It’s Happening.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first started, I asserted that it would cause the demise of many brick and mortar game shops. Locally, we’ve had two close down that I’m aware of.

Armchair Adventure Games, which is south east of Cleveland is going out of business. It was out of the way for me so I had never been there. The photos of the shop suggest it was quite a lovely place with some great play spaces. Their fans on social media have expressed sadness about the situation. They had been open less than a year when COVID hit. They had unlucky timing and just couldn’t sustain the business in this circumstance. A thing I did notice about the shop was I didn’t see anything that you couldn’t get online or at any other game shop around. As far as product goes, there wasn’t anything to differentiate them from any other typical game shop. Their online presence wasn’t that significant and nothing about what they were doing differentiated them from the typical shop. I don’t know if they had any ecommerce going before they decided to shutter the business but it doesn’t look like there was. I suspect this contributed to the revenue issues. It has to be a heart rending situation. I wish them well.

My favorite local shop, Weird Realms, decided to close the physical location because their lease was up and there wasn’t very much play space, even before the pandemic. Their strategy is to focus on their online business until the plague is lifted. I think this is a smart move given their specific situation. While the physical shop is not currently open, you can buy online and Beckett will deliver if you are a local. Beckett has a Discord server and is running some Dungeon Crawl Classics games online. He had plenty of good will from the gamers that shopped and played at the store before the pandemic. He carries a lot of the usual product lines you see in game shops as well as interesting independent games, out of print sword and sorcery paperbacks, vintage horror comics and other unique items that are hard to find.

While not a game shop, the comic shop where I have a pull file, Comics Are Go!, has managed to keep the business going. Once distribution from the publishers was re-established and a safe way to do transactions was sorted out, the customers weren’t going to go without their monthly fix. Eric has been very creative and proactive in using Facebook Live to do a weekly showcase of out of print comics that he has bought from collections. Customers tune in and claim classic books as Eric and his lovely assistant talk about the story lines, artists and crack jokes. I don’t usually buy anything but I have watched/listened to a few of the streams just for the interesting commentary. Their website is regularly updated with interesting blog posts and they are active on social media.

My guess is that the pandemic is far from over. Retail of all types had been struggling before COVID. Major mall owners, big department stores and many smaller ones have been going bankrupt and closing locations. That is likely to continue.

We all know that Amazon has lower prices on anything new from the major publishers. Amazon is far less expensive on every fifth edition D&D release than any game store that I’ve seen. Drivethrurpg.com controls most of the market on independent game publishers and the POD and digital products for Wizards of the Coast. If the only thing a game shop has to offer is product customers can buy for less money delivered to their door, the game shop isn’t going to be able to compete over the long term even after COVID is over.

The shops that have an online market place, who do things that the big online retailers do not do, like buy and sell used game books and cards, will be around when customers start feeling comfortable gaming in shops again. The truly critical element is that the friendly local game shops must be engaged with their customers. If your local shop isn’t offering something unique, active on social media, (Discord, YouTube, Twitch, etc) and figuring out how to bring in revenue with ecommerce; they will not viable over the long term even if they do survive the pandemic.

The future of brick and mortar retail will be a hybrid of online sales and an experience that goes far beyond mere transactions in a physical location. Retailers will not regain their customers without making it worth leaving home. That means customers can’t just be customers. They have to be friends and fans. Retailers whose customers don’t have a genuine, heart felt love for their store are doomed.

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