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.
1657 Powell St., between Green St. & Union