This past weekend a seemingly random tweet appeared in my feed. It showed several gentlemen playing Flames of War at The Games Tavern in Chantilly, VA. Chantilly is just around the corner from my house but I had never heard of it! So I just had to check it out.
Nearby where I live, there are four “Friendly Local Game Stores” or FLGS. There used to be five but one closed a few years back. Let me tell you a little about each.
FLGS #1 is the best for wargame selection but it is small and impossible to navigate on a weekend with gaming tables occupied in the middle. If there is a game going on then good luck getting the cashier to pay attention! The RPG section is in a dark back area with sagging shelves. They still writes out sales invoices. My wife refuses to enter the place because the regular clientele creeps her out; probably because they hit so many of the negative gamer tropes. If I want to buy a wargame this is not the place I really want come to, much less bring my boys to.
FLGS #2 is right in my neighborhood. It’s within walking distance. If I want to play Magic: The Gathering or in an X-Wing Tournament this is the place to go. If I was competitive. I say that because the players I see are hyper-competitive and this is not the place for a friendly pick-up game. That said, they did support a game outreach event at the local library, but it came and went quickly. Last year I walked in looking for card sleeves and they were helpful. This year I walked in with a card from Academy Games 1775 – Rebellion and asked for help finding the right size card sleeve. The store owner asked what game it was for and I told him. He acknowledged he didn’t know the game but after looking at (not examining) the card in my hand he declared, “We don’t have sleeves for that card.” I asked if he could measure the card (I know they have a sizing mat) and maybe find something close. He got up from behind the counter (out of his comfort zone?), walked to one display, roughly compared the card to a few packages and declared, “We don’t have any sleeves for those really old games.” I looked behind the counter at his more premium line of card sleeves but he totally missed my hint. Probably for the better as he obviously didn’t want to sell me any sleeves and I now felt like I was sullying his place with a non-MTG card. I left. I have not been back since.
FLGS #3, Huzzah Hobbies, is a real FLGS. Huzzah is the most balanced store in the area. It does have a focus on MTG and Flames of War, but also has a nice stock of new tabletop games and a few RPGs. This store actually spawned FLGS #4, Huzzah Junior, which is the “kids” version. We are patrons at both and the staff is very helpful and friendly. They usually have at least one new-ish game open and ready to demo. Huzzah sponsors many game nights (even at a local brewery) and contests. The problem is – as friendly as they are – the prices online are just so much better than they can offer. So we use these two stores mostly for game accessories, plastic models, and an occasional game purchase.
FLGS # 5, now closed, was the old veteran that had been around over 25 years. It had a fair selection of wargames and RPGs. Problem was their new item section was very small and their shelves were full of old backstock…in some cases very old. I had a love-hate relationship with the place. At first I went on weekends but came to despise the staff that always seemed to look down on my boys and I because we were not there to play MTG. I eventually figured out that the owners covered weekdays and they were much friendlier. I even made a package-deal with the owner to relieve them of several items that had been on the shelf for years (literally). The store closed because the owners wanted to be closer to their grandkids, though one candidly told me that online sales had taken a big bite out of their business.
For a good example of another real FLGS, I point you to Petrie’s Family Games in Colorado Springs. Petrie’s is a real family game shop. When we lived there it had a very small selection of wargames and RPGs but was blessed with the friendliest owners. Petrie’s also had an awesome game library and they were often willing to break open a game, even a newly released one, to look and play with it. The owners are just good people and they made this the only game store my wife ever willingly entered.
You may be offended by Tom Vasel’s tone, but you have to listen to the message. FLGS are not automatically “friendly;” it is an honor they must earn. A major part of earning the “F” in FLGS is by creating a welcoming, inviting atmosphere. If my little corner of the world is any indication, two out of five understand that, one struggled with it but is now gone, and two others are missing the opportunity. That’s a 50% failure rate amongst the existing shops. That leaves two stores doing their best to support the hobby. It’s an uphill battle against online retailers and Kickstarter, but by being Friendly they get me through the door.
This is what Tom was really trying to say. The FLGS problem I see starts when a store feels that the “F” in FLGS is their entitlement and they stop earning it. Get me through the door and they are more likely to make some sort of sale. Without the “F” it is far less likely I will enter the store. If I don’t enter, I can’t buy.