Tuesday, May 6, 2014

(Review) Emerald Vale Games, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

As I mentioned on my recap of Free Comic Book Day, I spied a flier hanging on the door for some game store and their April grand opening in the Wilkes-Barre.  I quickly rearranged our planned shopping with the girls (yay, new cordless drill) and hunted for this alleged place known as Emerald Vale Games.

Location:  838 Sans Souci Parkway  Wilkes-Barre, PA 18706.   The Sans Souci (San Sue-wee to out-of-towners) was the big pre-interstate road linking the cities of Nanticoke and Wilkes-Barre, so it still sees a good deal of traffic.  The store itself is in one of many mini-strip malls lining the road, and it took a bit to find it in its corner location.  They also haven't put up any permanent signage yet, so that will prevent random customers from wandering off the road.  Ironically, the best directions for someone looking for it that it's the strip mall to the right of D&D Motors. 
Edit 01/21/2015 Emerald Vale Games has  moved right down the street to 109 West End Rd Wilkes-Barre, PA, next to Colarusso's Pizza, a mere two blocks or so away from the original location.

Edit 01/26/2016 Emerald Vale has gone through a business reorganization, and now Evolution Games is at 7 Lee Park Ave, Wilkes Barre, PA 18706.  A review of the new store can be found here.

The "Kid Test":  As I've done before, bringing a 3 and 5-year old into the store with me really pushes the limits of a family game store.  They're pretty good kids, but still, they're 3 and 5! The good news is the proprietors, Joe and Brad, as well as Brad's wife, took it all in stride. I won't bring them in often, but the kids felt welcomed.   I also apologize for the years of therapy the decorative stuffed animal turtles will need after my girls found them. 

Cleanliness:  I've been to plenty of hole in the wall stores, old and new, that made me feel like getting a tetanus booster immediately after I left.  That is NOT the case here.  Carpet was clean, save for the game table they were constructing in the corner, everything was well-lit, no missing ceiling tiles, and the walls had a new bright coat of paint on them.  It's amazing how many established stores miss the mark in this category.

Amenities:  The store hosts three large permanent hand-built gaming tables with separate padded bench seating, one folding table with chairs, and the hopefully the slightly taller miniatures table I previously mentioned was finished.  The front counter is an all-wood rock solid command post with a view of the whole store.  Snacks range from water and Gatorade to Hot Pockets (with microwave) and chips.

Perhaps the most ingenious thing I saw there was the positive use of empty space.  While they just opened and I hope plenty of wall space will soon be filled by racks of product, they used chalkboard paint on sections of it and used it as a bulletin board.  Tournament dates, a Seeking Games board, even a trade board for Magic cards.  

All bow down to the power of dice!

A great rule #2 after rule #1: General Hygiene

A small, but solid, base of product
Merchandise, merchandise, merchandise!  So what does Emerald Vale stock?  Not much, although when you open up a few weeks prior and don't have a delusional half-million dollar budget, that's the way one must go.  Their stock shelves did cover the basics of gaming:  Settlers, Munchkin, and some Game of Thrones LCG.  They get bonus points from me for their apparent love affair with Chessex.  I saw more Chessex minis cases and dice sets there than I have at the last six stores I stepped foot in, and that's a very good thing.  Rule #3: Dice and CCG packs are the only true impulse buys in a game store, and not everyone plays CCGs

Role-Playing: They did have a large enough section of Pathfinder to make someone go, "Oooh Pathfinder," but nothing else.  RPGs can be fickle, so their turnaround time is longer than the other categories.  I'm certain I'll see this grow each week, book by book.

Miniatures:  A store must deal with their customer base, and the ones that have come in have requested 40K.  As an individual gamer, this saddens me, as a former store manager, it makes me twitch, but if they're exchanging cash for product, I can not fault anyone for this situation.  A store full of Games Workshop fans making purchases is far better than a wall of product from another line gathering dust.

CCGs:  Outside of a nice conversion with Joe and one of the Magic players about the game, I didn't look too closely to what product was out for sale.  Their website says they stock Magic, Pokemon, and Cardfight Vanguard, so I'll take their word on that.  After years of seeing them solicited in Game Trade, I finally saw some of the next generation of play mats, and I can honestly say that they're pretty impressive.

Emerald Vale Games has succeeded in forcing me to do something I've never done before.  On the World Famous Gaming with the Gnomies Five Gnome Rating Scale I must give them an Incomplete.

Don't get me wrong, this is not a negative thing.  These poor folks have been in business for less than a month!   That's like getting an employee review an hour into your first day of work!   They're still very much a work-in-progress. 

My only major gripe as a wanna-be store owner would be the signage, and possibly advertising.  Without them, it's just word of mouth (and blog), and that only goes so far. 

That being said, I see a LOT of promise with this store, and yes, that statement includes some bias as to the proximity of it to my house.   Unlike some of the established stores, I will have the opportunity to try them out with special orders, stop in for a game night or eighteen, and watch them evolve through their first year, and hopefully beyond. 

UPDATE 5/8 - I swung by the store yesterday, moreso to snag a quick drink and some dice for the girls than my special order.  The miniatures table was almost finished, with a second one in the planning stages.  Everyone was busy sorting Magic cards (yes they sell cards... and in a similar vein they take credit cards too... that was a pleasant surprise).  Joe was very apologetic that the shipment with my special order hadn't come in.  He explained in detail the comedy of minor errors through the whole process that delayed things a day.  I may be the only person in the county that appreciated (and completely understood) what he was talking about.  Little secret:  I'm not worried about my copy of Canis Mysterium coming in... but I will snag it up on Friday, and pay cash for it).

UPDATE 11/05 - The six month follow-up is here.


  1. Hi Eric,
    I found the store as well through word of mouth with my fellow board gamers.
    I plan to hold my Pathfinder AP game there and my V:tes demos as well. Anything I can do to support the game hobby.

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