Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day 12: The (Short) Life Cycle of Gaming Stores in Cedar Rapids, IA, in the 1990s

Gaming stores were hard to come by in the 1990s. Those that appeared were short lived--so I often had to rely on bookstores for my D&D fix.

I bought my first gaming supplies at Waldenbooks at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was convenient. It's where I bought my first issue of Dragon Magazine.

But then a Barnes & Noble opened next door and put it out of business in the mid-1990s.

A B. Dalton existed in Westdale Mall on the other side of Cedar Rapids--but they hardly ever had any new D&D stuff in. They closed after Barnes & Noble came along, too. 

There was also a comic shop (I can't remember the name now) that sold OOP D&D stuff in the back. Its where I bought my copy of In Search of the Unknown and a few other out-of-print modules. Then one day may friends and I showed up (having gotten a ride from one of their parents) and it was closed.

Box-Kar Hobbies was a toy/modelling shop, but they carried some D&D stuff in a couple of banker's boxes off to the side. I remember finding the Falcon's Revenge series there, but I didn't buy it--I didn't know what to make of it: Was it a module or just a bunch of card stock buildings? Yet I did purchase some Ral Partha and a Grenadier miniatures there.

And just like the comic shop, we showed up one day and it was closed. I remember feeling kinda sad about that. I was nice little store.

(It turns out it probably moved to a a new location, so its still around, but it has been more than 20 years since I set foot in the old store).

In the mid-to-late 1990s, M&M Comics and Games was the "go-to" place for gamers for 2-3 years. It was on the west side of Cedar Rapids on 16th Ave SW. But it wasn't all that friendly. They had a rule where you couldn't pick up the merchandise and look at it unless you were going to buy it.

I remember they had an old copy of War in the Middle Earth up on a high shelf toward the back of the store. I wanted to take a look at it, maybe even buy it if my computer could run such an old game. But they had it priced for like $50.

"It's collectible," the guy at the counter said.

"I'll pass," I said.

Then one day my friends and I drove by and the store was on fire. It was a total loss. Too bad.

Excalibur Comics and Games quickly replaced M&M, but it was on the northside of Cedar Rapids. I heard their ad on the radio one day announcing their grand opening. So I drove there and discovered a bare-bones store with hardly anything in it. They had a couple game rooms in the back. The owner seemed nice, but on subsequent visits the place got less and less friendly.

You'd walk in and the help would stare at you. They wouldn't ask if you needed help, but would just watch you peruse the merchandise. It wasn't just me, I've had friends confirm this.

I don't quite remember when Excalibur went out of business, 2002 maybe? But by that time I was living in Ames and visiting the local gaming stores in Central Iowa. 

The moral of the story is: If you find a good friendly local gaming store, patronize it, appreciate it. Because there are gamers out there who go with out. And it might be gone someday.


  1. I often struggle with game stores. If it wasn't for the fickle industry that is retail & gaming, along with the obstacles that come from owning your own business, I'd open a store and show 'em how it's really done.

    1. From what I've seen, the stores that open and close fast often have owners who have no idea how much time (and tolerance) it takes to make it work. They burn out.

  2. "Gaming stores were hard to come by in the 1990s. Those that appeared were short lived--so I often had to rely on bookstores for my D&D fix."

    Amen, man! I had the same thing when I was a kid!

    "I bought my first gaming supplies at Waldenbooks...It was convenient. It's where I bought my first issue of Dragon Magazine."

    Once again, amen! Very similar to my experience. I posted about this on my blog today, of course...

  3. Hmm, sounds like the real moral of the story is that every time you and your friends drive by a game store it closes =)

    1. LOL

      We didn't start that fire, I swear. :D

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. There was also a "Cart Mart" on the SW side of Cedar Rapids during the 90's - early 2000's. It moved next to Buffalo Wild Wings a couple blocks away and became "Video Game Depot" in 2001, then closed near the end of 2006. They sold Magic the Gathering singles, as well as Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and other card games. There were a few of us that would get together every week there to play MtG. The employees there were very cool people.

    1. Currently, there's a "Battlezone Games" on the NE side of Cedar Rapids, as well as a "Tempest Games" on the NW side of Cedar Rapids. Both of them sell D&D stuff, as well as card games like Magic: The Gathering.


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