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Mega-Article: Metro Phoenix Comic and Game Stores

Updated February 10, 2017.
Running count:
Mainline stores open in metro: 50.
Fringe stores open in metro: 6.

This is going to be a permanent article because I am seeing the need for the reference.

1. Introduction
2. Criteria for a store
3. Currently open stores (Mainline)
4. Currently open stores (Fringe)
5. Defunct stores

1. Introduction

Why on earth would I publish something like this: a guide to all my competition?  There are several reasons.

First, I have been a part of the industry here for 20+ years.  I'm on both the current and defunct list.  People frequently visit my store and tell tales of a place they loved in their youth, and it helps a lot if I am able to make that connection.

Second, I don't really care what my competitors are doing.  One thing 20+ years in this industry has taught me is: If I run a great store, nobody else matters.  My customers will continue to come back.  And they respect a store that is willing to acknowledge the rest of the community rather than pretending that no other stores exist.

Third, I'm not in complete product crossover with all these stores.  In some respects they are not competition at all.

Fourth, to the extent that a store on this list is direct, proximate competition for me and is doing a good job, it forces me to up my game and run better.  I love having that motivation.

I originally published most of this information in the form of three blog articles here in 2015.  I found that those frozen moments in time quickly became outdated.  As the industry marched on, I was constantly making updates to the lists.  It made sense to compile it all in one place.

Also, local Magic personality Blaine Johnson compiled a pin map with all the locations he knew about, and in respect for his excellent work building that, I wanted to sync up to it here.

2. Criteria for a store

Every store on this list meets one or more of the following:
- Appears on the Wizards Play Network locator.
- Appears on the Diamond Comics locator.
- Appears on the Games Workshop locator.
- Appears on the RetroNintendo locator.
- I've walked into their store and they sell our stuff.

I have excluded from this list the following store types:
- Mass market stores.
- Pure bookstores.
- Pawnshops.
- Thrift stores.

A store that only satisfies the "I walked into their store" item, and does not appear on any of the four locators, is placed in the "Fringe" category, rather than the "Mainline" category.  Mostly this is for stores that carry music and movies and have video games and/or tabletop as an ancillary category.  Also in the "Fringe" category are stores that appear only temporarily or intermittently open to the public, that may either be fronts for online vendors, or fronts for convention vendors.

3. Currently open stores (Mainline)

#1-#5.
All About Books & ComicsPhoenix
The Valley's original comic book store, this place has been open since James Carter failed to rescue the Iranian hostages.  It's still there but is pure comics now, no games, no guff.  Their business is sufficiently advanced that when their lease was up, they successfully paid for a full store move via Kickstarter earlier this year.  Their inventory supposedly contains multiple millions of comic books, and they ship worldwide.

Amazing Discoveries, Gilbert, Tucson
In August 2016, Amazing Discoveries acquired Prime Time Cards in Gilbert.  Four months later, it absorbed what was left of Mesa Comics.  The store as it stands today focuses on TCGs overwhelmingly but also features comics and other games.

Apache Comics & Toys, Mesa
This store appeared in early 2016 and appears devoted entirely to used collectibles, with no organized play.

Arizona Collectors Marketplace (includes Pop Culture Paradise Phoenix and Recycle Comics Toys Games and More)Phoenix
This store, or more accurately this agglomeration of stores, is a wonderful thing to behold.  If you have any doubt that the flea market structure is still a thing, visit here and feel nostalgia’s tug.

#6-#12.


Arkadia GamingAhwatukee
A former Goodyear garage dealer who worked the convention circuit and did some crowdfunding opened a commercial storefront off the Warner-Elliott Loop in late 2016.

Ash Avenue Comics & BooksTempe
This store shows that hyper-niche focus works, and that area demographics count.  This hipster-friendly, new-urbanist, ultra-indie store wouldn’t look a bit out of place in San Francisco or Seattle.

Baxter's Realm, Queen Creek
One of two stores that sprouted in Queen Creek in late 2016, Baxter's features traditional tabletop fare plus streaming e-sports for the viewing enjoyment of customers.

Bookman's Entertainment ExchangePhoenix, Tucson, Mesa, Flagstaff
This chain deals 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.

#13-#15.


Chameleon Collectibles and GamesApache Junction
Open since 2009 as "Bad Moons Gaming," this store is now run by owner/operator Erik Miller, a contractor and longtime area gamer.  There is plenty to learn here, but the enduring lesson that keeps coming up is the tremendous value in finding the location where a community exists and a store does not, and opening there.  Under the previous ownership, Bad Moons quietly made its hay and was at liberty to ignore the competitive chaos in the crowded Tempe/Mesa and Glendale markets of 2010-2012.

Comic Outlaws, Mesa
May 18, 2016 debuted Mike and Mindy Wheeler's comic emporium, focused on investment-grade books, autographs, and comic art.  Mindy is a known quantity in the art print scene, with Disney, Marvel, and video game character prints that are strong sellers in comic store circles already.

Comikaze and Toys, Goodyear
Goodyear's only comic store is a Funko POP! epicenter and sports an extensive selection of collectible toys and figures.

#16-#20

Dave's Arizona Trading Cards and Collectibles, Phoenix
One thing I am partially certain of: This store exists.

Desert Sky GamesGilbert, Tempe
These are my stores, so obviously the greatest stores in the history of ever.  Disclaimer: This synopsis may be biased due to ownership considerations.  In all seriousness, I suspect that every other store on this list is doing at least one thing that I wish the DSGs were doing better.  The Tempe location was merger-acquisitioned from Tempe Comics on January 1, 2017, and the Tempe ownership and crew brought into the DSG fold.

Drawn To ComicsGlendale
Downtown Glendale’s own comics boutique, Drawn To shows just how much untapped potential exists from comic-focused events.  Their organization and execution of massive signings, meet-and-greets, and other social marketing is on the next level.

Dreadnought ComicsGlendale
This comic book store's merchandising "killer app" is so imaginative, a written description doesn’t do justice to it.  You have to see it in person.  They found a way to make shopping for comics new and different, all through a unique (to my knowledge) and gorgeously executed store fixture deployment.  Among the most valuable and most fundamental lessons any store can teach, Dreadnought proves that there is always another amazing idea out there that nobody has done yet.

#21-#25.

Enterprise Comics & CollectiblesPhoenix


There is a comic store now at Paradise Valley Mall, and it looks great!  All product, sharp buildout, great selection, not an emphasis on organized play.

Fallen Phoenix GamesFountain Hills
This store appeared in summer 2015 and spans the gamut of card and board game offerings.  Their logo really resembles the Mesa Comics logo, though that's likely parallel design rather than intentional.

Fallout GamesPhoenix (2) 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.

#26-#30.

Fantastic Worlds ComicsScottsdale

Summer 2016 saw a comic store locate in Scottsdale at long last.  By no coincidence at all, it is near Odyssey Games, the game store that located in Scottsdale at long last.  This is because the rents in most of Scottsdale are crushing, and these two stores found the notch that others had overlooked.

Flashback GamesTempe
This store sells console video games and used to sell Magic: the Gathering cards.  I will be charitable and say that I have heard mixed results from those who have visited there.

The Game DepotTempe
Ronald Reagan was President of the United States when the Game Depot first opened its doors near ASU.  Three locations later, it has momentum, expertise, inventory depth, and a fanatically loyal community.  There is so much Game Depot does that supposedly can’t work or never works, and yet it works for them, and it’s been working for them, and it’s going to continue working for them, because they do it better than other stores.  They don’t buy or deal in TCG singles, they ignore comics, they eschew collectible toys and other merchandise at the fringe, focusing instead on mastering the full spectrum of tabletop games, at list, full stop.  This is a proven blueprint for longevity and success.  Other stores may mimic it or ignore it, but either way they assume the risk and move forward with eyes open.

Games U, Gilbert
The northwest corner of Gilbert features this traditional tabletop store focused on miniatures and board games, opened December 1, 2016.  I wouldn't have thought that gorilla racks could be made into modular minis tables, but here we are.

Games WorkshopScottsdale
The other way to open in Scottsdale is to bring capital.  And perhaps to operate with a single employee with a staggering level of corporate back-end support, planning, and integration.

#31-#35.

Game ZoneGilbert
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.

The Gaming ZoneTempe
This store has become ground zero for Street Fighter and Smash Brothers tournaments, and is on the Friday Night Magic circuit as well.  If you want the Nintendo rarity that nobody else has, there's a fair chance that owners Alejandro and Jorge Ramirez can get it for you.  Exclusive retailer for FED apparel.

Gotham City Comics and CoffeeMesa
Take a 100-year-old building and renovate it into a comic boutique, and what do you get?  The store that got my imagination spinning again in 2011 when I was on the fence about re-entering the trade.  This store touches a lot of categories and isn’t tremendously deep in most of them, but it shows that a beautiful buildout and just enough attention to the iconic nerd pursuits can be a winning formula.

Greg’s ComicsMesa
Another of the few stores in town that existed before I was old enough to drive, Greg’s Comics (owned by Howard, naturally) has at various points in time sold action figures, Magic: the Gathering, and even trading cards and stickers, but comic books remain the bottom line now and always.  The comic analogue to Prime Time Cards and Games later down this list, Greg’s Comics succeeds by doing exactly one thing and doing it to perfection: providing comic subscription box services at a generous discount, and advertising precisely that.  Howard wastes nothing: He once joked that he was renaming the store “Great Comics” so he would only have to buy two giant metal letters to update the marquee.  That was in 1991.

Hobby DestinationChandler
There’s an entire branch of the hobby trade that’s more concerned with modeling, crafts, remote control vehicles, and like such.  This store focuses there, but also runs Magic: the Gathering events.  One of my own employees is a frequent customer of theirs for modeling.  This store teaches that there's vast untapped territory at the periphery of the game side of the hobby trade.


#36-#40.

Imperial Outpost GamesGlendale

The third-longest-tenured store on this list, IOG teaches an elbow-drop of a lesson every single day: You don’t actually need Magic: the Gathering to succeed.  IOG has Magic now, but for years they posted big-store numbers without the biggest product line in the category, which goes to show how well-executed the rest of their game plan is.  Beloved by its player community and firing on all cylinders, Imperial Outpost is a west Valley institution and probably the best overall game store in Arizona.

Jesse James ComicsGlendale
Comic-centered to an obsessive degree, Jesse James Comics evidences Jesse Criscione's singular focus on mastery of the category.  This store is so confident they are matching the right reader to the right book that they take virtually unlimited exchanges on merchandise, a level of customer service that few stores in the industry dare to attempt.

ManawerxGlendale
There’s a fairly convoluted history behind this store, but all you have to know today is that it’s a good store owned by a good guy and being managed by another good guy.  For years Manawerx sat adjacent to Imperial Outpost and sold exactly the things IOG did not: Magic: the Gathering and concessions, but previously sports memorabilia and sometimes other items as well.  After moving toward the own-a-building upgrade path, owner Ed Caudill found a plaza suite about three miles away, complete with kitchen, that suited the deployment.  Manawerx operates there now and is a consistent draw with a strong inventory.

North Valley Games, Phoenix
Opened March 16, 2016, this Magic-focused store near Toy Anxiety and the Joe's Grotto nightclub is the partnership of Jef Moret, former manager at the defunct Crusader's Retreat, and J.J. Moore, formerly of AZ Brain Games, Manawerx, et al.  Templating from previous iterations, these gentlemen know what they are doing and were able to ramp up quickly and efficiently.

The Orc's Lair, Youngtown
Taking the place of the Game Boutique, Adam and the Orc's Lair have put the focus on casual Magic play and even appeared in an article on the mothership on the WPN Retailer resource page!  Directly abutting the vast open deserts to the extreme west of the metro area, the Lair offers weary travelers a safe place to wait out attacks from Shai-Hulud, may his passing cleanse the world.

#41-#46.

Phoenix Gaming LoungePhoenix

The "PGL" opened in spring 2015 in the Encanto Park neighborhood right near Phoenix College.  If it had opened a few months sooner, I was working at the state capitol right down the street and might have been a regular visitor.  Among other things, PGL shows that the principle of locating where there is no existing competition is so powerfully correct that it even works when the area is “old wood” and you wouldn’t think a gamer community could arise there.

Play or Draw Cards and GamesAvondale
When a twenty-year-pro player decides to dive into the trade, this store is the result.  They’ve done so much right that a blurb can hardly cover it all.  They opened big enough to avoid the space constraints that plague DSG today.  They had the owner’s massive personal collection of singles on the shelf from day one to establish credibility.  They struck exactly the right tone with competitive players, serving the legitimate climbers while discouraging the more parasitic scrappers.  While they carry many games, they committed heavily to Magic: the Gathering right from the start and have not taken their foot off that particular gas pedal.  And they located in what was, at the time, far and away the best spot in the metro for a new store to open.

Queen Creek Bricks Fun Store, Queen Creek
The second of two stores in Queen Creek to sprout up in late 2016, QCB brings something very new to the equation with a focus on construction toys such as LEGO.  Opened on December 10th.

Samurai ComicsPhoenix Central, Phoenix West, and Mesa 
The only regional chain currently active in the trade here in the Valley, Samurai has a proven comic-focused model that reaches far enough into games to claim the low- and medium-hanging fruit.  The owner, Mike Banks, still works every day coordinating operations.  Discussing with him how he has it lined up and organized has given me great insight into how Samurai Comics built such a strong engine.  Samurai Comics has consistently one of the best local store deployments at Phoenix Comicon and similar nearby conventions.

#47-50.

Showtime CollectablesTempe
The sports cards analogue of Greg’s Comics and Prime Time.  Showtime existed before the MMORPG break, but its involvement in the game side of the trade was purely in a collectible sense at the time, with zero organized play.  Fast forward a decade and a half and they have their room full of tables like anyone else, and they cater fearlessly to audiences that have full-spectrum stores apprehensive, such as Yu-Gi-Oh, Dragonball Z, and lately Force of Will.  Utilitarian merchandising on the sports card side wouldn’t fly in a boutique but has great appeal to the “treasure hunting” customer demographic.  It's valuable to understand what they're doing and why.

Silver Star ComicsTempe
This store, tucked away in a corner by the Tempe Dollar Cinemas, exists as a remnant of part of the original ownership group from Gotham City Comics & Coffee.  The store has a comics focus mostly to the exclusion of games.


Snapcasters Gaming and EspressoPhoenix
Opened August 15, 2015, "Snaps" stocks almost exclusively Magic: the Gathering and has a fully functioning coffee bar, presumably to monetize their free-entry fully-prized MTG tournaments.  After the usual initial management turnover that seems to typify the first chapter at tabletop game stores, Snaps has moved forward staking its claim to a central population base and a location that's close to freeways.


Toy AnxietyParadise Valley
You know all those $300 statues that Diamond sells to comic stores?  Lifelike replicas of Iron Man, Harley Quinn, Daenerys Targaryen, or Monthly Manga Girl? And remember all those action figures and toys of yesteryear that your mom threw away, as moms always do? Optimus Prime, Snake Eyes, Spawn, the Millennium Falcon, or the Galaxy Explorer?  Yeah, this store is nothing but all that stuff.  No games, no comics, and yet somehow it is absolutely a part of our trade; in theory I'd carry any product they carry, they're just doing it now and doing it at scale.  Like The Gaming Zone and Hobby Destination, this store teaches that there are huge categories at the verges of our trade that go far deeper than we realize.

4. Currently open stores (Fringe)

#1-#6.

Half-Price BooksMesa
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 UsedMesa

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.)  Impressive marketing and systematic use of price incentives to drive engagement.

Howie’s Game ShackMesa
Howie’s is a supra-regional chain of network PC game “arcades” that focus on first-person shooters, MMORPGs, Minecraft, and similar.  Their Mesa Riverview location ran Magic: the Gathering tournaments for a time, and I attended a few booster drafts there during the planning stages of DSG.  Breathtakingly clean and sharp, their buildout is both functional and inviting.  They have a special sponsorship deal in place with Monster beverages.

Monster Comic BooksTempe
This warehouse outlet opened November 14, 2015 and offered discounted BCW supplies and a deep catalog of back issues.  Open only on Saturdays, which is what earns it a spot on the Fringe list and not the Mainline list.

Power PillMesa
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.

Rocky Road ComicsChandler
Apparently this shop is a pop culture project moreso than full-scale comic retail outlet, and it serves as home base for some independent creative professionals.

5. Defunct stores

I received great feedback on my original article from readers 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.

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.


I want to emphasize: Seeing an adverse public record should not be considered stigmatizing.  Perfectly decent folks who, frankly, probably worked their asses off to make their businesses thrive, did not always prevail.  All kinds of scenarios can cause this.  Landlords are very good at writing leases that heavily lean against the tenant.  Economic downturns hurt us all.  And the industry has its own crazy left turns sometimes.  Where I link tax records and such in this article, I am doing so mainly to prove dates and to lend factual support to my editorial remarks.  I have no intent to demean, explicitly or implicitly.

THE STORES THAT ONCE WERE, AND ARE NO MORE

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.


Around the Board Game CafeTempe, May 2016 to July 2016.
This opened in May 2016 in the old Swensen's Ice Cream building at Price and Baseline, near what used to be the Priceless Inn nightclub.  With a charter school right there in the plaza, there should have been a built-in audience on the premises.  The store lasted less than three months.

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 plausible.  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 owner Ed Caudill and emeritus 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 Romeo Filip'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.  The objective was to drive engagement in the hobby in order to strengthen his market for the Battle Foam cases.

Beyond Gaming, Phoenix, ~2002

This TCG-focused store on 35th Avenue and Bell Road was rumored to be returning in 2014 but never did.  As was typical in that time period, they made some hay from LAN time rental as a backstop to the card business.  After some ownership turmoil and turnover, the store declined to eventual closure.  Players remember fondly the early days with original owner Aubrey running the store as its best performance.

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.


Critical Threat ComicsTempe, July 1, 2015 to December 15, 2016.
Supplanting a previous iteration of Pop Culture Paradise and located within walking distance of Arizona State University’s main campus, Jessica Fishell's and Jeremy Champe's casual-friendly community store had everything going for it except the economics. The gradual decay and collapse of the location building, coupled with a crushingly expensive lease, made it untenable for a business with feast-and-famine sales cycles.  Briefly in late 2016, there was an attempt to bring CTC under the Desert Sky Games and Comics umbrella, but it didn't work out.


Crusader’s RetreatPhoenix, ~2013 to March 15, 2016
I played Netrunner a few times at this store when the game was young and the player base was centered further northwest.  Diverse, utilitarian, and welcoming, Crusader's Retreat's main remarkable differentiator was that they did some game materials production on location, including acrylics and storage.  This store was extremely close to a freeway, but was in a part of town not known for density of tabletop gamers.

Dr. Fantasy's Comics 'N MoreGlendale, Summer 2011 to December 31, 2016.

This outstanding store appeared to fall victim to the Great Comic Slump of late 2016, which claimed other such establishments as Critical Threat Comics, Mesa Comics, and the comic side of DSG Gilbert's business.  It's a shame as they looked great, were extremely friendly, and had a devoted following.

Empire Games, Mesa, Summer 2007 to April 2, 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.


The Game BoutiqueYoungtown, ~February 2015 to April 30, 2016.
The Boutique began as a tiny outlet in an office park and advanced into a full commercial storefront shortly thereafter with a more comprehensive offering.  Owner/operator Jared Adamson found where there was an audience and no store, and became that store, proving once again that an ounce of preparatory research is worth a pound of success.  Unfortunately some combination of business reversals sent Jared out of the picture and resulted in the store being sold to Orc's Lair.


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, collectibles, and Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh TCGs.  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 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, reopening and operating for a couple of years as 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 highly 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.


Helix GamesChandler
I was told this was open, but it looks like it might never have actually done so.  Chandler's permit process is almost as forbidding as Gilbert's in terms of being stuck in limbo for seemingly arbitrary periods of time, so it's entirely possible that this store died on the vine.  Would their fate have been any different opening within the orbit of Desert Sky Games and Comics?  We may never know.

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, 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.


Mesa ComicsMesa, November 28, 2014 to November 30, 2016.
When long-time industry professional Mike Girard left Desert Sky Games and Comics, he found a part of town with no store for miles in any direction and that's where he hung his shingle.  One of the few stores in the metro that regularly streamed Friday Night Magic and qualifier tournaments.

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.

Odyssey GamesScottsdale, Summer 2015 to August 10, 2016.
The dream was 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.  Odyssey went all-in on miniature tabletop wargames, running the gamut from Games Workshop to the fringe Kickstarter stuff.  Owner James Bishop was no stranger to the miniatures category, so he was well positioned to follow the small business maxim: If you can't carry some of everything, you need to carry all of something.  Alas, Odyssey was unable to get critical mass quickly enough to weather the late-summer slowdown.

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.  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 Critical Threat Comics.


Prime Time Cards and GamesGilbert, ~March 2014 to July 31, 2016.
The vestigial spark of the erstwhile Gamers Inn, Prime Time targeted an audience of young, price-sensitive Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic players with a no-frills, no-amenities card exchange storefront and online fulfillment business.  Acquired in August 2016 by Amazing Discoveries.

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.

Rookies to Legends, Glendale, August 9, 2009 to July 20, 2015.
Ed Caudill's original sports memorabilia enterprise evolved into a twin store to Manawerx, located somewhat closer to Manawerx than Ed might have liked.  Rookies was able to get into a dedicated building that had once been a small bank or credit union or something.  In the end, Ed found a better accommodation at a plaza a couple miles further south, and combined both stores into today's single Manawerx location there, complete with kitchen.

San Tan Comics Toys & GamesGilbert, ~2011 to May 31, 2016.
This store was about as far from mine as you could get and still be within the Gilbert city limits; it was right on the edge of Queen Creek.  I visited and found a respectable inventory of mostly comics and a friendly owner.  On information and belief, this was a planned shutdown; perhaps the store had simply run its course.

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.

Tempe ComicsTempe, November 20, 2015 to December 31, 2016.

At its opening, Tempe Comics offered more organized play space than any store in the east valley, a critical asset to differentiate them in a crowded central Tempe market.  Ownership churn left Tempe Comics perpetually wanting for resources: Joseph Clark, Carlos Salomon, Michael Girard, and Ivan Jaya each departed the company in turn, and Mike Griffin and a small but devoted crew piloted the fledgling store the rest of the way to a merger with Desert Sky Games and Comics on January 1, 2017 as "DSG Tempe."

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.
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, Phoenix, Mesa, and Glendale, May 4, 1999 to early 2004.

Yes, believe it, WOTC once had company-branded stores at Metrocenter, Fiesta Mall, and Arrowhead 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 the former Wizard's Tower is now Joanna's Accessories and Novedades, who 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.


1 comment:

  1. Side note on the WOTC/Gamekeeper entry. The GameKeeper had three locations in the Valley - Metrocenter was our flagship store in the area and just about every gamer in the Valley passed through it's doors at some point in the 90's. We also had a claustrophobic slot in Arrowhead mall.

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