The Death of a Geek Shop

Yesterday (as I wrote this), I found out that the best place for me to actually play Magic: the Gathering, one Silver Creek Game Shop in Sellersburg, Indiana, had closed for good three hours earlier.  I wished I had listened to my intuition and went to to earlier that day.  Since then I have thought a lot about what might have gone wrong for it, what has gone wrong for other “geek shops” I’ve known, and lessons from all of them gathered so that another one might grace the Sunnyside of Louisville sometime.  I plan to make this a more universal article, so if you are not from around the Kentuckiana area do not fear…you will find things germane to you as well.

First, I guess I should state what I mean by a “geek shop”.  I am using this as a catchall, as often the same place that sells comics might also sell games, or anime, or other things of a “geeky” persuasion.  Honestly, it might be the best way to go about things because if you just sell comics or just sell games, then you have nothing to fall back on if things go bad.

Let’s start with Silver Creek.  The people running it were definitely not a problem, at least as faces of the company.  (I could not tell you if they were good at bookkeeping or not, so I will not speculate on that).  However, all they did was gaming: mostly Magic and I think some Warhammer as well.  So the diversity of revenue streams was iffy.  Plus, as in many things LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION matters.  Now, rent is one of, if not the biggest, hurdles for a geek store.  Since the payout is not the biggest in the world, you need to make sure you do not pay much for rent.  Silver Creek was in a plaza of which half of it was a bowling alley that burnt to the ground almost seven years ago (March 2, 2010), and much of it is still “under construction”.  I am sure it was one of the best bargains for rent, especially when the shop moved closer to the site of the blaze (the shop only opened 3-4 years ago, so the fire wasn’t a concern for them).  However, if you didn’t just drive past Silver Creek if you were the average geek…you were going specifically there.  The only other reason for most people to go to Sellersburg who don’t live there is to eat at the Cracker Barrel restaurant.  A place in Clarksville, which is the major shopping area between two good-sized cities and an easy drive across the river from Louisville, would be a better location, but might have had much higher rents.

This has always been a problem.  My little brother and his best friend tried to have their own little geek shop called Madhouse Comics in the mid-1990s, and ended up having to settle with running things out of our garage.  (There are still posters up from then).  It was a bad time to start a comic shop anyways, as the speculator boom was already winding down and Marvel made it harder to get their comics distributed at the time.  However, there were no reasonable rents for them anywhere around the city.  The best one was in such a remote location that it made Silver Creek’s look like the center of downtown Louisville in comparison.  Madhouse only lasted a year, but because they had no rent they broke even.

There have been other geek shops in the area that did not last long.  There was Joy’s Comics, that was located between the KOA and Tom Rapier RV in Clarksville, across from Derby Dinner Playhouse.  The real owner of the shop was the mother, but this cool dude named Cole Dulmage got his mother to allow him to start selling comics there (his mother I think sold used romance novels).  As I wrote this paragraph, I did a Google search and found out he passed away in September of 2015 at age of 58.  R.I.P. dude.  Of course, that reminds me of a non-Louisville area game shop called Raven Crest in Terre Haute that concentrated on Magic, but like Silver Creek the owner, Lee Brannon, eventually had to do away with his storefront and the dude passed away two years ago.  There was Comics America on Eastern Blvd. in Clarksville, which was a sister store for the previously established Triple Play, but neither store made it out of the 90’s.  There was also the original Role of the Die, a pure game store, just past Utica-Sellersburg Rd on Hwy 62 in the mid-90s, ran by three dudes, and one of their wives, but it also faltered.  Green Tree Mall has had two different geek stores.  One of them, Something to Do, was part of a local chain of hobby stores located in malls but eventually only one of the four remain, and that one was eventually forced out of its mall (Oxmoor), and eventually closed a few months ago.

The one real geek store on this side of the river is Hockeyman’s.  It has always been a great place to buy new Magic stuff, but because the owner is mostly into baseball cards and farms out the Magic stuff to someone else to run for him, and there is always a new “someone else” it seems like, the tournament play is spotty.  He has lasted for 15 years.  My educated guesses are 1) downtown Jeffersonville isn’t that bad of a location, 2) his real focus is baseball cards, whose values I assume do not fluctuate like Magic cards, and 3) the rent is relatively cheap.  He also has small areas in permanent flea markets that he doesn’t have to man all the time, so they also eke in a cash flow.  Plus, Ken’s a good dude.

Yes, I could go over to Louisville, but I never liked any of them as well, and they are farther as well.  I would probably default to Heroes on Baxter Avenue, as they have a nice gaming area, they do diversify by having comics, and they are relatively close (althro their location does worry me if I was there at night, but that might also mean less rent for them).  The Silver Creek dudes recommended Through The Decades, located at the corner of Hurstborne and Taylorsville Roads, but I never really warmed up to the place; but then, I have only shopped there a handful of times…never played there.  Someone eventually borrowed the aforementioned Role of the Die name and opened up on Bardstown and I did like the shop and the dues, but then they eventually moved much further out and have recently sold out to a whole new bunch of people whom I don’t know, and renamed themselves Legends, so they are an unknown factor to me.  Great Escape has never been a place to play games, but they have for decades been the default metropolitan area comic shop, with a nice selection of used RPGs and CDs.

What would I recommend if someone decided to open up a new geek store here in the Falls Cities?  First, I recommend finding a decent place in Clarksville, balancing issues like rent and size of the building.  Second, along with gaming I would recommend having a decent anime area, as there is no place in the Louisville area that really services Otaku and that could help provide a niche.  Comics are iffy…there are no decent comic stores this side of the river, but comics are such small sellers compared to their heyday that I’d probably avoid them.  Third, I would make sure to have snacks and drinks available for purchase; I might even have a microwave or two handle for customers to buy popcorn or something more substantial from me.  There is a definite hole to fill.  Of course, 10 years ago the Indiana game store chain Game Preserve talked about opening up in Clarksville; they never did due to the economic malaise that we are still pretty much still in, althro the future looks brighter than it did months ago so who knows…maybe they finally will open up a location here.

Am I sad for Silver Creek closing?  You bet.  It was my best option for pre-releases as I am too old for midnight pre-releases, and because of WotC’s current hatred of Red I feel little desire to play Magic anymore, especially if I have to drive further away now.  Is it hopeless?  No, but I have seen so many geek shops come and go that it does get depressing at times.  Hopefully a successor comes soon.

 

Quoth the penguin…evermore.

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