Friday, July 22, 2016

(Review) Pop's Culture Shoppe, 25 Main St, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania

This Monday, with the summer babysitter under the weather and back-up daycamp at capacity, we took the day off, packed up the kids in the van, and took a day trip up to Wellsboro. 

I used to live in Wellsboro before I got married.  In fact we got married there ten years ago this October (reception at the world-famous Fred's Lobster Garden in Tioga.)  Despite a constant push to cater to the tourists, it does a great job at keeping its small town charm that I fell in love with years ago.

For an unscheduled day trip, we catered to the kids, starting a trip to the Arcadia Theatre for The Secret Life of Pets (worth the matinee tickets and snacks).  We then moseyed up Main St to check out the new courthouse construction, the Presbyterian Church where we got married (by a Methodist minister using an Augustana Lutheran Service circa 1919), and finally stopped by the Green to visit the fountain with Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

A wander down the opposite side of Main St, with a quick detour across the street to Peggy's for ice cream, and a longer than anticipated time in the toy department of Dunham's Department Store, we ended the walk at the front door of my destination location, Pop's Culture Shoppe.

A half hour before they closed.

It's been awhile since I've been to the shop, previously visiting soon after they opened in 2012, as well as 2013.  They moved since my last visit, more of a forward expansion if you will.  Their original East Ave address took up the back of the first floor of building they were renting.  They've since had the opportunity to occupy the entire first floor of the building, and now are at 25 Main St.

With the new square footage, they have expanded.  Tremendously. 
Before I gush over the Nirvanna of stock that one never sees anymore, let's go over the store using the same points as the last reviews.

Magic/CCG behind the counter
Four years later.  This store appears to thriving in a small town.  Four years is veritably middle-aged in the gaming industry and with the rapid expansion, owners Julian and Anja Stam have essentially gotten married, had triplets, bought a house, and perhaps survived the mid-life crisis Corvette in that short time.  To keep the family analogy going, they also hired a live-in nanny.  I met Ryan "Doctor Magic" Oswald, their in-house Magic: The Gathering employee.  His primary focus is all thing Magic, from singles to tournaments, so the Stams can focus all the other facets of the business.   Magic is a huge part of any store's income, so a dedicated employee is a wise move.

They're still busy.  Walking into a small town store at 5:30 on a Monday is not the time to catch the a busy store like the Saturdays we previously visited.  However, by following their Facebook page, I've seen hold numerous demos and tournaments with very healthy attendances that other stores would drool over.  Just this past weekend they had over 80 players participate in the most recent Magic Pre-Release Tournament! 

The store is still immaculate.  The Demo Library in the gaming space might have a few well-loved copies of games with worn boxes, but the rest of the store is phenomenally clean and organized. 
Stock has gone supernova.  Opportunities to quickly expands a store's footprint has been the death knell to many a store, but Pop's has adapted well.

This is a store with a selection....

Seriously folks, look at this corner of the store.   This is more stock than the last five stores I've visited combined.  Sure, they have a great selection of modern board and card games, but they also have a wide variety of traditional and family games.  Remember the tourist traffic I begrudgingly mentioned as a former Wellsboro civilian?  They most certainly buy stuff too, and since they're met with pleasant staff and a front area full of familiar and whimsical games instead of posters of D&D Demons and 40K Chainswords, they'll feel comfortable to do just that.  It's called basic friendly Marketing 101, that's a rare commodity within most retail stores, let alone the gaming sector.

...and more selection after that.

The seeds for the art supply/project section from years past has flourished into its own department in the front of the store (sorry no pictures).  The RPG selection has expanded slowly but it has a noticeable presence.  There's certainly prominent spots for Heroclix (even a few on sale!) and Star Wars X-Wing.   Collectible Card Games?  Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Pokémon, of course, but my girls also discovered the My Little Pony CCG. 

The board/card game section is the piece de resistance. To steal a phrase used by the comic book shop I once worked at, they have an "immense and diverse selection" of games for people from toddlers to 115 years old. 

I've often wondered who ordered the vast catalog of new games solicited by the game distributors each month, and now I have half-joking confirmation that Anja Stam might be one of those people.  But unlike numerous stores that seem to buy one(or more) of everything, only to let them let them sit on them on the shelf until they have a desperation blowout sale, the staff at Pop's does do research on what they're ordering and have an active demonstration schedule to promote new games and old favorites. 

Oh yeah, puzzles.  These guys love their puzzles.  It is Tioga County, Pennsylvania.  It snows.  And nothing beats a puzzle during a Northern Tier snowstorm.

They are a part fixture in the community:  In the crazy world we live in, a game store is a great place to put your troubles aside, play some games, and make new friends, and the opportunity for that Pop's is certainly there.  The old storefront has now become "Pop's Playroom, with plenty of space for large tournaments or multiple games going at the same time.. 

Open Gaming Area Part 1

Open Gaming Area Part 2 (with the Demo Library)

Most importantly, Pop's is active outside of the traditional gamer niche.  Their schedule still has well-attended Tuesday morning, Mah-Jong game and they host the Wellsboro Chess Club.  Even beyond that, they are part of community at large. 

They've even been a past sponsor and participant in a local wine and art festival.  Even my non-gamer wife can get behind that!

The website, a bane of most new businesses is up, operational, and actively updated, so I'll let you gentle readers explore the details about their  board game rentals or hosting a party there.

After everything I've mentioned, it's no surprise that Pop's Culture Shoppe has earned its third FIVE GNOME RATING on the famous Gaming with the Gnomies Five-Gnome Rating System. 

2012, 2013, 2016
The Stams are still the same lovable, yet extremely professional couple that I originally met four years ago.  (In fact they haven't aged at all, so I decided against new pictures).  While I'm certain particular gamers could find issue with the store, the business model is as phenomenal as the friendly service, as the vast inventory, especially after such a fantastic expansion.  You will find something that you will like love, I'm quite certain of it. 

We'll be returning to Wellsboro for the weekend, sometime in September, sans children.  I will not leave Pop's as my last stop in town ever again.  Julian owes me a demo, after all, when we have more than twenty minutes to enjoy the game.

Pop's Culture Shoppe
25 Main St.
Wellsboro, PA 16901

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