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Putting the F in FLGS. What makes for a good game store? – Ask the Bellhop

What are some of the things that make for a good local game store? What is the difference between a FLGS and just a LGS. That’s our topic today based on a question asked by one of our Patreon patrons.


Tabletop Bellhop Patron PS Gougeon writes,


I have a topic suggestion for the show, whenever we travel/day trip, we try to visit one of the local game stores in whatever city we’re in, 401games in Vaughn was impressive. This past weekend, we were in Detroit and the store we visited was sadly disappointing, I guess we’re spoiled here in Windsor with that gem Brimstone Games. A friend has since suggested that we check out Guild of Blades in Detroit on our next visit. Just wondering if you and Sean can discuss game stores and any gems that you’ve discovered in Southern Ontario and our surroundings?

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The Short Answer:

The storefront for L.A. Mood in London OntarioDeanna and I are the same as PS in that any time we are taking a trip I take some time beforehand to search for local hobby shops, game stores and/or comic shops. I love discovering game stores in other cities, especially when you find one that’s been around for a long time that has lots of new old stock on hand. Now the things I’m looking for in a store when I’m on vacation are very different from what I want in a local store. When I’m just shopping, I’m looking for deals, hard to find games, and discovering new things I didn’t know existed. For a local store I want a lot more.

Really quickly I suggest checking out The CG Realm here in Windsor, RIW Hobbies in Livonia Michigan and L.A. Mood in London (be sure to check the basement) for people in this area. The thing is that I know a lot of you aren’t from this area, so I thought it would be worth expanding the topic. Instead of just listing local stores I would like to take a look at what I think makes for a good store.

After that I’ll list of some of my favourite local places and why I dig them, so that PS Gougeon gets a solid answer to his question.


The Long Answer:

As I noted above, what I’m looking for in a store I’m visiting to shop out of town is different from what I want from a local game store. There is some overlap though. Things like customer service and on hand stock should be good in both cases. If I’m just stopping in to shop I don’t actually care about tables to play games, except for maybe one demo table. I’m not generally worried about food or drink or anything like that. I just want a friendly place to shop with things I want to buy.

But with a store that’s local I want somewhere to play the games I buy. I want a way to meet local gamers. I want to try before I buy. I expect organized events. Overall I just want a lot more.

So below I’m going to talk about each of these things and why I think they are important to a good game store.


Friendly Knowledgeable Staff:

Jeremy one of the owners of The CG Realm game store in Windsor OntarioThis is true for any game store. One I plan to frequent often or one I enter for the first time. It should be a given, a no brainer. Sadly, far too often I’ve entered a game store only to find a single staff member behind the counter looking bored who doesn’t even acknowledge I’ve entered the store. Even more frequently the staff is so busy doing something (gaming, reading, online gaming, etc) that they don’t even notice I’ve entered.  When this happens I’m often tempted to just turn around and leave. I’m not even going to get into the reactions my wife sometimes gets.

I get that you and your staff probably opened the store because you love to game and maybe to get some deals on games for your and your friends, but some retail training wouldn’t be a bad thing. Greet people, ask if they need help, point them in the direction of whatever they may be looking for.

Besides being friendly and good retail ambassadors the staff should know the product. Now I’m not saying they need to know every game and every type of game in the store but they should have some general knowledge. They should know what’s currently hot in all types of games that the store covers. What’s the latest RPG coming out? What’s the top game on BGG right now? What’s the hot rare card in the latest Magic release?


Good Game Selection:

The board game selection at Brimstone Games in WindsorThis is far more important to me when I’m just stopping in for a shopping trip, but it’s still important for a local store. If I’m stopping in from out of town there’s no way I’m going to order something into the store. I have been in far too many store that think that only having a handful of games on hand but the ability to order in anything is good enough. To me that just encourages me to go home and order whatever I want myself, online.

People want to pick things up, turn them over in their hands, read the backs of the book or box. Even better have an open copy people can look at, or the next step a demo copy people can play (I’m getting ahead of myself here).

For me a good FLGS has a mix of the new hotness and tried and true classics. They use sites like Board Game Geek to see what the buzz is about and stock the top ranked games. They also have an RPG selection that includes more than just Dungeons & Dragons. Seeing a shelf full of digest sized indie RPGs tells me that someone in the store is paying attention to what’s going on in the roleplaying scene. I want to see more miniatures than just Warhammer. I expect to see Magic, but I should also see Force of Will.

The other thing I really appreciate in a game store is finding used games. Many of us are gaming on a budget and it’s nice to be able to save some money by buying lightly used gaming stuff. Many stores I’ve seen do this on commission, selling used stuff from the local gaming community. Other stores just sell off their old game library games and demo copies.


A Place to Play:

Every store, even if all they want is for people to come in buy a game and leave, should have at least one table set up. A table they can use to show off games and do demos. To me that’s enough for a big warehouse style store that’s just about selling games at the best price, but for a friendly local game store you better have a lot more.

Gamers gaming at The CG RealmI want my local game store to be a place to meet other gamers and play games. It should be a modern forum. A meeting place. A community hub for gamers. You can’t have that when all you have are shelves full of games. In general the more tables and chairs the better. Also, those chairs better be comfortable. Far too many times I’ve been at a game store, I’ve sat down to play some games and after the first game I’m ready to leave because the chairs aren’t comfortable.

The gaming space should be well lit. This also seems like a given but I’ve been in a few stores where the gaming space is hidden away in the basement or in the dark back halls of the store. It’s almost like an afterthought. I know the whole gamers playing in your mom’s basement is a meme, don’t perpetuate that at your store. Your gaming area should be bright, clean and welcoming.

There is one more part of having a good playspace and that’s having the extra stuff needed to play on hand. Have spare dice people can borrow. Pencils and pens. Scenery for miniature games. Play mats for games like X-Wing. Card mats for CGG players to use. Measuring tapes, range rulers and LOS lasers. I’ve even seen stores that have things like store DM screens and copies of RPG core books that people can borrow. While none of this is required to have in your store, it does bring things up to another level.


Organized Play and Events:

This is another one that doesn’t matter to me at all if I’m just stopping in but matters a lot for a local store.

A massive Warhammer 40,000 tournament.Every store should have a schedule posted somewhere (hopefully both in the store and online) and that schedule should be filled with awesome gaming stuff that patrons can take part in.

I want to see a mix of different types of gaming. I expect to see Friday Night Magic, that’s pretty much a given. I should also see D&D Adventures League. Those are pretty much a bare minimum and I don’t play either of those games. I should also see board game nights, open game nights, other RPGs, miniature gaming, painting clinics, etc.

Many popular games have organized play programs that include swag and other promotional items. These are the kinds of things that I’m surprised more stores don’t take part in. Gamers love getting new stuff for their games. Upgraded components, variant art cards, etc. are hugely popular and often part of these programs. A good store is going to support these programs.


Demo Copies and/or a Game Library:

One of the best ways to sell someone on a game is to have them see it, touch it and if possible play it. If there’s some new hot game that everyone is talking about there should be a copy of that game set up in the store, ready to be talked about and potentially played. Once that game fades from hotness it can either be added to a growing in store game library or sold off at a discount, or donated to a local library or school. There’s very little reason I can find that stores shouldn’t be offering demos of games or have game libraries.

A section of the game library at Geektropolis Cafe, sadly closed.Now this goes hand in hand with having a game space. If you don’t have the space you don’t really need the library, but you really should have both.

Many game companies are happy to provide demo copies of games free of charge (or at a discount). Even better some will even send people to a store to do the deoming for you. This is something a good game store will have looked into and take advantage of.

There’s one extra step here that I often find lacking in many stores. That’s maintaining those games and that library. Far too often stores open up a bunch of games at once or over time, stick them on a shelf, point people to that shelf when they are looking for something to play and never look at it again. What ends up happening is that bits go missing, rules get lost, things get damaged and it ends up many of the games in the library are unplayable. A good store is going to maintain those games and keep them in good shape as well as police the people using those games to make sure they are treating them properly.


Cleanliness:

Very simple, the store should be clean. The entire store. The back room that you can see through the open door. The washrooms (the store better have washrooms, and none of this “you have to buy something to use them B.S.) should be spotless. Behind the counter should be clean. Floors should actually be mopped or vacuumed. Stock should be dusted. Garbages emptied on a regular basis.

Dirty, dingy and smelly are terms used to describe game stores far too often.


Food and Drink:

Detroit style coney dogs from The Windsor Sandwich ShopThis is another one that doesn’t matter much to me if I’m just shopping and browsing but that is a must if you expect people to hang around in the store for hours and shop and play games. Basic snacks and canned/bottled drinks can be enough. I don’t need my game store to have a full cafe in it, though it is a bonus if there is one.

One thing to watch for is the kinds of food. I don’t want all junk food and sugary beverages. Yes it’s a stereotype that all gamers ingest are doritos and Mt. Dew, and yes I have met many gamers who still stick to chips, chocolate bars and pop when gaming, but there are those of us out there who actually try to eat healthy. Bottled water should be available (the best stores I’ve been in offer this for free) and snack should include some healthier choices like Kind bars, baby carrots, rice crackers, baked chips, etc.

One thing I like to see is when stores actually realizes you are going to be gaming and eating at the same time and avoids having things on hand like powdery snacks (Cheezies, Smart Food) and greasy, saucy foods. Another nice touch is a separate eating area so that the games are kept away from the food.


FLGS Suggestions:

Getting back to PS Gougeon’s question, here are some FLGS suggestions of my own.

A group playing Dungeons & Dragons at The CG RealmThe CG Realm – Windsor, Ontario – Half game store, half sandwich shop. Great selection of RPG including many indie RPGs. Pretty much all collectible card games supported with game nights for most. Warhammer, Warmachine, Guild Ball, X-Wing and other miniature games stocked and supported with game nights on Sundays. Large but not amazing board game selection. Friendly knowledgeable staff. LGBTQ+ friendly, including a weekly Gaymers night. Best prices in the city. Windsor Sandwich Shop on site with great food and snacks (love the Coney Dogs).

RIW Hobbies & Games – Livonia, Michigan – Covers all types of gaming; RPGs, board games, miniatures, card games. Impressive board game selection. RPG support sadly limited to mostly D&D and Pathfinder, there is some other stuff but very little. Weekly board game night. Magic, Pathfinder and Yu-Gi-Oh actual play. Huge selection of miniatures the last time I was there. Supports the local library game night.

LA Mood Comics & Games – London, Ontario – Well trained, knowledgeable staff. Lots of cool geeky stuff in addition to games. Sells used games on commision and usually have a great selection of used products. Board game selection is good, mostly hot and popular items. Decent RPG selection including some indie stuff. Not very card focused which is a nice change. The secret is the basement. That’s where the used stuff is and the gaming area. Sadly it looks, smells and feels like a basement. My favourite place to shop for used and hard to find items.

The RPG shelf at City Lights Bookshop in London Ontario.City Lights Bookshop – London, Ontario – Okay, this is not a game store but I stop in here and check out the Games section every time I’m in town. It’s all used but I’ve found some real gems. Like last time I was there I got a copy of the SAGA system Marvel Roleplaying boxed set, complete for $20. I’ve bought all kinds of RPGs here over the years always at great prices.

J&J Cards & Collectibles – Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario – This place is massive. It’s basically a huge warehouse. The best selection you are going to find anywhere nearby. Due to the volume they sell at they also have great prices. While they do have snacks and one or two gaming tables this is a place you go to shop, not to play. What you won’t find here are RPGs, besides some Dungeons and Dragons and even then you will only find the stuff from WotC.

401 Games – Toronto, Ontario – I’ve only been to the one downtown. Amazing board game selection. Decent RPG selection. Some of the best prices I’ve seen. The problem is that the store is always so busy and the staff so tied up due to being busy that it’s hard to get any service. Even checking out can be a problem. While they have space to play I haven’t used it. Mainly I go here to shop.

Hairy Tarantula – Toronto, Ontario – Sadly pretty much every negative stereotype for a game store applies here. The thing is that this store has the most new old stock I’ve ever seen. Stuff that’s been on the shelves since the 80s and 90s and still has the original sticker price on it. If you are into classic games or just getting into an older release RPG it’s worth stopping in to see what they may have in stock. The last time I was there I stocked up on W.E.G. D6 Star Wars books for under $5 each.


So that’s some of what I look for in a local game store. What puts the F in FLGS for me. What do you look for in a game store? Let us know in the comments!

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