Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pop's Culture Shoppe, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania

Update (7/22/2016):  A more recent review of the expanded store can be found here.

I spent this past weekend up in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, celebrating my 6th wedding anniversary with my wife PLUS our two little ones Maja (3 1/2) and Amelia (21 months). It was either love in the air, a soiled diaper, or sometimes both.

When I lived in Wellsboro, I had only two serious problems with the town: No bookstore and the closest gaming store was White Knight in Williamsport, which was a harrowing 45 minute Fast and the Furious style drive if I wanted to make for their last Magic booster draft after work on Saturdays.

I relocated to Wilkes-Barre right before my wedding, but we still had the ceremony planned in Wellsboro. On one of our trips to tie up loose ends, I discovered On My Shelf books had opened up on Main St. They had a growing selection and a tiny gaming section. Just my luck.

Recently, On My Shelf moved to a more prominent location of East Ave (US 6) and Main St, replacing one of the kitschy tourist trap stores for middle aged women the now plague the town. More specifically, they took over 2/3 of the old store. The back third (with a separate side entrance on East Ave) is now Pop's Culture Shoppe, a game store.

Less than two blocks from my old apartment.

My wife is lucky she got me when I did. I would have fought relocation tooth and nail now.

I went in Saturday afternoon with my wife, Michelle, and the two wee ones, anticipating the worst.  Instead I encountered this:

Meet Anja and Julian Stam. They are not your stereotypical gamer geeks, who opened up a store so their buddies had a place to game and get product at cost. Within ten seconds, their genuinely friendly demeanor (and immaculately clean store) won me over.

I was going to start covering stock and activities, but something just struck me: they were happy to see the overly-excited little ones. In fact, while I snapped a few photos and drooled over the selection, and Michelle kept Maja corralled in the kid's section, Julian put it upon himself to entertain little Millie at a table with Tic Tac Toe games and a copy of Regatta. While that was going on Anja engaged in small talk with Michelle while gently doing an informational pitch about the games Maja was going gaga over. If they're that good with the potential tsunami of destruction from two kids under four, imagine how they'll treat a clueless parent looking for a game for a family member

That said, let's cover my normal store pet peeves. Cleanliness? I may not eat off their beautiful hardwood floors, but I would sit on them, even play games on them without a worry of getting stuck to the floor, or contracting the Hantavirus like some stores I've visited. Clutter? Everything was nicely situated on bookshelves. And the one wall in the store that might qualify as such is kept at such a high level that I could peruse each item without feeling like I was rummaging through product.

In my conversation with Julian, he was quite forthcoming. They used multiple distributors and even a few direct accounts to keep a variety of products in stock.  They might not have it, but they would be more than happy to do special orders in a timely manner.

Their focus was on board games, family games, Magic (with limited tournaments), and Heroclix. Role playing doesn't do well as stocked product, so they focus on growing other areas, like puzzles, art supplies/projects, and a dazzling learning game area for small children.

Some small demo tables, and the wall of "stuff"
It did take awhile for someone to request the Magic singles, but then I noticed a few other items:  Silver/Bronze Age comics hiding in the case.  Nothing that caught my eye, but between that and the artwork on the walls, it could spark the spending of a random tourist who wandered in by "mistake" and left with a pile of stuff  "on purpose".

More board/card games
The gaming area is about 40% of the store and isn't wasted when there are no games going on,   The setup is more reminiscent of a small coffee shop, with small tables and nice chairs, than the swap meet mentality of banquet tables I see elsewhere.  Most importantly,the room is full of shelves of more board games (all the size that can't be easily swiped.)  Great use of space.
The boardgame display in the open gaming area
They do have regular events, like Magic tournaments and Family Game nights.  They also host classes for the Chess Club.  I did see pictures that they rented out a portion of the new Deane Center for the Performing Arts down the street to host a major tournament when the latest Core Magic set came out (13th Edition?.. I'm out of the loop).

One of the Game Days.  The Gaming Area is in the far back.
We left Pop's with a large bag of stuff.  Two nice games for the kiddos, a copy of Cthulu Fluxx, and a special d10 I'll using for Call of Cthulhu.  If the budget was bigger, I would have made their rent payment for the month.  It''s not that I haven't seen most of their inventory before at cons and other stores, it's that the Stams are so pleasant, the store so responsibly set-up, and such a blatant attempt at having fun in the air that I would prefer to give these folks my money than a fly-by-night con dealer or an impersonal web store.  My wife said she would do my "traditional" Christmas shopping through them via mail and I can't blame her.  Pop's is doing exactly what every other brick and mortar game store should be doing:  Promoting an atmosphere of fun and friendliness, experimenting with new product lines when possible, and keeping a clean and professional operation.

On the unofficial, ever changing Gaming with the Gnomies, 5-Gnome Rating System, I can proudly say that Pop's Culture Shoppe earns a rating of five gnomes

I was going to give them 4.5, but three factors came into play.  First, my only gripe is that they still need to expand areas of the store.  That falls flat when I realized that my idea of improvements might not make money in Wellsboro.  Then I remembered that they've been in business in this form for less than a year!   Finally, if I were to open my own store, I would follow the business practices of the Stams (I even wrote about some of them in my Apathy columns over the past few years.

Pop's Culture Shoppe is located at 2 East Ave, Wellsboro, PA - Open 10-6 Monday through Thursday plus Saturday, open Friday 10-8, and closed Sunday. The website still under construction, but check them out on Facebook for additional info.

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