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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Note: Next week I'm in Atlanta for the GTS Distribution trade show, so enjoy this double-length article and I'll see you just before Halloween!

In August I wrote about all the other game and comic stores in the Phoenix metro area and what I learned from each one.  The article title, "Enemies to the Bitter End," was tongue-in-cheek, of course.  In a niche industry like this, most of us get along pretty well.  As the adage goes, me against my brother, but me and my brother against the world.

I received great feedback on the article asking if I would say a few words about stores that have already come and gone.  This is a tightrope walk, because:

  • It's in poor taste if I'm too critical, like how one isn't supposed to speak ill of the dead; but,
  • It's an empty gesture if I don't acknowledge to some extent the circumstances of the store's closure; and,
  • Regardless of my best effort, I'm bound to forget your favorite store from Back In the Day.
Nonetheless, I am up to the challenge.  I promise my remarks on each store are my own opinion and should be taken with editorial intent.  I promise where I refer to public information that I will link a source wherever available.  And I'm sorry about forgetting your favorite store.

First, let me tip my hat to the stores I missed in my Enemies article!  Some of these are so new I was unaware of them when I wrote it, or else they didn't exist yet and have just opened.  A couple are just plain misses where I should have known better and I apologize for the oversight.

Again, this is Phoenix metro only... I simply don't know enough about the Tucson and other area stores to write substantively on them.


All About Books and Comics, Phoenix

This store was originally in the Enemies article, but accidentally deleted the paragraph during edits and the article went live with that blurb missing.  I noticed a few days later and restored it, but if you read the article on day one, you missed my remarks on this excellent shop.  You should be able to see them now if you revisit the article (and possibly refresh your browser cache).

Bookman's Entertainment Exchange, Phoenix, Tucson, Mesa, Flagstaff

How could I miss Bookman's?  I hang my head in shame.  Sure, they deal in ~95% used merchandise, but it includes a huge swath of media, from books to movies to records to comics to video games to board games to musical instruments and more.  I guess no Magic: the Gathering, but organized play was never part of the Bookman's plan anyway.  While Bookman's does maintain an impressive showcase full of valuable first editions and collectibles, most of their bread and butter comes from buying used books for next to nothing and reselling them inexpensively to price-sensitive consumers who just want something fun to read or watch.  I have spent many a shopping excursion buying tree corpses by Michael Crichton, David Eddings, and Isaac Asimov at their massive Mesa anchor store.

Fallen Phoenix Games, Fountain Hills

This newly opened store looks like it spans the gamut of card and board game offerings.  I haven't visited yet but they definitely located in an area that didn't have a store already, so props to them for doing the research.  Their logo really resembles the Mesa Comics logo, though that's likely parallel design rather than intentional.

Fallout Games, Phoenix and Tempe

This regional chain operates three stores, two of which are in Phoenix, one each at the northern and western edges of the city proper.  Fallout is entirely focused on console video games and related memorabilia, with no further reach into the hobby trade.  Their branding is high-quality and I have had good experiences shopping there.  I like that they've collected a bunch of vintage console kiosks.  It seems like the most obvious thing for merchandising consoles, but most of that gear was pawned off to department store employees or junked years ago, so it's not easy to procure.

Flashback Games, Tempe

This console-only store delivered a poor customer experience on my only visit, so let's just say I learned some of what not to do.  Maybe they're great guys the rest of the time.

Game Zone, Gilbert

This store has been around since at least 1996 and used to have an Ahwatukee location as well.  It's an interesting hybrid featuring new and used console video games but also anime collectibles, manga, anime-related toys and apparel, and tchotchkes.  Not to be confused with Gamers Zone, a defunct hobby game store that was in Mesa (see later in this article) or with The Gaming Zone, a console video game store in Tempe that is still very much alive.

Half-Price Books, Mesa

I started with this in the defunct category because "my" location in Tempe closed years ago, only to learn that their Mesa location at Superstition Springs is still chugging along strong.  I'm not including pure bookstores in these articles, such as the excellent Changing Hands in Tempe, because there are just too many and I'll never see them all.  But Half-Price Books also deals in comics and other media so they're on point.  One thing I love about this store is there is no store credit: all buys are in cash, and cash only, making the accounting end of the equation easy: no outstanding payables.  Their offer may not be as much as you hoped for, but it will be in dollars of money, and that counts for a lot.  I think store credit is too useful a tool for me to discard outright, but I am fascinated and impressed at how strong an inventory ecosystem Half-Price Books has built by eschewing it.

The House of Used, Mesa

Media, media, and more media: this converted former video rental store has been refitted into a clearinghouse for music, movies, video games, and memorabilia.  Their rack and fixture deployment is exactly what I want to use when we move back into these categories.  (We're using the same DVD racks now for our comic wall.)  I am impressed at their marketing and systematic use of price incentives to drive engagement.

Odyssey Games, Scottsdale

The dream is alive: an FLGS in the City of Scottsdale.  And not in the lousy part of Scottsdale either, but up on Shea Boulevard where it's pretty nice.  I haven't visited yet but I look forward to doing so.  I have heard entirely good things.  They appear to be focused on tabletop miniatures games.

Power Pill, Mesa

I hesitated to include this store on the list because it's not part of the comic or hobby game trade as such.  It mainly exists as a commercial storefront for the owner's arcade restoration projects.  However, it also features vintage pop culture collectibles, from toys to games to figures.  It's downtown a couple blocks west of Gotham City Comics & Coffee.  Our visit was pleasant and the pinball tables they had for sale looked sweet.

Rocky Road Comics, Chandler

At first I was like, really?  Someone opened a comic store a few miles away from mine?  However, apparently the shop is more of a pop culture project than full-scale comic retail outlet, and it serves as home base for some independent creative professionals.  For most of the rank-and-file titles, it turned out they had actually been referring customers to us!  We were delighted to make their acquaintance.

San Tan Comics Toys & Games, Gilbert

This store is about as far from mine as you can get and still be within the Gilbert city limits; it's right on the edge of Queen Creek.  I missed them in the first article but actually had a great visit a few months ago, the owner was friendly and there is a respectable inventory of mostly comics.  I scooped up an out-of-print X-Wing ship at the time to pass through at cost as a courtesy for one of my regulars.

Now that I've made the Enemies article current with the above round-up, here are my comments on the Phoenix metro stores from the comic or hobby game trade that have passed into history.

I preface this once again just to make abundantly clear: No disrespect is intended.  Three of these stores were mine, after all, so I've lost or divested of a business before, and it's an ordeal once shared that results in a degree of mutual regard.  Dating errors are mine alone and I welcome corrections.

On a sadder note, an awful lot of this interest was sourced from public records that, for obvious reasons, reflect the experiences of a business in distress.  I am no hotshot attorney -- though I have earned a law degree, I have never been licensed to practice -- but I can't help thinking that better legal information and advice might have either saved some of these businesses or at least made their bittersweet conclusions less expensive.  It is a sad truth about the legal profession in the modern day that the people most in need of its services are the people least able to procure them, which is part of why attorneys are expected to perform pro bono work regularly.  

Moreover, I want to emphasize that seeing a public record indicating an adverse judgment, tax lien, or what have you, should not be considered stigmatizing; perfectly decent folks who frankly, probably worked their asses off to make their businesses thrive, did not always prevail.  This is not necessarily a mark of shame or deficiency.  All kinds of scenarios can cause a store failure.  Some stores were sunk from the start by crushing leases that it took many months or years to finally knuckle under.  Landlords tend to be very good at writing leases to their advantage; you aren't typically going to win, you're just hoping to reduce risk exposure as much as you can manage.  It's like buying a new car or house only amped up to eleven.  Some of these stores closed because of external forces.  Economic downturns in 1994, 2001-2002, 2008-2009, and 2011 claimed several.  In other cases an owner may have gotten bad advice from his or her accountant or (gasp) attorney.  It's infrequent for sure, but it does happen, professionals are only human.  So if at any point you look at my link to someone's sales tax debacle and think that I'm piling on or being discourteous, please reconsider.  For the most part I have linked public records merely to establish dates.  In some cases, they constitute factual support for the context of my editorial remarks.  They are not meant to demean, implicitly or explicitly.


Arizona Collector's Paradise, Scottsdale, ~1997 to March 6, 2000.

Bridging the eras of Jester's Court and Arizona Gamer, "ACP" served as the starting store for a surprising number of old-guard players from today.  Turns out this story wasn't unique: ACP was a baseball card store that caught the lightning-in-a-bottle of Magic and Pokemon, then faded out to the emergence of Everquest and World of Warcraft.  The closing date above reflects what appears in the link to be the legal termination of lease; the retail store likely closed shortly before that.

Arizona Gamer, Tempe and Gilbert, February 1998 to February 25, 2002.

This was one of my stores, a partnership led by R.J. "Jason" Harris, today a civil rights attorney in Oklahoma.  I'll probably tell the entire story of this store on this blog in the near future.  AZ Gamer began as an independent Games-Workshop-only tabletop miniatures kiosk at the Arizona Mills Mall, and parlayed its opening holiday season profits into a 2000-square-foot location at Mill Avenue and Baseline that rented for a staggering four grand per month.  Landlords held all the cards during the dot-com boom.  I joined as a sublease selling Magic cards there until the Pokemon craze started force-feeding us revenue, at which point I bought in whole hog.  We briefly opened a Gilbert location at Greenfield and Baseline, but it hit the area before the population base did, and withered on the vine.  Toward the end of 2000, the other partners wanted to refocus on miniatures and the Magic scene was shifting southeast to Gamers Edge in Chandler, so they bought me out for cash and some materials, such as the arcade games we had gathered.  Arizona Gamer ran reasonably strong until 9/11, after which their military-heavy tabletop-wargame-enthusiast customer base departed to various duty deployments, and closure became unpreventable.

Atomic Comics, Mesa, Phoenix, Chandler, Glendale, 1986 to August 21, 2011.

The legendary comic retailer of greater Phoenix, Atomic Comics bestrode the town like a colossus in the 1990s and was the store where I learned to play Magic: the Gathering in between classes at Mesa Community College in 1994.  Simply put, Atomic Comics was excellent.  Unfortunately, their flagship store was destroyed by a car collision and ensuing flood, the insurance apparently didn't make up for the entire loss, and Atomic never quite made it back from the brink.  All their locations closed chainwide without warning on an August Sunday four years ago.  Owner Mike Malve, in a farewell message, thanked the public for 25 years of patronage.  Atomic incorporated May 11, 1995 and the oldest public records I turned up confirmed Atomic had been around since at least 1989; an incept date in 1986 appears accurate.  Atomic Comics may yet rise again, though perhaps not in spirit; Mesa resident Paul Struelens registered the trade name on May 27, 2014.  Apparently Struelens plans to use the "at" symbol in place of the "A," possibly to avoid infringing Malve's vestigial IP.

AZ Brain Games, Phoenix and SaffordNovember 16, 2012 to early 2014

This collaboration between Manawerx/Rookies to Legends owner Ed Caudill and emeritus Manawerx owner J.J. Moore started in north Phoenix and migrated to rural Safford when J.J. relocated.  The most recent Facebook content related to the store is from February 22, 2014.

Battle Foam Gaming Saloon, Gilbert, ~2009 to 2012

This store served as owner Kyle Kinghorn's showroom for the excellent Battle Foam tabletop miniatures storage and transport cases that are manufactured right there on the premises.  As a result, this store was unlike most others in that selling games was not actually a priority.  Kyle's objective was to drive engagement in the hobby in order to strengthen his market for the Battle Foam cases.  DSG will be adding this product line in the near future.

Beyond Gaming, Phoenix, ~2002

I know little about this store except that it was located in the area where Rookies to Legends used to be, and was rumored to be returning in 2014 but never did.

Bookstar, Mesa, Phoenix, Paradise Valley, March 13, 1991 to July 31, 2003.

Located on the Fiesta Mall's outer loop, this was mostly a pure bookstore and not part of the game trade, but from 1994 to 1998, the Mesa Bookstar was Arizona's epicenter for Decipher's Star Trek and Star Wars Customizable Card Games.  The first Decipher authorized tournament organizer in the area, Will Schmidt, frequented the store and was able to establish it as an activity venue.  Along with its categorical siblings Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, Bookstop/Bookstar crushed small independent bookstore competiton, and such chains were in turn crushed by the megaboxes Borders and Barnes & Noble... which in turn have been destroyed and crippled, respectively, by Amazon, paradoxically leaving small independent bookstores as the brick-and-mortar future.

Empire Games, Mesa, Summer 2007 to April 2, 2016.
Entry added April 5, 2016.  When does a healthy store close?  Ownership had other things on their mind and decided they had a decent run and were ready to call it a day.  Empire Games was a close neighbor to DSG and a great neighbor.  I have been friends with Brock Berge, the principal, since the 1990s.  I cannot state enough how much respect we have for this organization.  Empire Games was a miniatures mecca par excellence.  For years they were the largest Games Workshop account in the western United States.  How does a miniatures store look at scale?  How does owning the building impact what you can do with a buildout?  I am privileged to have been able to learn these things firsthand from Empire Games.

Endless Universe Books & Comics, Mesa, ~1986 to ~1988
The standout attribute of this store, as I remember it, was that it was within bicycle range of my boyhood home in Tempe.  Located on the southwest corner of Dobson and Guadalupe, this store's passage went unnoticed.  The One Book Shop (see below) started me into comics, but Endless Universe and Greg's Comics were my ports of call until the mighty Atomic Comics arose.

Fat Man's Comics, Mesa, ~1989 to ~1994

Located just southeast of Mesa Drive and Southern, this store was truth-in-advertising as its proprietor was, in fact, a fat man.  In addition to comics, this store was notable in accumulating Kenner Star Wars action figures and toys during the "dark years" from 1984 to 1995, when mainstream collectors hadn't yet recognized their value and nobody in the trade cared except Steve Sansweet.  FMC used to have shelves and shelves crowded over with figures and vehicles, many loose and a few still carded or boxed.  This establishment may have closed due to the ill luck of hitting its stride just as its primary product became utterly worthless.

The Front, Peoria, ~2002

I know nothing about this store except that it was on the Crystal Caste Dice game store locator.

Game Daze, Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa, Glendale, and Tucson, ~2002 to January 13, 2014.
To this day the market is feeling the absence of Game Daze, because so few sources remain in the metro for things like top-end chess sets, cribbage boards, and other mainstream materials.  One might think Amazon has those categories killed, and they do to an extent, but despite everything we know and hear, online commerce remains still only about a tenth of all retail.  Even if you think the game trade is double or triple that, we're still talking about 70% of the demand for those products coming from in-person shoppers.  DSG is in the process of entering the category.

Gamemaster Games, Gilbert, September 20, 2006 to February 29, 2008.

Located near the Wallace Theater at the Gilbert Civic Plaza, this clean, pleasant, and inviting store focused on tabletop miniatures games during its run.  Their website now links to a store by the same name in Hicksville, New York.  I speculate based on public records and knowledge of the plaza that this store closed due to lease distress.  The extremely overbuilt, upscale new urbanist shopping center has turned into something of a ghost town since; enough of its other tenants have departed that the developer never finished putting up the rest of the buildings in the plaza.

Game Nightz, Phoenix, June 1, 2007 to April 30, 2011.

Owned by the notorious Esposito brothers, now banned for life from Magic: the Gathering tournament play for allegedly operating a Magic card thieving ring, Game Nightz started inside Metrocenter and moved to a standalone building on the Metrocenter loop on November 13, 2010.  The ban effectively expelled the Espositos, the Castillos, and Nick McKean from the game trade, and various taxing authorities did their thing with holding entity Parlor Casinos Inc., which eventually resolved.  Game Nightz coasted to a stop, and Aaron Combs salvaged what remained of its player base into a revived Manawerx on Thunderbird Road between Imperial Outpost Games and the suite that would eventually house Ed Caudill's Rookies to Legends, which in turn absorbed Manawerx itself.  Everybody got that?  There will be a test later.

Gamers, Phoenix, Tempe, and Chandler, ~1989 to October 31, 2004.

Benson Leigh's metropolitan retail chain sold primarily console video games, but also dealt in anime, manga, and related collectibles.  I never made it to the Bell Road location in Phoenix.  The Tempe location at Southern and McClintock abutted a Subway and always smelled like baked bread and cold cuts.  Gamers was an early example of catering to the devoted fringe of the hobby, offering rentals of Japanese import games and console modification services to make them playable.  The Chandler location at Alma School and Warner outlasted its older brother.  This business closed very late in a console generation cycle, a year before the Xbox 360 debuted and two years ahead of the Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii.  I wonder if this is the console equivalent of all those hobby game stores that closed because of Fallen Empires or Saviors of Kamigawa?

Gamers Edge, Chandler, April 2000 to May 17, 2005.
My "home store" in the early "aughts" was Ray Powers' retail enterprise at Warner and Arizona Avenue between a Target and a movie theater.  Ray also briefly had a north Phoenix location in the storefront that was formerly Gamerz Cards (ahead on this list).  I served at the Edge as tournament judge during my heyday and drifted away from the game trade in 2004 to go to law school.  Gamers Edge was popular throughout its tenure, but at lease end Ray found the landscape too unstable, both of the game trade and of that area of Chandler.  He opted to wind up business with a planned shutdown rather than renewing or relocating.  Magic: the Gathering's popularity hit a trough during this time period, which coincided with the explosion in popularity of Texas Hold'em Poker in gaming circles.  To this day, the "Gamers Edge Draft Crew" still meets for drafts and prereleases at Desert Sky Games and Comics.

Gamers Inn, Mesa, ~2002 to March 31, 2014.

Kevin "Presto" Bertrandt became the king of the east Valley game trade by harnessing the player base's shift to computer network gameplay and the World of Warcraft with this hybrid LAN cafe and game store.  At its pinnacle, Gamers Inn measured some 5000 square feet of retail and warehouse space and was among the largest Crystal Commerce merchants operating nationwide.  Until September 2011, the store was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  That was when two major setbacks undercut Presto's foundation: the store had a bookkeeping catastrophe, and the LAN gameplay market fell off a smartphone-induced cliff.  Kevin retrenched and focused on web sales, which continue to this day on the premises of Prime Time Cards and Games in Gilbert.

Gamers Paradise, Phoenix, 2008

I don't know where this store was or what it was like, and I don't know Philip, the guy who owned it.  All I know is that it appears he may owe somebody eight hundred thousand dollars.  That's an awful lot of Eventide booster packs.

Gamers Zone and CollectiblesMesa, 2004 to May 31, 2006.

This store on Val Vista and Southern sat cornered across from Michael's Magic (see further down) and was the brainchild of Bob Wilkins, still a prominent name in the local player community.  I never visited, and I'm kind of bummed about that because my present-day customers who frequented Bob's store speak highly of it and of him.

Gamerz Cards, Phoenix, 2000 to January 31, 2003.

Jeff (not that Jeff) and J.J. (not that J.J.) started this store on Cave Creek Road right as Jester's Court (further down the list) expired.  I operated several arcade games there for about half a year, splitting revenue with the owners.  There was some ownership conveyance, and a brief stint during which the store was owned by Ray Powers as "Gamers Edge North," and ultimately Gamerz Cards was subsumed into the formation of that Jeff's and that J.J.'s original Manawerx store on Bell Road in north Phoenix.

Hero Comics, Phoenix, 1993 to June 22, 2014.

This was a decent shop that seemed to be turning good business, but closed unexpectedly last summer after over two decades in the trade.  Sad to see it go like that.  Strong comic industry chops, particularly with in-store events.

Jester's Court, Phoenix, 1995 to 2000

This store stands out in memory because it was the first Arizona store devoted entirely to collectible card games, in particular Magic: the Gathering.  By modern standards Jester's was an absolute dump, but at the time we couldn't get enough of it.  Fire codes fell before the onslaught of more tournament attendance than the tiny suite could hold, and desperate meth junkies from the nearby Sunnyslope neighborhood absconded with many a Magic player's car stereo.

Los Arcos Sports Cards & Collectibles, Scottsdale, ~1993 to ~1997

I only knew about this place because my friend Steve worked there.  A pure consignment shop with floor-to-ceiling showcases mostly focused on sports memorabilia, Los Arcos Cards was a good source for Revised Edition and The Dark booster packs when the local game stores hit their dry spells due to Wizards of the Coast's wildly inconsistent production schedule at the time.  At some point the owner had a branding stomachache and expelled all non-sports items from his consignees' booths.  I guess he was tired of making money, because the store closed not long thereafter.

Major Players, Mesa, ~1991 to ~1996

Sporting a beautiful retail pad location in the Target plaza at Gilbert Road and Southern Avenue, this was the place to go for console video games during its run, and as Magic: the Gathering picked up steam, they offered that over the counter as well.  It's a shame the store didn't quite make it to 1999 and the Pokemon craze, because they surely would have gotten healthy on that.  If you wanted to rent a Neo Geo AES console and ten games for the week and you had seventy bucks ready to spend to do it, by golly, Major Players made that happen.  One of the best ever stores in its category and one I was sad to bid farewell.

The Mana Dump, Tempe, February 16, 2010 to October 7, 2011.
For as easy as it was to source this store's opening and closing dates, I know remarkably little else about it.  Apparently the business entity was "Ebtown LLC" and the principals were the Estabrook brothers.  See, you learn something new every day.  By accounts, this store served almost exclusively as a clubhouse for a small group of competitive Magic players in the area, and sold singles on consignment from one of Tempe's prominent backpack dealers.

Michael's Magic, Mesa, September 1999 to May 15, 2003.

In 1999, before Magic: the Gathering was enough to sustain an entire store, there was New York hustler Mike Bauerlein, somehow making Magic sustain an entire store.  This was Mike's second separation from Waterloo (see further down the list) after briefly partnering with me to open Wizard's Tower (also further down the list).  This store closed under extremely sad circumstances upon which I will not comment in this or any other article, out of respect.

The One Book Shop, Tempe, ~1980 to February 28, 1995.

Located at 120 East University, across a parking lot from the original Game Depot and across Forest Avenue from today's Critical Threat Comics, behind an archway in an orange brick building long since demolished by ASU's Facilities management, Paul Freeman's The One Book Shop was the first comic book store I ever visited.  I don't remember what the first books I bought were, probably the original Comico Robotech Macross series, but I do remember also buying Dragon and Dungeon magazines, X-Men and Excalibur, and even a few issues of White Dwarf once.  It's entirely possible that first visit steered the course of my life into this industry, though that might have happened anyway no matter which comic or game store I first encountered.  I remember very little about this store except that I never wanted to leave.

Pop Culture Paradise, (I) Tempe and (II) Phoenix, ~1998 to ~2007.

So, first there was a Pop located in one of the former Game Depot locations on the east side of Forest north of University.  Then, or perhaps concurrently, there was one in Phoenix.  Around May 2007, the ownership of Pop Culture Paradise LLC encountered some difficulty and sold or otherwise conveyed to Marco Regalado's More Than Comics LLC.  Marco operated PCP at 707 South Forest until ultimately conveying the business to Jeremy Champe and Jessica Fishell in June 2015, who renamed the store Critical Threat Comics.

Roaming Panther Adventure Games, Phoenix and Mesa, April 30, 1986 to April 30?, 1996.

A small shop located on the southwest corner of Alma School and Guadalupe across the street from Greg's Comics, this was the last place in town I was able to buy Beta, Unlimited, Legends, and Revised Magic: the Gathering starters and boosters at not that much more than retail.  I also scored the original D&D Al-Qadim sourcebook from there long after it had become unobtainium.  Of course, this was before the emergence of eBay, where you can buy that book today for ten bucks.  This was apparently the first of two locations, the second being at Thomas Mall in Phoenix.

Silver Talon Comics and Games, Chandler, ~1992 to September 19, 1996.

Located on Ray Road and Alma School, proprietor Loren Lunsford's hole-in-the-wall shop was everything that was great about late 1980s-early 1990s hobby game stores, and of course we remember none of the negatives.  I bought some things there, mainly White Wolf's Vampire: the Masquerade RPG sourcebooks.  This store might have faced Taxmageddon: liens from 1994-1995 are among the few documents that survive, based on which I placed the business's end date when the store's inventory may have been liquidated.

Sports Cards II, Phoenix, ~June 1999 to ~2002

I know nothing about this store except that it was on the Crystal Caste Dice game store locator.  Was there ever a Sports Cards I?  There kind of had to be, right?  It's possible that it is the same as Sports Cards Express, which it appears had a rough go of things.

Starlog: The Comic & Science Fiction Universe, Glendale, June 4, 1994 to April 30, 1998.

This comics, toys, games, costumes, and collectibles nationwide franchise store with a sci-fi theme was an opening-day tenant at Arrowhead Towne Center Mall on the northwest side of town.  It was absolutely awesome the one time I ever managed to get all the way over there for a visit.  The next time I was there, it wasn't.  It sounds like high buildout costs and expensive mall rents may have hobbled the Starlog stores from the beginning.

Things for Thinkers, Tempe, 1996 to 1999

Located behind a Jack-in-the-Box in a plaza abutting the erstwhile terminus of Loop 101, "T4T" was a diverse game store swept up in the emergence of Magic: the Gathering.  Owner Lorna Klein began in Denver but relocated to Tucson.  This article confirms her second store in Tempe was operating by February 1997, but I know it was there at least since the previous summer because I participated in the entirety of the inaugural DCI Arena League there, which took place in late 1996.  Straining at the golden handcuffs while doing their best to keep up with the embryonic development of organized play, T4T eventually ceded the MTG audience to entropy, and bowed out entirely shortly afterward.

True Believer Comics, Gilbert, November 27, 2014 to December 31, 2015.
Entry added January 6, 2016.  My neighbor's store is no more!  Truly the East Valley has lost a wonderful retail option and a gorgeous boutique store to boot.  According to the owner, comics guru and fellow Deadpool skeptic Michael Kessler, the store never quite got the community traction it needed.  TBC will be missed.

Warboss Games, Tempe, November 2005 to October 2007

Mike Jackson's heavily miniatures-focused haven, complete with suit of armor in the entryway, fully superseded the departed Arizona Gamer and stayed that way until yielding the podium early in the time of the economic meltdown.  Clean and richly thematic, the store promised Warhammer players a place to call home, and delivered on that boast.  Jackson's fieldcraft lives on: his custom assembleable Warhammer tables are featured at Desert Sky Games and Comics to this day, as well as an extensive array of sharp terrain and two store armies.

Waterloo Adventure Games, Gilbert, 1987 to ~2002
I discuss Gilbert's original hobby store at greater length in an article from March 10, 2015. Waterloo also briefly had a Phoenix location that closed in 1996, for which owner Scott Bizar was eventually granted a monetary judgment against the sublettor/franchisee/whatever.

Wizards of the Coast / The Game Keeper, Mesa, May 4, 1999 to early 2004.

Yes, believe it, WOTC once had a company-branded store at Fiesta Mall after buying the Game Keeper regional chain.  Mostly it sold Pokemon cards during the 1999-2001 craze.  It also hosted LAN gameplay and Friday Night Magic.  Hasbro killed off the company stores once Pokemon settled back down.  Their buildouts looked expensive.

Wizard's Tower Gaming Center, Mesa, August 8, 1998 to December 12, 1998.

The first game store I ever owned!  Read its inglorious tale from beginning to end (it only lasted a few months) right here on The Backstage Pass.  Introduction, August, September, October, November, Conclusion.  I drove by the Paradise Palms Plaza the other day and this is what the former Wizard's Tower looks like now.  Pavement is about the same as I remember it.  It would appear that Joanna's Accessories and Novedades has made a better go of it in Suite 119 than yours truly ever did.  Much respect to you, Joanna.  May your business be healthy and prosperous.  And watch out for those jerks next door in Electrical Room, they'll do you no favors.

So there we go.  Corrections and updates welcomed, especially when accompanied by a link to a secondary source.  I would love for this article to become a go-to link for bygone comic and hobby game stores in the Phoenix metro area.  I hope you enjoyed this nostalgia trawl, and I'll see you on October 27th for my next article!


  1. I remember hearing about Sports Cards II. I even heard about people who used to play Magic there. When I visited, it was just as the name implies, nothing but Sports Cards. Disappointed, I headed back to ACP. And I could never figure out if there was a Sports Cards 1.

  2. Very interesting read though sadly I can't offer corrections or updates for Phoenix as I've only lived in the area a few years. I do recognize the name Gamers Inn though, as I nearly came down a few times for prereleases back before Prescott had a store. It's fascinating, though sad, to read these stores' stories. I saw the rise and fall of several stores in other areas I've lived in.

  3. I've not been in the Valley that long, but I do remember Gamers Loot being all the way over at like 103rd ave about 7-8 years ago... drove out there a couple of times.

  4. Roaming Panther's Mesa Store was actually the "first" store, they opened the second location in the Thomas Mall in the Glendale Area about 1993; I drove by both locations to and from school for two years, stopping in about once a week. Managed to get a Boxed set of 1st. Edition Traveller Azhanti High Lightning from them back in the day - Good Times.

  5. Sweet, thanks for the clarification on Roaming Panther! I'll update the article with your info. Glad I wasn't the only one to remember it.