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Subject: Brick & Mortar Gaming Stores Hard To Find in U.S. rss

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James Taylor
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I noticed a thread on a game store in Champaign, IL that was going out of business after only being around for 1 year. That started me thinking...

My own personal experience, having lived in the Metro-Detroit area for about 27 years, is that brick & mortar game stores are a dying breed.

There are probably 20 or so that I have frequented over that time period that have closed their doors. This doesn't count the WotC stores that used to be around in several area malls.

The upside is that I've been able to pick up a lot of stuff for cheap at going out of business sales.

The downside is that there are less and less stores to frequent to check out product. Right now, there is a store in Howell, MI called HeroQuest that still sales games and also does comics. I've dropped quite a bit of coin there over the last 2 years or so... paying higer prices then I would have if I bought stuff online. However, its been my view that having this store around is valuable (occassionally my son and I go out there and play games and watch other gamers). I get to see new products first hand, and sometimes even get to try the games without buying when there are store demos.

How about the rest of you? Is the general experience of other gamers, (U.S. based or otherwise), that game stores are a disappearing breed?

And how does this make you feel? Are you bummed out, or are you happy to enjoy the $$ savings you can get by shopping online etc?

 
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jbrier
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I think the designer boardgame hobby is too small to support local gamestores, even if we all did buy our games from them. FLGS's rely on revenue from mostly comic books, CCG's, & miniatures, and to a "eurogamer" a place full of these other hobbyists has a hard time competing with just playing games at someone's house with your game group.

As long as word of mouth keeps new people buying more of these designer games (from online retailers), the hobby shouldn't self-implode, although it won't explode either, but that isn't going to happen no matter what cause the average person doesn't like to engage his/her intellectual capacity during recreational time- that's just how American culture works.
 
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Nairb Attobas
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Here in Pittsburgh, I can think of no less than 4 stores within a 30 minute drive right off the top of my head (I'm sure there's more) where I can go peruse and by quality games, so around here, there's not really a lack of shops. Having primarily shopped at two of them, I can honestly say they both offer pretty fantastic service, and both provide space to play games if you're into that kind of thing. (I'm typically not. I generally just play with friends and family.)

So, although there's been a move to online sales, there's still plenty of places to shop and play in this little corner of the U.S. I like to buy from the shop that's right around the corner from my apartment, because I like having such a conveniently located game shop.

Good gamer town, Pittsburgh.
 
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Andrew Brannan
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In store play space is (from a business perspective) a dangerous proposition. You've got to sacrifice floor space for tables, which can limit your inventory. If people aren't playing, the space just ends up looking empty and sad. If too many people are playing, it can make the store seem crowded and loud, driving some customers off. Customers buying is more valuable to a store than Customers playing and not buying. Demo copies of a game are risky as well, though a little less. You've got to make sure that you'd sell an extra copy of the game by demoing it, and you need to keep the demo looking reasonably nice. If bits are dirty, bent, and broken, it doesn't make for a good impression.

Another problem I see is "elitism" in game stores. They refuse to stock copies of "pedestrian" games like Monopoly, Sorry!, Cranium, etc. When potential customers come to the store, they are re-directed to Toys-R-Us, or Wal-Mart. That's turning money away. Stock children's games. Children are the gateway to further purchases. A surprising (or unsurprising, depending on your world view) number of parents cave on the "I want this" purchases. Maybe that parent doesn't like the "violent" look of something like Battlelore (which really isn't any more violent than Chess when it comes down to it), but can be persuaded into a copy of TTR. Maybe it's an impluse purchase of a card game, like No Thanks!, or Coloretto that grabs a family, and brings them back for more purchases. The extra purchases are worth whatever loss of "street cred" that stocking Monopoly costs you.

There seems to be a belief amongst some stores that making money and pleasing the hardcore gamer are incompatible. They're not, but the store owner has to be business minded, not just gamer-minded. Yes, that may mean signing up to be a tournament location for Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokemon, or some other game you "hate". It may mean carrying games you feel are "evil" like Monopoly, LCR, and Cranium. But you make the same amount of money selling a $30 copy of Cranium as you do a $30 copy of Alhambra, and I bet you sell a lot more Cranium.
 
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Yeah, it's suprising sometimes how larger metro areas have so few stores. Why the hell is that?

SW Idaho, which is mainly Boise and about a 40 mile surrounding area has about 375,000 inhabitants, yet there are no less than 4 "game" stores in Boise alone. Two have excellent board game selections, one has an ever-increasing selection and the weakest of the stores is almost strictly RPG's and CCgs.

On top of that you have all the various book stores and chains like B&N, Hastings, Borders, etc. that tend to sporadicaly stock game titles.

This is a strong gaming community with a long tradition of good retailers who dedicate space and tables to gaming of all sorts, not just CCG's and miniatures. Even eastern Idaho, with a significantly smaller population has at least two good stores and one or two other marginal ones.

Part of the "why" of the sparse and sporadic occurance of good retailers is grounded in the expectations of this particular gaming culture. People who play RPG's, CCG's and miniature games tend to engage the retailer and encourage them to bring in products that the retailer may not have been aware of. Board Gamers, I think, tend to be more more distant and even judgemental as a sub-culture and the general attitude is that if a retailer doesn't carry "Euros" then they suck.

When I ran a store I relied on my customers to educate me beyond what I had time for myself. There is so much information and it has exploded in the last 5-10 years... no retailer can be expected to know the sheer amount of facts for all the aspects of the business that would be required to maintain the CCG, RPG & Miniature base while expanding into this range of games.

A game store isn't the same thing as a sandwich shop or a Starbucks, it's a business that encompasses an actual community of people who "need" each other in order to expand the community and create a larger group of people to play games with. By training the retailer in his or her weak areas RPG, CCG and Miniature fans have, in effect, created the store they always wanted. Board gamers could do this - and sometimes do - but mostly I think they walk in, cast about for a moment and if they don't see 12-15 import or obscure Euro's on the shelf, they leave and chalk the whole experience up to poor management.

The person who risks capital and time to open a game store is only the seed for a gaming community... the nuturing is primarily done by gamers who desire to have the benefits of a good local store, but none of the risks.

Not all retail failures stem from this phenomena, most fail because the person who owns it is a lousy manager. Others because of bad timing or poor product selection. But overall, the ones that are strong and appeal to the BGG crowd are probably places where board gamers took the time to work with the retailer to grow the community.
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jbrier
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DWTripp- you bring up some new interesting points that I hadn't really seen (at least explicitly stated) in your previous posts. However, before I buy in to the romanticism of the notion that as a customer I'm able to influence the ambient of my gamestore, the reality is that it takes alot of people who also like the types of game I like to make a difference.

Whenever I go to a gamestore I usually talk about designer (Euro) games and buy one from them, so I guess I'm doing "my part", but beyond that it requires that a bunch of other people insistently show up and play designer games at the store, buy games, etc etc... and the truth is that given the cheaper online prices it's hard to do be motivated to do enough , at least in terms of buying, in order to become the "represantative community" of the game store.
 
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Mark Crocker
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Nobody ever seem to want to mention this, but here is my take. If a person wants to open a brick and mortar store, then that person should expect to put in a 14 hour day, and the rest of the sales force, should all be family members. If they aren't willing to do that, then they have to hire some people. If they hire some people, it will be for low wages, which means that the employees will be compelled to STEAL your cash....and steal they will, my brothers. Add that to the storefront rent costs, etc, and you won't make a profit.

An online retailer cannot be stollen from, because the sales are electronic...not cash.

Around this area, we have small stores called "Party Stores", that sell beer, soda-pop, snacks,tobacco products, essentials. All of the people working at these stores are related...because people will resist stealing from their brothers, uncles, daddys. These stores thrive.
 
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Bill the Pill
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abrannan wrote:
In store play space is (from a business perspective) a dangerous proposition. You've got to sacrifice floor space for tables, which can limit your inventory.
....
Another problem I see is "elitism" in game stores. They refuse to stock copies of "pedestrian" games like Monopoly, Sorry!, Cranium, etc. When potential customers come to the store, they are re-directed to Toys-R-Us, or Wal-Mart. That's turning money away. Stock children's games. Children are the gateway to further purchases. A surprising (or unsurprising, depending on your world view) number of parents cave on the "I want this" purchases. Maybe that parent doesn't like the "violent" look of something like Battlelore (which really isn't any more violent than Chess when it comes down to it), but can be persuaded into a copy of TTR. Maybe it's an impluse purchase of a card game, like No Thanks!, or Coloretto that grabs a family, and brings them back for more purchases. The extra purchases are worth whatever loss of "street cred" that stocking Monopoly costs you.

There seems to be a belief amongst some stores that making money and pleasing the hardcore gamer are incompatible. They're not, but the store owner has to be business minded, not just gamer-minded. Yes, that may mean signing up to be a tournament location for Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokemon, or some other game you "hate". It may mean carrying games you feel are "evil" like Monopoly, LCR, and Cranium. But you make the same amount of money selling a $30 copy of Cranium as you do a $30 copy of Alhambra, and I bet you sell a lot more Cranium.


I think your arguments may have held water Pre-MtG, but in the post-Magic days, many stores survive on sales of junk food during game tournaments. At least that is the case in my small town of 15,000. Soda/snacks make up half the retail, and at a much higher rate of return than the 40% for games.

Secondly, how can a gamestore sell "family games" or "pedestrian games" when the price it pays for the game is the same price WalMart, Target, and Toys R Us is SELLING the game for? That receipe seems one for disaster.
 
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jbrier
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Crockerdile wrote:
Nobody ever seem to want to mention this, but here is my take. If a person wants to open a brick and mortar store, then that person should expect to put in a 14 hour day, and the rest of the sales force, should all be family members. If they aren't willing to do that, then they have to hire some people. If they hire some people, it will be for low wages, which means that the employees will be compelled to STEAL your cash....and steal they will, my brothers. Add that to the storefront rent costs, etc, and you won't make a profit.

An online retailer cannot be stollen from, because the sales are electronic...not cash.

Around this area, we have small stores called "Party Stores", that sell beer, soda-pop, snacks,tobacco products, essentials. All of the people working at these stores are related...because people will resist stealing from their brothers, uncles, daddys. These stores thrive.


Maybe I've too many drinks already this afternoon but this is the funniest shit I've heard this year so far
 
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verandi wrote:
DWTripp- you bring up some new interesting points that I hadn't really seen (at least explicitly stated) in your previous posts. However, before I buy in to the romanticism of the notion that as a customer I'm able to influence the ambient of my gamestore, the reality is that it takes alot of people who also like the types of game I like to make a difference.

Whenever I go to a gamestore I usually talk about designer (Euro) games and buy one from them, so I guess I'm doing "my part", but beyond that it requires that a bunch of other people insistently show up and play designer games at the store, buy games, etc etc... and the truth is that given the cheaper online prices it's hard to do be motivated to do enough , at least in terms of buying, in order to become the "represantative community" of the game store.


John... I have frequently asserted that "training" the FLGS owner is the surest path for growing a board game community. Usually my assertions get buried in the noise this whole subject generates.

I agree, getting a community going is tough and it's certainly not anyone's "responsibility". But, if you can do it, or at least be a part of it, the benefits are very nice for everybody. Here in Idaho it helped that I'm a board gamer. It also helped that I was a regular at Origins, GenCon and GAMA shows and so had early exposure to many titles. But still, the gamers themselves are the ones who instructed me in what was and wasn't marketable. I learned early on, with Settlers, that setting a game up and getting a local to come run it was a sure path to growth.

Cheap and online is okay for many, but it's also not what a whole other part of the culture wants. Online really targets us, the existing gamers. Community growth is a vastly superior way to add people to the group... and online retailers ought to be hooking up with selected FLGS's and helping them get new board gamers started... because a fair percentage of those people will be the online guy's customers evetually.

See? Sharing can be so nice.
 
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Brian Morris
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I don't think FLGS are a dying breed at all. Here in the Kansas City area I know of at least 4 active game stores and all of them have been around for a good number of years. Back in Sacramento Viking Hobby has been in business for over 25 years.

I own my own small business and the truth is starting up any small business is a lot of work and it's a crap shoot. Most small businesses close their doors in the first 12 months. That is simply the nature of the beast. So new game stores opening and closing is just the normal small business world at work. I don't think we're going to see the classic game store become extinct no more than the book store or any other business that is effected by the Internet. They will simply adapt and change to meet their customer's needs but they won't vanish.
 
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Scott Woodard
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Within an hour drive of me (here in L.A.) I can hit at least 8 or 9 game shops (Brookhurst Hobbies, Game Castle, The Last Grenadier, Game Empire, Knightware, Gameology, Third Planet and one or two others)!

And Gameology, Game Empire Pasadena and Knightware are all "recent" additions to the gaming landscape here in Los Angeles!

~Scott
 
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Gabe Alvaro
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DWTripp wrote:
A game store isn't the same thing as a sandwich shop or a Starbucks, it's a business that encompasses an actual community of people who "need" each other in order to expand the community and create a larger group of people to play games with. By training the retailer in his or her weak areas RPG, CCG and Miniature fans have, in effect, created the store they always wanted. Board gamers could do this - and sometimes do - but mostly I think they walk in, cast about for a moment and if they don't see 12-15 import or obscure Euro's on the shelf, they leave and chalk the whole experience up to poor management.

As a game group organizer I wish more people (gamers and shop owners) would espouse this position. Unlike most other hobbies, gamers quite literally and unequivocally need each other. We can't play all these new game releases on our own! I always say that my motivations for game group organizing are deeply selfish because at the heart of it, I just want more available people to play with! I think that's what a gaming community should be all about.
 
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Brad Wagnon
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This topic seems to come up periodically, and I'd like to throw in a couple of non-connected thoughts.

Warning! Random thoughts follow.

1. The Internet has changed ALL B&M based retailers, not just game stores.

2. The Internet has made games far more accessible to a lot of people who would never otherwise have heard of gaming.

3. Stores that do not adapt to the new economic reality will fail. That is the way it is. No sugar coating, no sentiment endears it. Either you make a profit, or you go out of business.

If your product is available online for cheaper, then you have to differentiate yourself from the cheaper source. Immediate availability, good service and active support of a community are the three factors that immediately spring to mind as advantages of B&M versus online.

4. I am not aware of many FLGS' that "push" anything beyond CCG's, Miniatures and RPG's. (I am sure there are at least a few exceptions, but I have not seen them). I have not seen much in the way of support for boardgames anywhere. Of course, that is probably a good indicator of where most stores are making their profits.

I personally feel the B&M stores have not supported boardgames nearly as comprehensively as they CCG/RPG's/Miniature games. Stocking games is not enough, you have to SELL them.

...and that's all I have to say about that!

 
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Sue Hemberger

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DWTripp wrote:
Yeah, it's suprising sometimes how larger metro areas have so few stores. Why the hell is that?


Pricy real estate and lots of other entertainment options?
 
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Bill the Pill
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MadBrad wrote:

Warning! Random thoughts follow.

1. The Internet has changed ALL B&M based retailers, not just game stores.


4. I am not aware of many FLGS' that "push" anything beyond CCG's, Miniatures and RPG's.




I'm not even sure gamestores push RPGs, as huge bookstore chains now carry whole lines and World of Warcrack and other MMPORPGs have turned many roleplayers into computer zombies who no longer buy product.

What I do find interesting is in my hometown in Southern California, only 35,000 people, we had one gamestore/hobby shop and one game store/comic store in the 1980s.
 
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J Jacy
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I think "major" metro areas will have 2-4 game stores (US at least).

Now whether or not where you live falls in the categorey of major I don't know (I also don't know beyond NYC, LA, Chicago, Houston what is major), but my guess is in non-major cities there would be 1 or 2 game shops (Philly, Pheonix, etc.).

If you live outside of a city you may or may not have a game shop around, and how extensive the game vs. CCG/puzzles/comics/etc. inventory at that store will vary.

How many game shops is "enough" or how many "should there be"?

My guess is that no matter how many game shops there are, and how great their euro selection is, there will be more people that buy games and form their own gaming-specific groups, or just play games with the friends they have then go to Cons, Tournaments, and open gaming/demo gaming at stores.

As long as there is some growth in total number of players, there will be new games (and reprints) every year and the chance of a new store opening near you more likely.

Hmm... that was a meandering set of thoughts...


-jjacy1
 
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Sue Hemberger

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There's not a single game store in Washington, DC. And I think that there are only two game stores that are accessible via DC's Metrorail (subway) system (Compleat Strategist in Falls Church and Dream Wizards in Rockville), both near the end of their respective lines. I don't think Baltimore has a game store either.

The impression I get from reading here is that # of games stores doesn't increase with the size of the metro region.
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Bill the Pill
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jjacy1 wrote:
I think "major" metro areas will have 2-4 game stores (US at least).

Now whether or not where you live falls in the categorey of major I don't know (I also don't know beyond NYC, LA, Chicago, Houston what is major), but my guess is in non-major cities there would be 1 or 2 game shops (Philly, Pheonix, etc.)
-jjacy1

I would be cool with your theory, except Philly is Number 4 in U.S. city population (and a huge metro area of 40million).


I think the problem for DC and the Northern Va. area (which there are a couple of more stores) is that DC is a very transient city for those with money. Lots of students going to college or grad school, plus people just starting their careers or those beholden to one political party or the other that get ousted when there is a change of hands at the Congress or Executive branch. Lots move in, lots move out. Less chance for a community to form and less chance for stores to grow.

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John Goewert
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jjacy1 wrote:
I think "major" metro areas will have 2-4 game stores (US at least).


Let's see... in St. Louis, there are 11 that I can think of off the bat without trying to hard. In the last year, I can think of 5 that closed and 4 that opened. Most of the ones that closed was due to stupid reasons and not due to slumping sales. If at all, board gaming is picking up. I get surprised when people come in and buy a game they played at a party and it isn't LCR!

Besides the Intarweb, my biggest competition is the flea markets. Somehow, there is a guy there able to sell boxes of MtG below the price that I can get from distributors or even WotC. Makes me think they keep falling off the truck or something.
 
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Quote:
Besides the Intarweb, my biggest competition is the flea markets. Somehow, there is a guy there able to sell boxes of MtG below the price that I can get from distributors or even WotC. Makes me think they keep falling off the truck or something.


Back in the 90's there were several distributors who set up shadow corporations just to sell MTG cards at huge discounts on usenet. At one point WotC finally brought them into line... but not until they had destroyed the market for MTG in the stores that created the demand to begin with.

The whole affair blew up when Fallen Empires was overprinted by a few hundred million cards and some of the discounters disappeared when the shipments arrived.
 
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Buffalo NY has 1 very small, very poor gamestore, and thats it. I've personally seen 4 or 5 go out of business in the last few years. However, all of them were very understocked, dimly lit, and dirty. A large, well stocked, clean store with a friendly staff would do great up here.
 
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Chris Johnson
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I think the internet is just beginning...and all retail is doomed to fail! Work on computers or for UPS that will be the only jobs left.

I could also just be bitter...I own a used bookstore that isnt doing too hot right now.
 
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Todd Pytel
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jjacy1 wrote:
I think "major" metro areas will have 2-4 game stores (US at least).

You'd think that, wouldn't you? Chicago has basically one serious game store (Games Plus, which is a decent ride outside of the city to boot). I don't know whether Gamer's Paradise is still at the HIP, but that wasn't a very big store in any event. If there are others apart from the odd comic book shop that stocks a few tidbits, I'd love to know. To be fair, Games Plus is an outstanding store - they stock nearly every in-print wargame and boardgame I've ever seen on the Geek and are happy to order if you request something. It's interesting how the market shapes up in different places.

As others have stated, I think it's mostly just the same phenomenon with games stores as with any other B&M facing off against the Internet. The price difference is just brutal. I'm no longer a poor student, but it's still pretty tough for me to pay, for example, $70 (plus gas, plus tolls each way, plus driving time) for a game that I can get online for $55. And similar to others' experiences, I haven't seen enough going on at the store (which has a very nice playing area) in the areas of boardgames and wargames to really motivate me to get out there (and maybe buy some games while I'm at it). All the games I see going on are RPG's or minis.
 
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Nick
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There are two major gaming stores I frequent in the Portland area.

Bridgwtown Hobbies and Games in Portland
Rainy Day Games in Aloha

Bridgetown however, strikes me as a place that makes its buck off of hobby supplies. It's a very lage store and its about a 50-50 split of boardgaming/wargaming and hobby supplies (the majority of which are plastic model kits). Everytime I go in there though, they seem packed with customers, and the staff are extremely helpful and friendly. From what I've heard they do gaming sessions after hours, once a week.

Rainy Day Games, I've only been to once and again, very helpful and friendly. They however, only sell gaming supplies, and seem to do very well. They have a dedicated gaming space but it's roped off from the store stock so things don't go missing and gamers don't crowd general customers.

There are more stores in the area, but I tend to stay away from them because of limited stock (i.e. 90% collectible games, 10% other games), shabby apperearance (if you don't take pride in your store, that says a lot), and sometimes at places where games are played, the gamers get out of hand with volume levels and behavior.

When it comes to CCGs and CMGs though, I go to a lone card shop that mostly deals in sports cards though. There's no in store gaming, but the owner is an honest guy who always tries to cut me the best deal.
 
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