I’ve been thinking about game stores lately. Yesterday, I was driving through Bakersfield on my way from Fresno to UCLA, and it made me think of the hobby store where I used to buy games as a kid. Back in the 70’s, there weren’t a lot of stores solely dedicated to gaming, certainly not in a smaller town like Bakersfield. If you wanted to buy an Avalon Hill game or an RPG, then you usually had to go to your local hobby store.
I wish I could remember the name of the hobby shop where I used to get my games back then, maybe some of my old Bakersfield friends will help me out on this one. It was a small store out in Oildale, which at the time was still very rural, with lots of open fields and dirt roads. I think the store specialized in ceramics, but there was a very small area over to right as you entered that was dedicated to games. There was a large wooden rack that held everything from Dungeon & Dragons modules to historical miniature gaming magazines. I seem to recall that there was a display case with a lot of those smaller scale historical miniatures for war games. Maybe that was something that interested the owner and he or she just decided to make it a part of the business?
I can’t remember if this was something I discovered on my own or if someone told me about it. It was just the place you had to go if you wanted anything related to gaming. It had a cement floor and an unfinished ceiling like an old warehouse. I have a very vivid memory of what this place looked like and what I bought there. I also remember what I didn’t buy there. I used to look at these thumbed through copies of Advanced Melee and The Fantasy Trip RPG, which was a precursor to Steve Jackson’s GURPS. I hesitated for so long on buying them, that when I finally went in to get them, they were gone. I ended up getting them on eBay years later. It had bugged me for twenty years.
The first actual game store I remember was somewhere in the Los Angeles area. We took a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm and the Movieland Wax Museum, and at some point we went to this mall. I have no idea where this was. It could have been near Knott’s or even in Downey, where my aunt lived, but I do remember that it had two stories and a western theme with big wagon wheels on the walls. Somewhere in this place was a real game store, with racks of games and bins of polyhedral dice. This was where I bought my copies of the microgames Melee and Wizardry produced by Metagaming. I only went there once, but this was the store that set itself in my memory as gamer heaven.
I realize that I’m rambling and waxing nostalgic, but I’ve been making an effort to visit game stores for the past few years whenever I’m traveling. I’ve wanted to write about some of these visits, but to be honest, I don’t want to write anything bad about a game store, and I’ve been to some pretty lousy stores. Recently, I visited Endgame in Oakland, California and I thought that Endgame was everything a game store should be, so I will be writing about that next month if possible. I had such a great time there that I want to go back again before I write about it. It’s really that great.
What is the first game store that you remember visiting? I would be really interested to know other peoples experiences, and I would love it if someone remembers the stores that I do.