A Tale of Three Gamestores
A slight departure in store this installment, dear reader. I thought I might share a snippet of experience with you folks, and perhaps learn what your experience in such things is. I am also indulging my need to make a great many small puns, and for this, I hope in advance you will pardon me.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the year 1999 by our flawed Gregorian Calendar. A Friday. Through no fault of my own, I found myself staring into the window of an establishment selling games. It was, in fact, a store of games. A Gamestore. Gathering about me my wits and my steel resolve, I did quickly open the swinging door and stepped inside…
Right, that's downright silly. Enough of the poetic licensee, I'll tell it like you want to hear it: direct.
One of the past weekends I had the interesting fortune to get to visit three different gamestores in three days. Yes, it's the stuff that martial bliss is made of. Or is it the other way around…
Either way, on Friday, I visited Store #1. Store #1 has been around for nearly 20 years - a good long run for a gamestore. Of course, they don't stock only games - they do also stock a fair amount of pewter figurines, and a few toys, and macabre books. But, the primary things that people purchase here are the games. And certainly why I go in there.
Store #1 is rather well stocked - chances are, if there is a game you looking for, even an out-of-print one, they have it, or at least a supplement to it. This results in there being a LOT of things to wade through in Store #1. You could easily spend the better part of a day sorting through the stacks and stacks of old AD&D modules, sourcebooks, and then they are these old Ral Partha dragons so neatly on the shelf…
Store #1 has recently benefited from two things. First and foremost is the card craze. Yes, Store #1 was there when Magic: the Gathering was in full swing, and right now they are one of the most popular places in the area to get Pokemon. Secondly is that the employees of Store #1 seem to have taken a liking to miniatures gaming - specifically, Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer, and Clan War. The stock of these three games is well maintained, and the stock of other miniature systems - Warzone, Chronopia and Babylon 5 Wars, for example - likewise shows some attention.
Store #1 does have a few tables for instore-gaming, but these are only opened a few days a week. Most of this allotted time, it seems to be the card gamers that flock to the store - wading the store on Pokemon days is something like a hundred kindergartens loose in one place. It's becoming so heavily trafficked that I am loathe to even visit on a day when I know the instore card gamers are there, as literally it doubles or triples my time getting through the store. But it's not the end of the world - some of those card gamers might just start wondering about these miniature things on the wall over there, and turn into the future of this industry. And I might be facing them across the table. Someday. Currently, the caliber of miniature gamers is a bit less advanced that I am used to - which is fine; they'll learn. We all started out that way.
The atmosphere of Store #1 is fairly generic. The have alternative rock playing in the background, rarely if ever too loud to talk over. The store is clean, and mostly tidy. The staff of Store #1 are an interesting lot - they aren't pushy, and often don't greet people as they wander in the door. However, they do recognize regulars, and even manage to track buying patterns to some degree. Once I got branded as a regular, I got hit up for my opinion on this game and that game. It could be worse.
The next day: Store #2.
Store #2 has a weird history. They've bounced around the area, owned by several different owners and having a number of name changes. The past isn't sordid - to the best of my knowledge, they didn't kill anybody or not pay their bills. They just never seemed to find their niche, I suppose. The right space for the right rent.
In any case, Store #2 has been at their present location for a few years. It isn't a huge place, but it fits a modest stock and a pair of gaming tables for instore gaming. Their selection is imperfect - skewed heavily toward miniatures, with only a few RPGs scattered in for good measure. This a store that both benefits and suffers from "staff picks". If a staff member plays it, the store carries it. If they don't like it, it most likely isn't present - or, they've shoved it into a spot where no one is likely to ever discover it. In their history, the store carried collectible card games, but never seemed to do booming business with them. During my visit, there were a few calls from desperate parents seeking Pokemon cards - which were sad to learn the store had none.
The main interest of Store #2 is miniature games. Chances are, when you walk in, somebody is either painting miniature or there is a game going on in the back. From Warhammer to Heavy Gear to Battletech to Chronopia to Battlefleet Gothic, if it has miniatures, somebody there plays it- with the possible exception of Historicals, which I have heard discussed but never actually played.
Walking into Store #2 is somewhat like "Cheers" - the smallish clientele is all known by name. More than likely, when you go inside, there aren't any new faces. It's the neighborhood bar become neighborhood gaming store.
The staff of Store #2 all seem to be owners. They all work day-jobs, so the hours of Store #2 are based on when one of them gets off work and opens the doors. Whether or not the store turns any profit, it's looked at more as a club for their games more than a store. If it happens to turn a profit, then so much the better.
Store #2 has a weird atmosphere. When you walk in, you're likely to see an anime film on the TV, with half of the inhabitants watching while painting miniatures and the other half making fun of the film while playing a game. I've seen this happen a few times, and it's very deja vu in nature. They do a passable job at keeping the store clean, and generally speaking, the store looks the same whenever I visit. Very much like "Cheers" indeed.
Finally, Store #3.
This visit to Store #3 was actually my first visit there. It's a newest shop, so recently installed into a shopping center that the sign from the previous occupant was still hanging above it. This almost deterred me from my visit. I spoke to the shop owner about it, and he remarked that the sign was attached in a very permanent way. Could be trouble.
Store #3 was a very different sight from the other two stores. Store #3 was a very small shopfront, and then a long and narrow play-area in the back. There were five or six tables for instore gaming, as well as some so-to-be-networked computers for electronic games. The store suffers from its new status - there are obviously a number of things not set-up yet, and even a few improvements to the store that looked started and then abandoned.
Store #3 has the weirdest mix of games - entirely card games and a few miniature games - Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, Chronopia and Warzone. It turns out owner of Store #3 had run the store as internet mail order only for a long time, and was now "upgrading" to an actual store location. Since card games and these miniature games had done well for him on-line, they were the ones he was starting with. And, given about a half dozen people playing these games on the tables in the back of the store, I would say it was off to a good start.
One of the odd things about Store #3 was the owner's drive for tournaments. Between his card games and miniature events, he seemed to have a tournament or two of something every weekend. Given that I am used to one or two big tourneys a year, this struck me as pretty intense competition. But given the prices that he was handed out, I suppose it had to be working.
The atmosphere of Store #3 was a fairly noisy place. There was a TV playing Star Wars (always a good choice) competing with the chatter of three or four card and/or miniature games going on. It wasn't deafening - I've been to see Type 'O' Negative twice, and THAT'S deafening - but it might have been a bit much for people with less aural fortitude. Personally, I think that the chatter is a good sign of people having fun, and I even enjoyed a game of Warhammer. Despite the fact that I lost.
So, there's my whirlwind tour of three stores in the three days. Next month, I start extrapolating this data. Oh, and we might get back to the usual display of little metal pieces. I have a great looking army of Reaper Miniatures Dire Dead to show you...
Robert E. Allen III