Independent Video Game Stores Are Here to Stay

Later, at the behest of his wife—who was concerned with the mountain of used games devouring their garage—Josh transitioned to a storefront in Portland. From there, Josh found his niche in retro gaming, attracting nostalgia-hungry gamers hoping to accumulate extensive libraries of old titles. Over the past few years, selling retro games has become an extremely lucrative endeavor and unopened games from the early 1990s like Super Mario World 3 can sell for tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes even reaching six figures. While these sorts of high-end retro sales are important for shops like Side Quest Games, everyday repairs and lower-end retro game sales are their bread and butter, keeping Josh’s business safer from big box competition.

Likewise, Josh claims that he has found a somewhat symbiotic relationship with stores like GameStop. Whereas Side Quest Game Store might not have too many newer titles, the store’s console repair services and flexible trade-in policies have provided Josh some cushioning from competition at big box retailers. This has led to moments of informal collaboration between Josh’s store and staff at local GameStops, who sometimes refer customers to Side Quest Games.

David Kaelin of Game Over Video Games in Austin, Texas has also been able to find a niche for himself amidst the rise of online sales. David started his business in 2005, long before the days of easy Amazon buys and digital downloads. Since then, his small store has expanded to over a dozen locations throughout Texas, building off a widespread thirst for retro games.

Yet for David, the secret to his business’ survival is the need for social interaction amongst gamers. Whereas Amazon and major retailers might offer easy online purchases, David is convinced that his store has flourished by prioritizing the in-person experience.

“For us, our relationships with customers doesn’t just end at them buying a game,” David says, “We want to start a conversation with folks about games and create a place to go hang out. Gamers, just like everyone else, need social interactions too.”

Community has also been essential to Jonathan Sakura’s business over the past few years. Before opening up a store called “Gamers Anonymous” in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Jonathan had spent over a decade transforming his gaming hobby into a lifetime career. Then, in 2007, he bought Gamers Anonymous, an already established shop in Albuquerque, in order to chase an old dream of building his own store.

Over time, Jonathan built a business that catered to the needs of folks looking for retro games and console repairs—but, most importantly, his business flourished through large community events like midnight releases and in-store tournaments. Longing for the days of LAN parties, where gamers brought their computers together in basements and tight apartments to play multiplayer games in a shared space, Jonathan wants to create environments where gaming feels like a visceral and interpersonal experience.

“The social element of gaming has gotten far more important to me,” Jonathan says. “At our peak we were having midnight releases, conventions, and massive trade-ins that had hundreds of people lined up outside our store.”

These events provided a crucial boost for Jonathan’s business, and led him to believe that he had found a long-term secret for expanding his business and building community along the way.

“In those first years, despite all the trials and hardships, the marketing errors, we learned so much,” Jonathan explains. “So then, you never realize that despite all of that, not one of those will teach you what to do during a global pandemic.”

In late 2019, business had been so good for Jonathan that he decided to expand the community-orientated aspect of his store by opening a “video game cafe” next to his shop. In fact, in 2019 GameStop devised a very similar plan to salvage its faltering retail outlets; the key difference here being that Jonathan’s store was already doing quite well. In February 2020, Jonathan signed his lease for the cafe next door, but just one month later, Covid-19 brought his plans crashing down.

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