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Used and retro video game store opens its doors in San Francisco

I live in San Francisco. Recently, I was walking to the grocery store to buy some avocados, when suddenly I saw a giant sandwich board advertising something called “Star Games.”

That seemed new. I looked around. I didn’t see any game stores anywhere. Also, the last time a sign lured me into a “game store,” it had turned out to be one of those D&D hangout places. I’d marched right in with palpable confidence and decisiveness, and then I’d suddenly stopped just inside the door, completely frozen in place as I stared at shelves full of rulebooks. Then I realized all the preteens at the back table had stopped playing—now, they were staring at me in silent horror. And then I went, “Oh,” and slunk out miserably… not because I dislike tabletop gaming, mind, but oh boy do I dislike being sheepish in front of preteens.

Anyway. I walked past Star Games again on Friday. This time I was on my way to the Ninjatown DS Sneak Peek at Double Punch. But there Star Games was, cozily glowing in the dusk, just like a cottage in a Thomas Kinkade painting. I was already late to Double Punch, though, so I hurried past.

And though I’ve never actually walked into the store, I’m already really fascinated by Star Games: I have never seen an independent videogame store in San Francisco before.

Sure, I’ve been to retro and import game stores in New York City and in Chicago. I’ve heard of mythical game stores in New Jersey and Seattle. Even Corpus Christi, Texas, has Play Again.

I’ve also heard a pretty believable rumor that one of the Bay Area EBs or GameStops does more business than any other franchised game store in the United States—a credible claim, because our area is chock-full of video game developers, PR, journalists, bloggers, publishing companies, tech industry people, and… well, you know, gamers. Since there’s such a huge, well-informed (and generally well-paid) crowd of gamers here, why hasn’t San Francisco had any notable import game stores up until now? Or, if we ever did, why do they all close down? Isn’t this a primo market for that niche?

I’ve long held a theory about import stores, and it is this: many of those stores manage to scrape by and stay open by not selling their inventory. If a store has valuable retro and import games—WonderSwans still in their packaging, for instance, and unopened Zelda CD-i games—those shelves full of priceless, unsold relics turn the establishment into a kind of museum, into a beautiful paean to dusty basements and wasted Saturday mornings. What, then, will Star Games’ shelves look like after everyone in San Francisco has taken off with their HoneyBees?

Location, location, location: I am already worried for Star Games because the store is in an accessible location. The game store in Chicago is clever because it is so geographically inaccessible—so, by the time you’ve finally geared up for a weekend trip to the store, you’re only too happy to blow all your money.

But I am a loving pessimist. Star Games, the Bay Area is ready to love you. You will be the one to turn the tide. You will be the greatest game store to ever open its doors in San Francisco.

Star Games has been open for just over a month. I will visit sometime this week and return with a full report.

Star Games
1657 Powell St., between Green St. & Union
San Francisco
(415) 398-4766

12 responses to “Used and retro video game store opens its doors in San Francisco” »

  1. Thanks for the heads up. We do have a lack of specialty game stores in the city, so I’m looking forward to checking this place out.
    A friend of mine was playing around with opening a store calle Super Gun in the Mission, but I think he’s decided to avoid brick and mortar and only open online. Bummer.
    I’m going to try checking out Star Games soon.

  2. librarian says:

    That is a total bummer.

    In my limited experience—and by that I mean only that I’ve observed plenty of friends succeed and fail—a brick-and-mortar specialty store, no matter its location, benefits from supplemental online sales, just so long as the online inventory is very deliberately limited without being crippled. Like, you want your local, real-world customers get first dibs on new items or things in extremely limited release.

    Now I’m going to contradict myself: in the case of Threadless, the Chicago-based collective had, in addition to their online retail store, a supersecret location in Ravenswood where you could show up and buy things only if you were in-the-know. So in that regard, it was like the brick-and-mortar location was the ‘supplemental’ business. It wasn’t until 2007 that they opened a ‘real’ store—by that time, they’d established plenty of brand recognition, and they could actually swing having a retail location.

  3. Yeah, I hear you. I was thinking about opening a retail store in the Mission as well, but the prices are just too freaking ridiculous. I was thinking the bulk of my sales would be online, but I would work inside the store and take custom orders from walk-ins (the store was going to be a crafts and messenger bags).

    I’ve always dug specialty game shops Video Games New York and AfterShock in Madison. Even though I could order online, I always made it a point to visit these shops whenever in town so I could actually experience the tech before I bought it.

  4. librarian says:

    Oh, totally, totally. I remember when Whitney and Kirby Kerr opened Rotofugi in Chicago, it was precipitated by, ‘We’re collectors; there’s no brick-and-mortar toy store here.’ So they opened, and of course, like everyone else, I showed up, I touched all the toys, and I kept saying to the owners, “It is so exciting to see these art toys in real life, and actually pick them up!” I wasn’t the only person who was thrilled, apparently—the owners told me that was exactly what all their new customers were saying. Because we all were these collectors who were completely landlocked in the midwest, shopping mostly from online vendors, so none of us had ever had that sense of weight or scale when we made purchases.

    But again, it comes back to that thing where you actually have to have interesting, real-life inventory to wow your customers and keep them coming back. And how, exactly, are you supposed to hang onto all your really good merchandise—probably by marking the prices way up—and still turn a profit, or for that matter, break even? But as soon as you sell all those holy grails in your inventory, poof, you’re not competitive with GameStop anymore. What a harrowing, thin line to straddle.

  5. Rebecca says:

    WTF?!? I used to live TWO BLOCKS from Pink Godzilla, and I NEVER EVEN KNEW? This post makes me the saddest person on earth.

    Yet, once I have a free day and a local ID bubble tea in my hand, I’m SO THERE. And this post will have made me the happiest person on earth.

  6. Kevin Bunch says:

    I’m friends with the man who runs Digital Press, and to tell the truth, he says it’s been good for his business to have the large chain stores around. The reason was simple: They were sending business his way for anything older than gamecube. Since he’s got the only specialty store in the area, anyone who is looking for, or wants to trade in, anything retro will come to him. He sees enough trade-ins to make up for the fact his much more valuable stock (stuff like mario kart, punch out, earthbound, toejam and earl) gets replenished.

    While he does do plenty of business with his newer games, his older stuff moves pretty well. Also, like the Chicago store, he supplements his income with a LAN gaming area, and arcade machines.

    Good luck to Star Games! If I’m ever in San Francisco, I will have to make the trip. I just saw a new game store in Detroit, right in midtown where the colleges are. Their selection was practically nonexistant, but I have high hopes.

  7. librarian says:

    And now to quote this dude’s 2006 post:

    As far as I know there isn’t a single independent game store in San Francisco proper. I would LOVE to be proven wrong, but I have yet to be able to find one. There is a place called Gamescape that is sometimes listed as one, but it’s actually a “game store” that sells D&D and stuff like that.

    Gamescape! That’s the store that tricked me into walking into it! If you saw this Tomorrowland sign, you’d do just the same.

    do not be tricked

    But it is right next door to a comics store that, despite the 1991 awning vibe, IS AMAZING:

    Now, I was just explaining to KBsaurus the irony here. It isn’t that I dislike tabletop games—it’s that I wasn’t expecting Warhammer when I walked in. Conversely, I expected little from the nearby Comix Experience. But they had everything I was looking for! Including one copy of each volume of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service I needed to finish my collection (ahem). But seriously, that is a special-order type of item! Why do they even carry it? I’ve never been so shocked in my life.

    Moving right along. From the very same digitpress thread, the Giant Retro Gaming Map!

    Serious props, Kevin B.—I am going to go register for their forums (finally). Thanks for sending me there! :D

  8. SeanaLyn says:

    woah awesome! i definitely need to hit this place up!

  9. Scott says:

    Wow, thanks a lot. I was searching on every site possible to try to find a local games store in San Francisco that sold retro games and wasnt an evil gamestop/gamecrazy store.

    I am a little late in finding this, but hopefully this place still is in business. I would love to be able to support a local games store.

    • Jenn Frank says:

      It’s pretty good. The owner is enthusiastic and knowledgeable (his face lit up when I bought a copy of Siren for PS2). Used game prices are pretty decent, and prices on new releases are competitive. There’s no real reason to preorder on Amazon when you can walk right in and buy what you’re looking for, right?

      • Scott says:

        I still haven’t had a chance to check this store out yet, but probably will make a trip out there this saturday. Yea, I enjoy actually browsing through physical copies of games. As long as the used games prices arent a total rip off, I am willing to pay slightly more than what gamestop sells games.

  10. David says:

    Man I miss old video game stores. I wish FuncoLand still existed!

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