Always a games guy: Shop owner provides more than business experience

By Charles Erickson

For The Leader-Herald

Forty-three years ago, when David Warren was 7, the US was in the midst of a video game craze. People would line up to insert their quarters into Space Invaders and other games at video arcades, and many children begged their parents for game consoles which could be hooked up to home televisions.

“I wanted an Atari so bad when I was a kid,” Warren recalled recently. “I never got one, though.”

An Atari was not forthcoming in the Warren household, but a few years later young David was given a few different Coleco tabletop games. They looked like miniaturized versions of popular coin-operated arcade games.

“I used to play them all the time,” Warren said, smiling. “I’d bring them to school, and get them taken away for the rest of the year.”

Seven years ago, when Warren was 43, he opened The Game Guys in leased space at 12 N. Market St. He buys, sells and trades video games, including those ancient Atari consoles he craved as a boy and the Coleco tabletops that still remind him of his youth.

“The pandemic actually increased my business,” Warren said. “I mean, everybody had to sit home. They needed something to do.”

FROM REALLY OLD TO LIGHTLY USED

Video game technology has changed at regular intervals since 1979. Manufacturers introduced more advanced systems which enabled the games to look better and feature more intricate play. Other manufacturers entered and left the industry.
As a result, stores like The Game Guys contain sections devoted to different gaming systems. There is hardware and software inventory for the various generations of PlayStation, made by SONY Corp., Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox brand, and the Wii and other consoles made by the Nintendo Corp.

“So, we do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and everything in between,” Warren said.

Cartridges and consoles for the early Atari system, known as the 2600, occupy a small section of Warren’s shop. The recent inventory included genuine Atari cartridges, along with those made by Imagic and US Games for use in the Atari 2600. Two of them had copyright dates from 1982. Another was from 1978.
Warren also had a few Coleco tabletop games for sale, including Galaxian and Ms. PAC-MAN.

“My customers run the gamut from little kids on up to people my age that still like to play the old-school stuff,” he said.

The Game Guys was founded by Warren over a decade ago as a buyer and seller of games at area flea markets and from online traders. The brick-and-mortar presence came in 2015 and e-commerce now accounts for a tiny part of the enterprise’s revenues. Warren said he sometimes sources inventory from online merchants but most of his business walks through the door.

“Prices are really high online,” Warren said, “so I tend to shy away from that.”

HOW IT’S DONE

Nicholas Yesse, 21, came into the store late on a recent Wednesday afternoon, about 15 minutes before closing time. His girlfriend accompanied him.

“How are you doing? I’ve got a bunch of games,” Yesse said as he placed a small cardboard box on one of the counters. Inside were seven game cartridges, two controllers and a Wii console, all neatly packed.

Warren asked if Yesse wanted cash or store credit. Yesse said he would take the cash.

“I’ve played them for many years,” Yesse explained. He had driven in from his home in Glen. “And I’ve beaten them multiple times.”

As Warren keyed the titles into the store’s point-of-sale system, Yesse and his girlfriend looked around the premises. They said they had visited on previous occasions. They pointed to the stenciled images from a legendary video game that Warren had painted onto the black floor.

“This store is awesome,” Yesse said. “There’s PAC-MAN on the floor. There are hundreds of games everywhere.”

Warren offered $78 for the offered software and hardware. The customer readily accepted the cash and said it was twice what he had been offered at a shop in Amsterdam.

“This is what I do,” Warren said after the two had left. “I generally take 95 percent of the stuff that comes in.”

The computer that Warren used to input the items purchased from Yesse showed what was in the store’s inventory. When he has multiple examples in stock, he offers sellers a little less to buy duplicates of titles already on the shelves.

Some customers prefer to receive store credit instead of cash for their items, and others will exchange games or consoles for other merchandise. Warren cannot pay his rent and other overhead through trade, of course, and must sell inventory in order to make a living. The Game Guys is his sole source of income. He views trade as an important part of the operation.

“Trade helps my collection grow, so there’s always something new here for people to find,” Warren said.

SPECIALIZED GAMES AND MOVIES

In the far end of the shop, in front of a wall hand-painted with depictions of the girders, ladders, barrels and characters of the video game Donkey Kong, Warren had displayed five games made by the vendor Arcade 1UP. The monitors of NBA JAM, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the others had the same graphics as the arcade games from decades ago. Their controls replicated those on the coin-op versions, but their cabinets had been built at a scale of about half the normal size.
Warren said the machines were perfect for people who wanted to add an arcade-type feel to a room without having to move one of the big and bulky coin-op units up a flight a stairs.

“They run from $300 to $400, depending on the model,” Warren said.

Near the arcade emulators was a wall of Blu-ray and DVD discs. Warren said movies accounted for a small segment of sales but he still offloads enough of them to merit keeping an entertainment section in the store.

But games have always been the main focus of the shop. Warren said sales of games had dropped only slightly from the booming days of 2020 and the early weeks of the pandemic.

A few minutes past official closing time, the telephone rank. Warren answered as he waved goodbye to a visitor. He then listened and asked the most important question for a gaming purchase.

“Do you want cash, or do you want store credit?” he said.

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