pokémon, “I’ve seen some strange things. What is going on?”

 It was the hobby store’s grand opening, and the hodgepodge of characters were customers and employees in cosplay, including owner Todd Maddock—dressed as Spike from the anime Cowboy Bebop.

Replacing Expo Kitchen & Bath (now on Jackson Rd. near the Carlyle Grill), Sylvan Factory offers live action role-play weaponry and armor on the front wall and happy-faced plushies near the window. Boxed games stand in rows, ranging from the hyper-strategic Scythe to the unpredictable Hibachi. The store’s spacious back area is dedicated to events. At press time, their calendar listed a Dungeons & Dragons summer camp and themed gaming meetups like BattleTech and Pokémon. Future offerings include cosplay workshops like Foam Armor 101 and sewing tutorials.

When the pandemic shutdown hit, Todd Maddock’s employer offered him a different position or a severance package. He and his wife, Sara, felt it was “the right time” to start the store they’d envisioned for years. | Photo by J. Adrian Wylie

This fall, Maddock wants to team up with the Ann Arbor Public Schools for once-a-month “sensory-friendly gaming” evenings with dimmed lights for families worried about “stimulus overload.” He will reconnect with the U-M anime club to organize kid-friendly screenings and a “maid café” event where servers cosplay in elaborate maid or butler uniforms, serving clients as if in a private home. Hoping to “help the public understand the café’s important significance” in J-Pop and K-Pop culture, Maddock assures: “It doesn’t have to be creepy.”

With the library, The Little Seedling, and Nicola’s Books nearby, Maddock says Westgate is “a walking neighborhood” where parents bring their children. “We want to show we understand this market. We’re always going to be a family-focused gaming and hobby store because we feel like the market has ignored that.” Having played the popular collectible card game Magic: The Gathering “at the highest level, Pro Tour, and … making actual money,” Maddock knows firsthand “how toxic the [table “” not found /]
top culture can be” for young gamers. Future camp scholarships are in the works “because there is a certain gatekeeping to gaming, especially collectible card gaming, that makes [price] a barrier to entry.”

Watching their two children get “involved with gaming at an early age and seeing their enjoyment—and people remembering that kids are involved in gaming” became a “driving passion” for Maddock and his wife, Sara. Maddock worked in technology for seventeen years and was doing business development when Covid hit. “When the government shut down travel, they offered me a different position or a severance package,” he says. The couple felt it was “the right time” to start the store they’d envisioned for years.

“Ann Arbor is like this secret hub of gaming,” Maddock says, mentioning local accessory companies Gylded Dice, Elderwood Academy, and Dog Might Games. Rick Meints of tabletop role-playing-game (RPG) publisher Chaosium resides in Ann Arbor, as does Will Niebling, former VP of sales for TSR (the original publisher of Dungeons & Dragons). Niebling “was a big force” in helping them open. 

Maddock says he’s been “overwhelmed” by the community’s generosity. Meints donated several of Chaosium’s “Call of Cthulhu” RPG books—hundreds of dollars in value—which are free to read in store; Ann Arbor STEAM guidance counselor Stu Parnes, who led their Magic camp, gave Magic cards to a camper from his own collection.

In fantasy lore, Sylvan is “associated with forests,” Maddock explains. The name honors “our connection together, being the city of trees.” The “Factory” refers to their goal of building a better community for creators and gamers. 

 “We get asked, ‘So, you don’t hold cutthroat Magic tournaments?’” Maddock says. “And the answer is ‘no.’ And we won’t, because that’s not our goal or who we’re trying to get in the store. But we are always going to hold kids camps” and have “lots of smiling faces. I think that’s something Ann Arbor wants as a whole.”

Sylvan Factory, 2459 W. Stadium Blvd. (734) 474–3519. Mon.–Thurs. noon–8 p.m., Fri. noon–10 p.m., Sat. 11–10 p.m., Sun. noon–6 p.m.