Requiem for Brick and Mortar

I greatly lament the death of video game stores.

Yes, I know GameStop is (and will continue to be) a thing. I’m talking about your old mom-and-pop video game stores – establishments run by people who care about what they do and run a business to service their customer.

As a retro gamer, I really miss the days of having places to go to browse old games. I miss seeing shelves filled with cartridges; monuments of plastic-encased circuit boards tempting you towards them with promises of nostalgia and warm feelings.

I really miss having places that made me feel that way.

Buying old games on eBay isn’t even close to the same. Browsing is so hard to do online; you can’t thumb through stacks of games and see what catches your eye. If you’re buying online then you already know what you want and it’s just a matter of who’s charging a fair price and didn’t have parents who wrote their name on the cartridge with a Sharpie. It’s not nearly as satisfying as taking home some unknown treasure and plugging it into your console, unable to contain the excitement welling inside you as you await the game’s revelations.

You can’t impulse buy online. It’s not the same as strolling into a physical store on a lazy Saturday, picking out some weird game you haven’t heard of and spending the day with it. The game will take days, if not weeks, to even reach your house. The magic, the spontaneity, is gone.

There is one store near me that specializes in older games (which I won’t name) but unfortunately it’s a HUGE disappointment. I don’t know what happened – the first time Christina and I checked it out we had a great experience, walked out with a lot of good stuff and had good interactions with the owner. We went back this past weekend, though, and bleugh, we did not walk out happy.

For one thing, the store is small. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but the owner insists on lining the shelves with signs, toys and clocks made of old systems and game cases that no one will ever buy. To inspect a shelf of games you’ll have to move no less than three pieces of junk out of the way to even be able to see anything. You sell video games, man, get your Boston Bruins pajama pants off the fucking shelf.

He also prices everything much too high. For example, the first time we went I saw he had a boxed copy of Dynamite Headdy for the Sega Genesis, a game I’ve been meaning to pick up for several years. With his copy the case was missing the plastic hang tab (I absolutely HATE when people snap those off of Genesis game cases) and the cover art was completely sunbleached. He wanted $26 for it. I didn’t even bother opening the case to check the manual or cart – I had seen all I needed to.  Our second trip – several months later – it’s still there. At the time of this writing I can get a complete in box, good condition copy of Dynamite Headdy for $14.99 – even with the $5 shipping it’s cheaper than his rotten copy. He had a copy of Quest 64 – a game that’s not very well regarded – in a smashed up box with no instructions and wanted $30. $5 less gets me a near-mint copy, complete with manual.

I know the guy has to stay in business, but that’s kind of silly. A loose copy of A Link to the Past for $45? I can get the cart for half that, or pay another fiver and also get the box, manual and map. Chrono Trigger for $90? No thank you.

Not to mention he regularly posts about the Skylanders figures he’s getting ahead of street date (and he told us in the store that he buys them from a guy in a parking lot) but when you get in there he’s charging the same outlandish prices as the gougers on Amazon and eBay – like $45 for Thumpback when he retails for $15 – but he sells them loose, without the packaging.

His console prices are ridiculous – $90 for a Nintendo 64, $130 for an Atari Jaguar, $90 for a SNES or Genesis… no way. Of course, these consoles are tucked away with Saturn games in dirty, cracked cases with no manuals that are still upwards of $20.

And there’s the problem – when there ARE game stores, they’re much less advantageous than just buying online. The guy clearly doesn’t value games the same way I do – he’s out to make as much money as he can (which is fine, he’s gotta eat) but he’s doing so at the expense of more potential customers.

There is one store that I had a great experience at, but it’s in New Hampshire and I really can’t justify driving an hour and a half one-way just to buy games. We stopped in on a whim on our way home from an anime convention and came away ecstatic. I got a good condition Sega Saturn for $30, Christina got her unicorn game Silverload in decent shape for $30, which is a bit cheaper than the going price. The store was clean and the games – what’s most important – were front and center.

I don’t really like to complain; no one likes to listen to a whiner. But as someone who really misses the good old days, as someone who really cares about video games as a medium and as someone who loves discovering forgotten retro games, I can’t help but be heartbroken over the state of things.

Someone really needs to open an American version of Super Potato in Boston, like, yesterday.

2 Comments

  1. Eric

    Huh huh. Service the customer. Huhuhuhuh.

    But I feel ya, man. You kinda have to go to major areas to get those kinds of shops. There was one over in Orlando that closed down recently that we got to go to when we were last in that area.

  2. There was a small game store in my town that I heard good things about which closed a few years ago. I never shopped there, though. No one in my family (that includes me) likes to go out to where the mall and Best Buy are, and as I’ve said before, I don’t get to buy games that often, so I never go “game shopping,” despite games being really the only thing for which I actually enjoy spending time shopping around for in the store. I usually know what I want ahead of time, go in, grab it, and get out. I buy pretty much all my games new at Best Buy, which I can afford to do since I don’t get them often, though since acquiring a debit card, I’ve found Steam to be quite useful.

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