“It simply isn’t an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons,” wrote J.R.R. Tolkien. But talk to Danny Chisena of Dragon Realm at 81 Main Street in the Village of New Paltz, and he’ll tell you, “What’s a dragon world without rock ‘n’ roll!”
And that pretty much tells you what to expect when walking through the doors of the shop. It’s the second manifestation of the business in New Paltz: Like a Transformer robot from the distant machine world of Cybertron — and yes, I came up with that after a little Googling — Dragon Realm existed at Water Street Market for a year or so around 2004 before morphing into Crazy Dan’s Secondhand Hardcore & More on Church Street in 2008, which reincarnated last August as Dragon Realm.
And fantasy is a family business this time around: Danny, 30, is joined in the enterprise by younger brother Anthony, 18, with input from their mother, Isabella Chisena. She’s the proprietor of Isabella’s Treasures, a longstanding New Paltz business that has seen its own morphing into other forms… but that’s a story for another day.
The brothers grew up working in their mom’s shops, but this is Anthony’s first experience co-managing a place, and it was his idea to bring back Dragon Realm, says Dan. “I was at a point where I was getting bored with my Crazy Dan’s store, so when Anthony decided to reopen my original store, I was excited and honored and totally wanted to be a part of it.”
All the inventory from Crazy Dan’s has been brought up to the new Dragon Realm, where Anthony’s passion for vintage toys and comic books rounds out the focus. “Basically, I’m the darker side,” says Dan, “the dragons and the Goth, and Anthony is the fun, comic book, superhero guy.”
The merchandise reflects that as well as Isabella’s penchant for crystals and the fairy side of things. Medieval dragons, superheroes, comic books and vintage toys. Plastic collectibles — vintage Pokemon figures, ball-jointed iRobots and mint-condition Star Wars toys from the ‘90s — alongside beautifully hand carved wooden dragons and dragon wall art from Bali, whimsical metal figures made from bicycle parts, an original oil painting of a dragon by a German artist and a floor-to-ceiling wind chime with a seriously resonant tone. There are heavy metal t-shirts and accessories as well as jewelry for guys and girls.
Perhaps their most popular item — people were calling the shop to see if they’d be carrying these before they even opened — is Magic: The Gathering collectible trading cards used in the wildly popular tournaments. “This is a major part of the shop,” says Isabella. “The college students, especially, are really into it. People win thousands of dollars playing in the tournaments.” (And she’s not exaggerating; according to wizards.com, the top tournament winner in a Magic: The Gathering tournament has won almost $400,000.)
Anthony says he sees the day when Dragon Realm may start their own tournaments, and he’s already creating his own comic book and thinking of starting a Dragon Night around that. The Chisenas have plans to sponsor an art contest to design a store t-shirt and may have some other surprises up their sleeves to reveal at some point. “It’s all still unfolding,” says Isabella.
“I think the most important thing about the store is the environment here,” says Dan. “We’ve made it an experience. If you were to go to a Comic-Con down in the city, these major conventions where people dress up and become characters, you would see that this is a mini version of what goes on down there; leaving reality behind and entering the superhero world, the medieval world.”
Dragon Realm is a place where it’s not only okay to call someone a nerd, it’s a bit of a badge of honor. “All of my metal-head friends are nerds,” says Dan. “I remember when I was a kid, the Magic cards and Dungeons & Dragons, and playing with toy figurines, was frowned upon or made fun of by the kids who were into sports or whatever. But now it’s mainstream. People my age, mid-20s and beyond, are embracing it. They’re starting their own families now and reliving their own childhood memories through their kids.”
Dan says he thinks that’s why cosplay and Comic-Cons are so big now. “And I think it has a lot to do with technology and the fact that the Internet is so fast, our minds can’t absorb it all. We’re going back to ‘let’s play basic card games, and board games.’ People my age are teaching that to their kids.”
Dragon Realm is for a niche market, for sure, says Isabella, but that doesn’t mean that those outside of the fantasy realm won’t find something to like there. “There are a lot of gift shops in New Paltz, but there’s nothing else like this. And that was what we were after when we thought this out; we wanted to do something that nobody else is doing, so that people have a whole different feeling when they come in here.”
Dan points out that having worked in his mom’s shops in the past, he knows that frequently it’s the woman who is shopping while her husband patiently (or not-so-patiently) waits. “But here, it’s geared toward both sexes, not just one. Couples come in and they both find a connection to it.”
And even though Dragon Realm is “geared to a certain type of person,” he adds, ultimately “the shop is about fun, and just being yourself. I love that people use this influence to then create their own comic books or write their own stories. You can create your own superheroes. We’re all about bringing back old-school childhood memories and creating new ones and having a good time. Be different, be creative, use your imagination and you’ll be fine. Just be yourself.”