MY GAME STORE QUEST CONTINUES
I've written about my quest to find a great, local game store since first being exposed to RPGs back in Sandy, Utah, in the early 1980s. My quest was pretty much all for naught in Utah, but things perked up a bit when my family moved to Southern California. At least, there was a bigger potential for having some great game stores.
My first "real" game store I visited was The Last Grenadier, about which I wrote previously. During this time, in my early college years, I wasn't really "playing" any RPGs any longer, as I didnt' have a group, but I was doing a ton of "world-building", which as everyone knows it essentially a way that a DM can "play" D&D solo.
I was continuing to subscribe to, and read, Dragon magazine, and saw a bunch of ads for something called the "Gazetteers" series - which, for those who don't know, were "guides" to all of the different lands in Basic D&Ds default campaign setting, which was called "The Known World" (or, Mystara, if you're a youngster and like to use stupid-sounding world names that nobody in their right mind would ever actually name a real world). I was really excited about these products because, as I've mentioned before, the Known World was a huge inspiration for me in creating my own campaign setting - it's essentially a fantasy version of Earth, so both campaign settings have cultures that mirror real-world ones like the Middle East, Medieval Europe, the Mongol Hordes, Byzantium, etc. I felt that the Gazetteers would be a huge benefit in helping me to flesh out these areas of my world, so once again I pulled out my trusty Yellow Pages and looked up "hobby stores" and found that there was one just down the road from my University (Cal Poly, Pomona) - called "All-Star Games" in Diamond Bar, California.
MY FIRST VISIT
I hopped into my janky old 1981 Buick Skylark, which did not have a functioning reverse gear (fun story) and consistently over-heated so in the middle of Summer I had to turn the heat up as high as it could go in order to cool down the engine. I zipped down the freeway and pulled into the strip mall where All-Star Game was located.
It was the middle of a weekday afternoon, so the store wasn't crowded. Now this was a game store - well lit, due to the entire front wall of the store being made of glass which let in tons of sunlight, clean, well-organized shelves, a carpet that wasn't stained with pizza grease, and a smell that was not akin to the Funk of a Thousand Years.
|The "Wall O TSR", from a cached version of their website|
Like any good game store, they had shelves and racks and cases of dice, minis, paints, board games, puzzles, chess boards and pieces, boxed and hardback RPGs, and card games.
While I didn't really interact with the staff much, other than making my purchase, they did seem "professional" - meaning, they didn't take a job there just so they could hang out and game with their friends and ignore the customers. These guys were running around, stocking shelves, cleaning, and in general, actually looking like they were working and not goofing off, which is a huge thing for stores like this.
ALL-STAR GAMES BECOMES MY DEFAULT GAME STORE
From that point on, due to its proximity, cleanliness, and well-stock shelves, I made a habit of visiting All-Star Games as often as I could, and picking up games here and there when I had a few dollars to spend that I earned from my crappy college job of working at a mailbox rental store.
Right around 1993, after having been laid-off from my first "career" advertising job, I ended up hanging out a lot with my friend Mike, who worked the graveyard shift at a local grocery store, so during the day he and I would do a lot of gaming. We got into Warhammer 40k really hard, and also into this kooky new card game that was becoming quite popular - a little thing called "Magic: The Gathering." Lot a lot of guys in our hobby who get fixated in certain games, we became "collectors", and starting dropping a lot of cash on MTG cards, buying multiple display boxes of each new release in order to get all of the cards, and also on all of the new Warhammer 40k minis that were constantly coming out.
I started visiting All-Star once a week, or more, and this was the first store I'd ever visited where the guys who worked there learned my name and always greeted me as I came through the door, and also started giving me a 10% discount "just because." Back then, that meant a huge deal to me. I felt special, and kind in the "in crowd." Another cool thing was that a lot of these guys who worked there were "in the industry" - some of the AEG guys worked there, including Jim Pinto, who it turns out I went to college with (although we didn't know each other at the time, but I ended up being on a group project with his ex-girlfriend... long story), and one guy who worked there at one point won the big prize at some MTG championship game, right at the dawn of those types of events.
The people who owned the store, David and Carol Turrietta, were nice, friendly people, even though Carol was a bit shy around people she didn't know that well. I remember her once telling me a story of how they went to a Game Convention and on their way back, they stopped for something to eat, and while they were inside, some guys who had apparently followed them from the Con broke into her truck and stole all of her Magic cards she took there to sell. I'm not sure if they ever found the guys.
And, as a total coincidence, it turned out that my dad actually worked with David's brother, Bob, at Unocal, so my dad knew who the owners were, too.
I MOVE TO PASADENA AND ALL-STAR CLOSES
In the mid-90s, I ended up moving to Pasadena, which had a little game store called "Game Zone" (the subject of a future post), and my visits to All-Star Games became fewer and fewer until eventually they stopped all together.
About 10 or so years later, while visiting my parents in Chino Hills (a town adjacent to Diamond Bar), I dropped into All-Star Games only to find the store was going out-of-business, and that both David and Carol had passed-away a few years before, both while only in their mid-to-late 40s. I'm not really sure what happened, but I felt terrible about the whole situation. The store was having a huge sale to try to get rid of everything, and I remember buying a copy of "GURPS: Russia" just because I felt like I wanted to buy something, and I figured I could use it as help with my campaign setting world-building. I've never even played GURPS before and don't even own the rules.
The store was gone a few weeks later, but to this day, whenever I drive by the strip mall where it was located, I always look over where it used to sit and remember all of the fun times I had there. Although I do have a local game store near my house that I can actually walk to, and it's probably, in all respects, better in terms of its stock, size, gaming area, etc., I still don't have the attachment to it that I had All-Star Games.
It will be missed.
Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: My current favorite beer is Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale XVI
Listening: "The Ballad of a Lonely Man" by Mike Ness