It’s not uncommon to see peeps in the great RPG bloggosphere recite their requiems for the Brick & Mortar stores. You’ll see “Support your FLGS!” splattered across forum signatures, sidebars, and article footnotes across the web. (For the uninitiated, it means Support Your Favorite Local Gaming Store.) Truth is, in this economy, in an age of digital convenience, a lot of people skip out on the experience of the game shop in favor of Amazon prices, or the availability of PDF files (both acquired legally and illegally.)
I’m guilty of it as well. There’s no arguing the kind of deals you can pull online. In past occurrences, if I’m not sure if I want to invest in a book, I will acquire a PDF through bootlegged means. Although, to be fair I’d say the real crime is selling the digital copies for the full price of a hardcover, but that is an entirely different conversation all together. But in the end, PDF’s are not a hard copy you can hold in your hands and just lose yourself in. Amazon doesn’t give you the social experience of walking into a store and dusty old relics and others who enjoy the collection and the hobby as much as you do. No, forum trolls on comments isn’t the same as bumping into a lawyer in real life who just happens to be a big RPGA nut on the weekends. Or helping a 12-year old pick out a sourcebook that would benefit his game the most, knowing this is probably going to be the only book he buys for the rest of the year due to his allowance. (Hell, I was that kid back in the day.)
A Bit of a Road Trip
Yesterday I bought a new car (Well, a Kia Sorento) and we had to take it on a road trip. My fiancee, my neighbor and I plowed in and we decided to go to lunch, in a town about an hour away because our Long John Silvers has been closed for almost a decade and I was craving hush puppies. This town was also the location of our nearest “Local Gaming” shop that wasn’t a Hastings book store. It’s in Cleburne, TX. The name of the place is The Comic Boxx. And in the past, I’ve probably spent more money on RPG books there then any sane man should admit to. Really, it’s probably relatively tame compared to most gamers expenditures. I just have a tendency of doing it in bulk.
The last time I was in there, it took me hours to get out. So many RPG books, so many board games, card games, miniatures, you name it. Geek heaven. That was about a year ago. Yesterday was a different story. I spent a long time in there, but it was a long time looking to find something I’d actually want. I was debating about the old Cyberpunk 2020 miniatures. I was debating about the Munchkin Boardgame. But that was the problem: I was debating if I even wanted anything at all. I had actually went there in hopes of finding newer products, for Shadowrun or D&D. In both cases, there were shelves upon shelves of older editions but not a sight of anything new. Okay, he had a set of the 4E core books.
The owner, whom I never picked the name of but would recognize him anywhere, came out and greeted us and cracked some jokes and made us feel welcomed. Amazingly, he remembered us. We possibly only made an annual visit to his shop, but he knew who we were and was happy to see us. He asked me about if the 4th edition of D&D was picking up steam. I told him my thoughts that now, a year later with some more product support and time for the fanboys to cease fuming a little bit, it’s starting to pick up. What he shared with us afterwards was a sad tale. Times were hard for him, and apparently the hoops he had to jump to support Wizards products were getting more and more ridiculous. In the end, he made what I felt was a ballsy decision: To cut off the Magic cards and D&D support all together. He wasn’t selling enough to justify keeping up to date, and had an entire backstock of older editions.
Nineteen years. That’s how long the man has been running that store. I can’t think of any other game shop in the area that lasted that long. He said we were the first people in three months to come in and purchase RPG books. Last time I was there, the place was flooded with fellow geeks playing all sorts of obscure systems. But it sounds like in a year, times have changed for him. Amazon got the better of his customers, no way he could compete. Wal-Mart sells the same boxes of Magic cards he does, at a much lower price. The big dogs have bought their way in, and put businesses like his to the wall.
He always sells the books for cover value, even the out of print. I used to rag on the man for doing that. Hell, he’s smart. Damn smart. Copy of the out of print, limited ran DUNE RPG was being sold there for a few hundred. He’s not stupid. He’s seen the online prices. He knows the lengths collectors will go to. But he’s still fair. He gave us drinks on the house, just to show appreciation for our hour long pilgrimage. He offered me cover price of a stack of books I was looking at (Which was some old, but still pretty damn good conditioned Rolemaster books.) I bought them all, not so much thinking about the lump sum I was spending or that I even needed another system. I just wanted to help. I just wanted to let him know there were still some people who preferred the archaic ritual of bookstores.
He called us a rare breed. This morning, I’m starting to consider myself a bit of a gamer Antiquarian.
Plugging my FLGS:
If you’re in North Central Texas, and driving around in Cleburne, look up The Comic Boxx. What he lacks in new, he makes up for in old. AD&D of all editions, even the classic box sets. Hell, he had a battered and used electronic D&D board game from the 80’s in there. He has a ton of out of print from other game lines, including old World of Darkness, RIFTS, Shadowrun and others. He also has plenty of board games, card games, and Warhammer miniatures (he says the two games keeping him afloat are the Warhammer minis and Catan games.)
And on a final note….I just got done pricing my books online. The man spared me a fortune. One book I bought for 12 dollars was going as low as 26.