Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Gamer’s Gambit Demonstrates Store Ideals

Everyone has their ideas about what makes a good Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS). I particularly value a friendly staff, comprehensive inventory, and plenty of play space, all of which goes a long way to cultivating a sustained and diverse play community. I’ve visited many games stores in my 35+ years in the adventure gaming hobby as a player and writer. Even where I live now, on the medieval frontier of Northern Virginia (the medieval side) I’ve discovered several game stores, some closer than others, that hit the marks quite well (though some, always the closest, seem to have a habit of closing after just more than a year in business). My family recently had an excellent experience at an FLGS, this time while on our annual pilgrimage to visit family in New England, and it reminded me what makes for a successful FLGS.

We were halfway through the pilgrimage on a Sunday afternoon, making our way from Worcester, MA, to Ridgefield, CT, from my in-laws to my parents home and the house where I grew up and discovered gaming. We’d explored Gamer’s Gambit in Danbury, CT, during last year’s visit on a weekday when things were quiet. This Sunday the store was absolutely packed. The store’s in a shopping center with plenty of extra parking (something I really liked in one of the local stores that closed); but I could tell it was packed with gamers by the number of cars bearing geeky license plates and window stickers. My seven year-old son, the Little Guy, had already started checking out state license plates on the trip, but today he was also scouting out geek signs, including an Autobot sticker on someone’s car (he’s into Transformers at the moment). When we entered the store, it was a madhouse: aside from the crowd of customers, the back half of the store with the open-play tables was mobbed. Several staffers were at the front door and milling around the sales area greeting new customers and helping out: two young ladies with colorful hair wore flowing fantasy dresses, fairy wings, and unicorn horns, while a more conventionally dressed woman (possibly the manager) hovered nearby and another fellow worked the register. When we asked one of the staffers what was up, they explained the store was hosting three tournaments: Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, and Heroclix, all of them full.

Undaunted by the crowds and encouraged by the friendly welcome we all wandered off to look for interesting purchases. The Little Guy wanted to by a Funco Pop! figure and look at the comic book selection, my wife was interested in getting something for the friend watching our cats while we were away (colorful dice, primarily, as she’s in our occasional Star Wars roleplaying game campaign), and I wanted to peruse the extensive board and roleplaying game sections. Gamer’s Gambit had a great inventory: a selection of comics and fan merchandise (with a couch to encourage in-store reading), shelves of roleplaying games, racks of board games, and displays with game support material (dice, play mats, card boxes, painting implements...). Alas, they didn’t have the same kind of wargaming stock that many stores in Virginia carry, but, aside from that, the shop comprehensively covered the other bases of the adventure gaming hobby.

The Little Guy easily found his Pop! figure and then wanted two deck boxes, one emblazoned with the Autobot symbol and another with the logo for the Decepticons. When one of the staffers checked to see how we were doing I asked them if they had any kind of Transformers trading cards we could get to put in the boxes, but they said they didn’t have anything like that. I thought nothing more of it and continued looking at board games while my wife evaluated dice. On the clearance rack I found a discounted copy of Trek Panic, a cooperative game I’d been seeking since we’re fans of both Castle Panic and Star Trek. It went in my growing pile before I moved to the regular board game displays. Here I found another copy of Trek Panic at full price and in no different condition than the one I found on the clearance rack. My wife was remarking that our cat-watching gaming friend also loves Star Trek (and had played Castle Panic with us before)...perhaps we could get that second copy for her? At this point a staffer approached me, not because I looked puzzled and had a question but because she had something for the Little Guy. While we were shopping they looked around for something Transformers related and found a comic book; they’d looked through it to make sure it was appropriate and asked if they could give it to him for free. It was extremely thoughtful going that extra mile, especially with the store so busy. I then asked her about the different prices on the Trek Panic games. She explained the store policy, that if something was mis-marked it sold for the lower price. So we decided to get the extra copy for our friend. As if all this extra service wasn’t enough, the staffer offered to hold our growing pile of purchases behind the counter while we continued to shop. My wife eventually settled on a set of nicely colored Chessex dice, then noticed a fishbowl near the register with the store’s custom dice (green and purple) with the store name and contact on the “six” side. They were an easy impulse buy at 95 cents each.

I approached the register wary of spending all that cash but more than happy to: everyone got something fun, we got gifts for a friend, and we were just enjoying our experience in the store. We chatted with the helpful staffers, noting we were traveling to visit relatives in the area and missed having nearby, friendly game stores in our neighborhood at home. At that point they tossed a few more custom store dice on our pile with their compliments. We walked out of Gamer’s Gambit with a pile of merchandise, plenty of smiles, and a feeling we’d found a friendly gaming oasis far from home.

Gamer’s Gambit hit the mark on all my hallmarks for a great FLGS:

Retail & Game Space: A good store needs both space for displaying inventory and an area for organized play, special events, and open gaming. Gamer’s Gambit had both, with plenty of room for customers to move around. Despite the throngs there for the three Sunday afternoon events and customers bustling to shop for games, we never felt crowded or uncomfortable.

Solid Inventory: Gamer’s Gambit hit the mark for several adventure gaming categories we enjoy (and then some), including board and roleplaying games, card games, dice, and fan-favorite collectibles like Pop! figures. I can forgive the absence of a large, diverse wargaming section as the store management obviously knows what its customers and vibrant play community prefer.

Customer Service: We weren’t the only ones getting friendly treatment at Gamer’s Gambit. Staff – costumed or otherwise – greeted each person who passed through the door. I overheard staffers directing newcomers and young players to their tournament games and the sign-up procedures.

All three of these elements work together to cultivate not only a solid customer base to keep a store financially successful, but a vibrant play community who visit the store as a hub of hobby activity. Had Gamer’s Gambit been around when I was growing up, returning home from college, or working in my younger years at my hometown newspaper, it would have served as a great gaming community hub. Even though we were passing through on an extremely busy weekend, the staff made us feel like this was our hometown game store where we’d always been welcomed for years. If you’re ever in southwestern Connecticut – either living close by or just passing through – swing by Gamer’s Gambit in the Berkshire Shopping Center, 67 Newtown Road, Danbury, CT.

Postscript: Custom Store Dice

I think an FLGS having its own custom store dice is a fantastic idea. Chessex makes great custom dice and manages to fit an awful lot of information on one face (I should know, I’ve ordered custom Griffon Publishing Studio and Panzer Kids dice before). I realize they’re not cheap, but, purchased in bulk, they can be sold at the store for a minimal price, tossed in a bag now and then for loyal customers, or given to occasional visitors for far away as a memento of their visit. I keep a small collection of customized dice I’ve received over the years, some from conventions, others from stores; each one has it’s own story. They’re fantastic souvenirs, perfect for bragging rights at the game table, and – if more stores offered them – could easily become a collecting trend among gamers.