Friday, January 22, 2010

Retro Game Stores in the NY/NJ area

Retro game shopping can be a pain in the ass. Most of the time you're stuck delving through forums or mucking around with eBay. Unfortunately, for most people, it's your only bet, because retail stores that carry these sort of products are pretty rare. Gamestop stopped stocking NES, Genesis, SNES and Playstation stuff within the last five years or so - really a mercy killing, because by that point, there was nothing worthwhile left on the shelves - while the average independent game store looks at any old game, arches their eyebrow and goes "Wow this is old, let's sell it for a lot!" without any clue that there's an actual marketplace for this stuff. Thrift and pawn stores occasionally work, but their stock and quality is completely inconsistent unless you want to scrounge through them on a weekly basis. It constantly depresses me that walking through a Japanese used game store is almost like a minor epiphany, yet there's nothing in the USA that has really even come close to that.

There are some that try, though. Out here in the NY/NJ area, there are a couple of stores that actively concentrate on retro game stuff - Video Games New York in the Village in Manhattan, NY, Digital Press in Clifton, NJ, and Next Level Games in Blackwood, NJ. Let's take a look at them!

Video Games New York
202 East 6th Street, New York, NY 10003-8205

This used to be called Multimedia 1.0 a few years back, when it was located on St. Mark's Place and had tons upon tons of stuff shoved into a cramped hallway. They moved a few blocks over and reorganized everything a bit, although the decor still vaguely resembles someone's basement. For new games, they're pretty good, and a nice alternative to Gamestop - they're well stocked, stock import stuff at cheaper prices than the places in Chinatown, and they tend to break street dates, too. The retro stuff? Well, I'll let this picture from Gamespite speak for itself:

Why yes, that IS a boxed copy of Secret of Mana going for $100! And Super Metroid for $90! So yes, there's a huge stock of stuff, but nearly all of it is exorbitantly overpriced. On one side you have all of the common 8 and 16-bit cartridges, ranging anywhere from $10-$20 each, in varying conditions of completion, all haphazardly arranged. The Playstation, Dreamcast and Saturn section isn't much different - I don't think they realize that you can't take some random Saturn game and ask $20 for it. There's a ton of old Saturn and Playstation import stuff in case, but they're all stocked in a way that's impossible to read them or tell the price. I'm not sure I'd want to.

Video Games New York also hits up the anime convention circuit, and fellow HG101er Vysethebold found a Japanese copy of Resident Evil: Survivor for $9.99. He figured it was a good deal, considering it had the light gun support that was taken out of the US release. Then he takes it to the register, and the owner says, oh, there's actually a smudge on here, it's actually $99.99. Not even jokingly. I checked on Amazon Japan marketplace and the going price there is, no fooling, a single yen plus shipping. Obviously no one in the US can actually get there due to their shipping rules, but realistically, there's no way they should be charging more than $10 for this. It's really absurd.

They actually do have a good stock of complete NES, SNES and PSOne games, but those too, are ridiculously overpriced. A complete Final Fantasy VI runs about $100! You can find one of these online, without very much effort at all, for about $60. Racketboy did an interview with the owner awhile back (embedded later down) about how you can price this stuff higher, because people like being able to hold the object in their hands. He's right to an extent, but no one in their right mind outside of naive fools are going to pay double the going price for that experience. A lot of stuff seems to be stocked more for street cred than anything you'd actually want to buy. But these aren't even particularly uncommon or rares games though! They're just popular ones.

Since it is so well stocked, and does have a nice museum of Game & Watch and other really old, weird stuff, Videogames Newyork is the store that probably closest replicates the Japanese retro game store experience, but unless you're willing to dig through the stuff - which people have been doing for years and have probably all dried up - it's not a place I'd ever advise spending money at.

Tour courtesy of Racketboy:

Next up:

Digital Press, Clifton, NJ
387 Piaget Avenue, Clifton, NJ 07011

This one opened up about four years back. It's in an easy to get to place on Route 46, a minute off the Garden State Parkway around exit 153. It's run by Joe Santulli, the guy behind the Digital Press website and associated price guides. The practical upside is that, since this guy literally wrote the book on video game values, most stuff is pretty well priced. The average loose NES/Genesis/SNES cart costs between $3-$10, with in more demand titles hitting about $20. Some of the really rare stuff does get into the stratosphere - I saw them selling Dragon Force and Magic Knight Rayearth for the Saturn, complete, for $100 each, which feels a bit too high - but it's never quite as ridiculous as Video Games New York. In addition to those, there's occasionally some random older import games that show up, although not many. They also stock for pretty much every system, even if the selection is small. This is the only store that sells old PC games, usually pretty cheaply. There's also occasionally some cool books, comic books, preorder trinkets and artbooks, and random other stuff, usually for cheap. There's a ton of old strategy guides (usually priced at $6 each across the board, except for newer stuff) as well as a selection of old video game magazines. These are a bit too pricey - $20 for an issue of DieHard Game Fan? Hmmm. There are a couple of arcade cabinets, including a Playchoice-10, a Neo Geo with a few games, and a nicely stocked MAME cabinet. You'll also find some old retail kiosks and a museum in the back of the store with random not-for-sale stuff.

The downside to having such a knowledgeable owner is, obviously, that you'll rarely find a really good deal. There is a bargain bin in the back full of disc-only games for about $2 each. I like this part a lot even though there's rarely enough worth that much. It's a much larger and spacier store - the big advantage of having a store in suburban New Jersey instead of Manhattan - although I still somehow feel like they have less stock. Their new game selection isn't particularly big, and they do stock an occasional import, but a good chunk of the store is focused on retro stuff.

Maybe it's just because I've been a consistent visitor over the years, but the Digital Press Store does highlight one of the dilemmas of running such a business - namely, it feels like it's really picked over. When you run a store that based on used stock, you need to depend on trade-ins - and if no one's trading in good stuff, you can't get good stuff.

Because of this, I don't know if it's just me not finding what I'm interested in any more, but it's rare that anything really interesting pops up. It feels like a huge percentage of the stock has been sitting there since it opened, and what's more, they're all marked at the same price or higher. I may be imagining things, but it almost feels like sometimes they're getting more expensive. If no one bought that copy of The Adventures of Lomax for $18, they're sure as hell not going to pay $22 for it. Since the stock rarely seems to cycle, I don't really find it a good place to visit that often. If the stock's not moving, then why not put them online, and use that capital to buy more, new stuff? They have an active account on eBay, but it's weird - they sell really shifty lots of random PC Engine games, where you'll spend like $50 to get 10 games of the seller's choosing, which seems like a lousy way to pawn off lots of useless 50 yen dating sims.

Also, the employees outside of the owner are really young and some don't seem all that informed. Awhile back I brought my PS2 in to play The King of Fighters XI, and one of the employees laughed and was like, that game looks SO OLD. Really? REALLY? You work in a retro game store, dude.

On the plus side, they hold monthly meetings called NAVA (North Atlantic Videogame Aficionados) where folks get together for video game tournaments and trade meetings. It's hard to actually trade much of anything, because there are usually just random boxes strewn around, and tracking down their owner can be difficult. If anything you'll usually find the most interesting stuff here.

Obviously if you're not from the area you won't find the store as worn over as I do, though, so don't let that deter you if you're interested in checking it out. It's still way, way better than Video Games New York.

Anyway, here's one of the only clips I could find, interviewing the Angry Video Game Nerd, part of a huge series:


Next Level Video Games - Blackwood, NJ
1031 Little Gloucester Rd
Blackwood, NJ 08012

This is store is way out of the way as a North Jerseyan - it's actually much closer to Philadelphia, about 10 minutes off exit 3 on the NJ Turnpike. I don't get to check it out very often, but it's a pretty nice store. It feels like an offshoot of the Digital Press, with similar stock and pricing. It is quite a bit smaller, so it doesn't have quite as much stuff, plus there's no bargain (outside of old sports and Xbox crap), magazine or PC section.

What I do really like is that they stock more offbeat items. There's always a small stash of PC Engine, Famicom and Mega Drive games, among other imports for the Saturn and Playstation, usually around $15-$20 each, which isn't too bad a deal. They seem to have rarer items in stock more often too, and for a decent price - last time I was there they had a complete copy of Persona for the PS1 for $60, which is about the going rate for it. They used to sell small figures and other gashapon, although unfortunately they don't seem to anymore.

There's a couch in the back and an older TV, and every time I'm there, there's usually someone playing some old TG-16 or SNES game. They also hold South Jersey Classic meetings similar to NAVA, although they don't seem to be nearly as crowded, probably due to the location.

The same problem persists with Digital Press - it is kinda picked over, with lots of junk that won't move unless it's really priced to move, but since I only make it down there once a year or so, I usually end up finding a few things I want. Also check out the Siliconera post.

Official Video Tour:

These are the major stores I know of. Newark apparently has a few, but I try to stay out of that place if I have the chance. There's Cash 4 Games, which is a terrible name for a store, and their web page is (literally, it seems) from 1999. There's also apparently a place called Gamming 4 Life, but all I've seen are crappy ads on Craigslist toting overpriced crap, and quite frankly, I'm not shopping at any place whose grammar is so overwhelmingly appalling.


  1. Here in San Diego County there are a couple of retro-focused stores of which I'm aware. Game ADX is in the north county, and pretty much the equivalent of Video Games New York in terms of pricing. I was in there a few months ago and someone came in and bought Super Mario Kart and Mike-Tyson's Punch-Out!! for a combined total of 80 dollars. I had to bite my tongue... but hey, if a guy's willing to come in off the street and drop 80 dollars on those two games and be happy with it, it ain't my place to tell him otherwise. It is a bit depressing, though, and the kind of thing that perpetuates these higher prices. They had a boxed copy of Dracula X for SNES and a ROB on display last I was there- I didn't even ask what those were priced at.

    On a related note, I learned from an employee at my local Goodwill that the proprietor of that establishment has been popping in to look for games. Makes me really glad I got my hands on that Sega CDX and a few other great finds over the past year and a half this GW location's been open.

    The other San Diego store I know of is Luna Games, which I've only been to once. Apparently they've opened up a second location in the last couple years. Didn't walk out with anything when I did, but their prices seemed more in line with the two other stores you mentioned- no deals, but fair. When I was in there a couple years ago they had Rondo of Blood for $150. It was fun seeing that "in the wild".

    And I must say eBay's been pretty good to me. The only video game burns I can remember are a bootleg Castlevania Double Pack (which I got a refund on) and a copy of Project Justice that was a bit scratched up... but I'll hardly complain about that, as it's complete and the price was nice. A buffing at Hollywood Video made it much less freeze-happy.

    The Game Crazy that used to be attached to that Hollywood Video was a retro goldmine for a few years.

  2. Here in mid-Michigan we have a couple of places that offer retro games, but nothing is nearly as extensive as these two stores.

    One of them is called the Toy Box. Occasionally you can find a good deal (I got a complete copy JoJo's Bizarre Adventure for Dreamcast for something like $10, which seems good to me) but for the really popular stuff they shoot the price through the roof.

    A little ways away in Pontiac there is a place called Disc Replay. It only opened a short time ago but their selection is fairly decent. I was just there today and saw a copy of Shining Force CD, which I had never seen before and it wasn't even very expensive ($20, I believe?). On the other hand, they had an incomplete copy of Suikoden 2 going for $99, which is pretty ridiculous.

    Both stores aren't too bad. My friends and I tend to pick up at least a few things when we visit, especially cheap games that are generally terrible but at least they're worth a few chuckles.

  3. Sorry, before I said Disc Replay was in Pontiac. It is actually in Flint, which is in the total opposite direction...

  4. That's funny, I was under the impression that since New York is the "big city", you'd have some considerably bigger stores with a lot more stuff, but these stores don't look any more interesting than the mom and pop stores around my neck of the woods. Plus, the games look even more expensive.

    I guess eBay is the real way to go for the selective gamer.

  5. Wow, an amazing post. Sadly, for all the criticisms that you raise, all of the above seems infinitely better than what's available in the UK. Chain stores stopped selling retro, and indie stores are rare outside of major cities like London. Stock is slim and prices too high.

    The best bet is cash converter style stores, and charity shops.

    I can't comment too much on France, though there is an awesome indie store near me. Otherwise it's places like EasyCash and other trade in places. I found Sword of Etheria on PS2 the other day in one of them, for 9 Euro, though didn't pick it up.

  6. In Oklahoma we have two primary used game stores: GameXChange and Vintage Stock.

    GameXChange opened in the 90's with the premise of exchanging games with them for a $10 fee. Said games had to be for the same console, and as time went on they added more rules to this process until eventually doing away with the exchanging a few years ago. Today, most of these have shut down, and the remaining few have transformed into dimmly lit Gamestop copies with a few common used games.

    Vintage Stock is basically a chain pawn store in Oklahoma, and every once and a while they get in some nice used stuff. A couple years ago I saw a copy of Suikoden 2 for $40. Really kicking myself on that now. Over the past couple of years though, prices have gotten ubsurd. The stores are selling Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX, for $60-$70 each. Mostly the same crap sits around forever.

  7. In Charlotte I have not found one good retro store. The local Goodwill has had some nice bargains however. I got Legend of Zelda: OOT for five bucks and Ducktales 2 for five bucks also. Pretty nice games to find for cheap.
    I have personally thought about starting my own retro shop but it seems like a hard business arena to enter. We have too many Gamestops around here to compete against.

  8. Yeah, in San Diego I've been to Luna Videogames several times. It does have that picked over look to it, but it has a few decent games there that I would get if I had some decent money. When I heard of Game ADX I thought that I was missing something, but if it's an overpriced ripoff joint then I'm not missing anything.(I'm not going to go easy on people that charge too much, I loathe those people). I'd like to visit thrift stores some times, but I have no idea of where or when to go.
    On a closely related note, japanese used book-chain Book-Off has a branch in san diego, and they have a section of used video games(japanese imported and domestic trade ins). One time I went down to get some manga, and I looked at the game section. I didn't see anything that screamed "get me", and all I really remember seing in their Wii section there was about a dozen copies of Gundam pachinko.

  9. Oh yeah, I remember a guy on CAG talking about Book-Off when they opened here. Haven't checked it out myself, but that's kinda sad to hear about the game section.

    I'm hesitant to mention one of the greatest places I've been to for retro games because the two times I visited this establishment were veritable jackpots and I'm jealously guarding my hoard.... but screw it, I don't live near enough anyway. If you find yourself in Arizona, look up used media store Bookmans. They've got stores in Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff. A list of what I found there on two visits:

    -Super Street Fighter II X for Matching Service (Dreamcast import): $10
    -Mega Man V (Game Boy): $10
    -Space Megaforce (SNES): $5
    -Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (two disc): $15
    -Gradius III and IV (PS2): $10 (good deal at the time)
    -Agetec official arcade stick for Dreamcast in box: $20
    -Garou: Mark of the Wolves (Dreamcast import): $20

    There were a few other minor things, but those are the highlights. I couldn't believe SSF2X and Mega Man V.

  10. $100 for Super Metroid? GOD DAMN. 0_0

    I order all my old game stuff from this guy in the Jersey area, he gets your stuff to you on time and in great condition, he definitely has the Jersey demeanor though, at least that's how he sounds on the phone. Still, highly reccomended:

  11. There's a Book Off here in Manhattan too. I used to hit it up all the time in college for video game music CDs, though that's mostly dried up. They started stocking games about two years ago, going back to the GBA era, although outside of a deal or two (found Berserk for the PS2 for about $25) it's nothing revelatory. I usually run into weird manga whenever I go there, though, usually those gag doujin anthologies. I grabbed a weird one of Shadow Hearts Covenant awhile back.

  12. I'm going to go ahead and recommend the Game Over chain of stores in Austin Texas. They have 3 so far and seem to be doing really well. They pay a lot in store credit for trade-ins of crappy games, as well as they carry many boxed complete games for all systems (although somewhat overpriced and are well organized. The organization is absolutely my favorite part, it's really easy to pick through their stores.

    They know their prices though, and will charge $80 for a copy of Snatcher for Sega CD without case or manual. Not all are that bad unless they are fabled games. It's the best place to pick up old hardware if your stuff dies, as they carry all sorts of replacement controllers, memory carts and whatever else. They also carry broken systems for as cheap as $5 for people who repair by themselves and need parts.

    Their import selection kind of sucks though, but I talked to one of the managers, and I was told that all sort of depends who's trading in the imports, because they don't import themselves.

    The only thing they need to work on is getting current games, which they realize because they keep having trade-in specials for extra value for those. I feel for them, because it must suck to try to convince people to bring their newer games in for trade there instead of the Gamestop on nearly every block. Definitely is full of all kinds of staff that know their stuff. Sometimes I call them just to find things out.

    Anyway, one other thing I was wondering is, while yeah, it is cheap to import games from even with shipping, which if you find the right seller, won't run over $15, I can't actually seem to get anyone to ship any games to me from Amazon Japan. They might have a restriction on it, but it's hard to tell because the English version of the site is still half Japanese. Most sellers won't ship to the US as well for things like music, movies, and books, which I regularly order from Amazon Japan for cheap.

    I know for instance, it's useless to import games from because there is some sort of import restriction for whatever reason and I can't seem to convince sellers to ship to me anyway if I need something. Luckily other UK sites will happily ship games and Ebay UK is readily available for importing any European game.

    Just I wish there was an Ebay Japan, because I can't make heads or tails of Yahoo Japan auctions.

  13. I found Jay Street gaming in Colonie Center mall in Albany! Wow~ :) I cant tell you how many treasures I found there. I am a retro whore. Go there!

  14. i have a play & time handheld from japan called COMBAT ..any info would be of help ..thanks

  15. Late reply but this is a very interesting post.

    Living in Japan I sometimes forget how spoiled I am by the amazing selection of retro game stores with extensive stocks.

    It is very rare (not non-existent, but rare) to find a retro-game store that ridiculously overprices for games here. Unless it is an insanely rare item, you would never find CIB Super Famicom games going for anywhere near 100 dollars each here. I paid 100 yen (about $1) for my copy of Super Metroid. It was cart only, but still, a boxed copy could easily be mine for under ten bucks if I wanted one.

    This isn't to say that prices are rational here, they vary wildly from store to store and it pays to shop around. But you won't find shops drastically overpricing stuff like that, they all stick more or less to a recognized "range" of prices which are significantly lower than what you've described in New Jersey stores. I think this is a result of the simple fact that there is so much competition here between the stores that any shop doing that would just be run out of business.

    Another refreshing thing about shops here is that the games seem to cycle through the market much quicker. I mean, shops get their selection picked over like they do in the US, but here you can rely on most shops refreshing their stocks often enough to make regular visits pay off. Good games too, not just copies of old baseball and pachinko games.

    They also tend to have a lot of sales and insanely cheap discount "junk" sections. If you hit the right store at the right time you can score some insane bargains (100 yen for a Twin Famicom, 50 yen for a Mega Drive console, etc).

  16. really nice store....but he farts at 4:20'
    LOL hahaha!

  17. As a fellow North Jersyan, I have also stopped in to Gamers Paradise in Rochelle Park. They didn't have that great of a selection of NES games but had a decent amount of Sega Saturn and a wall of SNES games. I plan on going back again because last time I did not have enough time to look over their selection. I also think they may have stuff that they do not put out because their online store has significantly greater stock than the physical store.

  18. There is a reason why digital press doesn't have a good selection: they badger you to take store credit for your trade-ins, and if you opt cash, you will proceed to be paid about 1/4th of whatever you traded in was worth (I've had an employee say they don't even pay cash).

    And why would one ever take store credit from a place that never has good games? You wouldn't, and that's why there are no good games.