Game Stores

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.

8 Comments

  1. John Snyder

    I kind of liked the rambling, nostalgic tone of this post. 🙂

    Being from Fresno all my life, my first game store was The Game Preserve, or as we called it, The Nerd Preserve. This was back when the old lady ran it, and it was halfway decent. It supplied me with a metric ton of Rifts and Deadlands books when I’d just begun my geek travels, and it was my main source for Magic and Mage Knight when I went through those phases. By the time I was in my 20s though, games had kinda spread out to other stores and the internet. Heroes Comics became my main money-pit in the Heroclix era. After that was over, it was mostly just internet retailers for me. The good thing about having such a low bar being set with the Game Preserve was that whenever I got the chance to visit a more dedicated game store, it was like a trip to Willy Wonka’s factory. I remember visiting my girlfriend in Claremont and going to a really cool store in Diamond Bar. I can’t remember the name, it was like All-Star Games or something. It was awesome. Racks and racks of games, games out on tables to try, people who couldnt wait to tell you about the games for sale. And you could tell as soon as you talked to someone that it was run by actual gamers. I think that with the internet retail age, a really good game store is truly becoming a relic of the past, and that’s sad. It’s awesome to hear how great Endgame was – I just wish Fresno could support a place like that.

  2. You’ve got the name right, John – the Diamond Bar store was All-Star Games (that’s where I bought my copy of Sindbad.)

    For years, the best game store in Southern California was Gamesmanship, which started in a little side store outside South Coast Plaza (which is where I bought most of my Traveler RPG stuff) and then moved into SCP (which is where I bought a number of Ravensburger games).

    Of course, it’s long gone – if you ever go to Rainforest Cafe at SCP, that’s where it was. Sigh.

  3. Tim Shea

    You are a rambler after my own heart. I’ve been all nostalgic of late these days too… glad I’m not the only one with the bug. I remember going to a small used bookstore back in the 80’s… the ones that sold books and comics with the covers ripped off and bought my own 1st edition basic and advanced set of D&D, it had the covers and was in the box still all wrapped and new. That started me on the road to visit the area comic/game stores. Many friends and good times were had.

    Thanks for helping me down the ole’ memory lane and sharing your own memories.

  4. @John: Exactly!

    @Tim: I love used bookstores. In fact, I’m going to a local one soon to look for some of the old Doc Savage novels from Tor(?) You know, that publisher that always had books with a yellow spine.

    FYI: An old friend from middle school told me the name of the hobby shop in Oildale. It was Riverview Hobby. Thanks to the internet, I now know that it was located on Roberts Lane and opened in 1957.

  5. How I loved traveling down to Gamesmanship. The closing of the store was sad, too. They lost their lease (it’s not a Rainforest Cafe) and the owner got upset and deeply discounted everything immediately – and got out quickly. I never got any of the deals but sure felt the sting of the loss.

    The closing of All-Star Games was the reason I recorded the Demise and Rise of the Friendly Local Game Store series. You can hear stories of the store and the terrible reasons for losing it on that first show. It was my FLGS for a long time and I still miss the folks that ran it.

    Another terrific article. Thanks, Jeff.

  6. I grew up in a little town south of Sacramento, and the only thing we had was The Hobby Hut, a shop that stocked plastic models, craft supplies, and just a couple games. I’m sure I was going in there to browse or buy something from the plastic model jet selection when a small box on a side shelf caught my eye. They had Metagaming’s Microgames inside, probably a half-dozen copies. I didn’t buy one, but in 7th grade a classmate introduced me to Ogre. I loved, then went back and bought my own copy…except that I went for G.E.V. It was like Ogre, but bigger, and for just $4 instead of $3. I ended up buying quite a few microgames there, and got a friend into it, too. When high school brought us into contact with some young gamers from another part of town, we finally bought The Fantasy Trip and Traveller.

    About that time our town got a new, large toy store called King Norman’s. (Was that a chain?) It had shelves and shelves of Avalon Hill Bookcase games. I window-shopped many of them, but they were too pricey for me. I remember really wanting Panzer Leader, and being curious about Napoleon (which I now own!).

    Fast forward several years to college, and I’m down in SoCal. One of my old high school gaming buddies is going to UC Irvine, and he gets a job at that Gamesmanship store you’re talking about!

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