Sons of big box




J&L Game Trading, America's dustiest game shop
I remember the first time I visited J&L Trading in New York’s Chinatown. Those of you who have been reading this site for too damn long may recall my failed attempt to establish myself in NYC, seven freakin’ years ago. Back then, I was absolutely staggered to see so many games of foreign extraction in a single place. Never mind the ludicrous prices and the pirated Game Boy Color games pretending to be cartridges for the brand-spanking-new Game Boy Advance; the closest we came to an import shop in Abilene, TX was a gloomy computer repair shop where the surly middle-aged owners had set up a couple of shelves for a smattering of expensive Super Famicom and Saturn games, and quite a few more shelves for dreary-looking porn software. But J&L, wow, hundreds of import games. And barely any smut to be seen. Amazing stuff!

Seven years later, the place might actually be more depressing than that Abilene shop. At least the one in Abilene moves around occasionally, and even gives a sense of shifting inventory. J&L barely seems to have changed in all this time. Yeah, current-gen games line the shelves at the front of the store, but they appear to have the exact same Japanese PlayStation and Saturn games collecting dust as were there when I first found the place.

Still, it’s a damn sight better than New York’s other big import shop, Video Games New York. Last time I was in the city, it was located on St. Marks, but I guess it was chased away by rising real estate costs or gentrification or something. Now it’s around the corner, but its new location has a sort of lived-in appearance already — “lived-in” meaning “apocalyptically trashy” in this case. It has a sort of filthy weariness about it that most shops only acquire after a decade or more of neglect and abandonment. You’d think they could afford a maid, with the prices they’re charging — the image above is the highlight of their “rare games” collection, a handful of shabby, dilapidated Super NES games for which they want $100 or more because they happen to come with worn, abused boxes. (No word of manuals or other pack-ins.)

Really, America? Is this the best we can do for used and import games? I know LA has a couple of decent shops, and Pink Godzilla in Seattle has a good reputation, but even the most run-down and poorly-maintained used game shop in a small Japanese city of your choosing puts them all to shame. I dunno, should we just blame it on GameStop and be done with it? Depressing.

On that cheerful note, I guess I’m done with images from last week’s New York trip. I’ve finally remembered my Yahoo password, so I was able to update my Flickr images to add some titles that are more descriptive than “DSC000412” or whatever. I still need to give names to about five pages worth of Tokyo images, but I’m pretty sure the world isn’t going to come crashing to a halt if I don’t do that right this instant.

19 thoughts on “Sons of big box

  1. There’s a great Google Map that can help you find game stores in your area. Maybe you’ll find something better at one of them. :)

    (It’s in the URL link in this post if you want to check it out)

  2. Yeah, I remember hearing about these stores when I moved to New York and that they were overpriced. I didn’t realize how much until I actually went in them and my jaw dropped to the floor at the price tags. It’s really sad, but I guess it’s what they need to do to pay the price of being in New York (though I seriously wonder if Video Games New York ever moves any of their older games).

    That said, the last time I rented a car, I took some time to head to the Digital Press store in Clifton, New Jersey and they actually have a good selection of retro games for reasonable prices. And there is at least one other really good retro game store in Southern Jersey. So I guess New Jersey is really the video game mecca.

  3. Ironically, VGNY is best for new games–charge the MSRP, and they don’t give a shit about street date. Which is nice. And while I’d never buy any of their retro stuff, I do enjoy looking at it. It’s telling that they consider that they call themselves a store/museum on their website… I don’t think they ever intend to sell their old shit.

    …now that I think about it, it kinda strikes me as being like a guy throwing a yard sale, but he wants to keep his shit so he just prices it so highly no one will ever buy it.

  4. Think yourself lucky, in the UK your lucky to find a independent game shop let alone anywhere that sell import gear. Even some of the best import UK located websites have found it hard to survive which gives brick and mortar companies an impossible task. A combination of Game/Gamestation (which has now become a combined monopoly) stitching up any indies in towns and cities around the country. Don’t even start on trying to find retro games, especially since the new Game bought Gamestation, that use to do retro stuff have started burning their old stock to make way for more footage devolted to Guitar Hero and the like. Ebay is our only hope.

  5. There’s a pretty cute store in San Diego called Luna Video Games (actually, there are two locations now) that stock lots of retro games and are run by good, knowledgable people. But since I don’t have money to spend on games these days, I guess it’s all for naught for me, anyway. :-(

  6. Yeah, when I lived in the East Village, I really only used VGNY as a place for new games or imports (usually if it was something i HAD to have then, which is pretty rare). Usually it’s a fun place to hang out after getting food nearby (I miss Veselka) or getting blitzed at Burp Garden of Professor Thoms.

  7. I remember Software Asylum in Abilene. I remember going in there in eight grade thinking my God, if only my allowance wasn’t $20 every two weeks I could have all the import Saturn games I want. But I think it worked out for the best not getting those games….

    That place shut down long ago, but the bad smells and surly middle aged guys chastising me will remain in my heart :)

  8. I see Link to the Past, Super Metroid, Breath of Fire, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy III aaaaaaand… that’s all I can recognize. What’re the last three?

  9. Massive fail if those prices are stickied to the actual boxes and not some plastic wrap.

  10. I own a game store! And let me tell you something about these old games. People treat their old games like toilet paper. At least they must, considering the condition they come in. So finding this old stuff can be pretty rough, you kinda have to take what you can get and hope it cleans up nicely. Still, I don’t price my old games anywhere near those prices, I try to stick to the average going rate on ebay. How could you expect people to buy them any other way? Regardless, people still bitch about the price. “$40 for Super Mario RPG?!” they say.

  11. Yeah, if you happen to make it down to San Diego for Comic-con, Luna games is definitely worth a look. It’s got more than a few rare games, and the owner and employees are really knowledgeable and downright cool to talk to.

  12. I am surprised by how much Super Mario RPG goes for, but I am forever in awe of the selling prices for Earthbound.

    I live in Southern New Jersey (an hour and a half from Clifton and an hour away from Level Up) and we are absolutely awash in Gamestop stores. Every mall has one inside along with a peripheral store in a strip mall two miles from there. I have only recently begun to look around for alternate game stores.

    I had heard about Gamecrazy from SamuelMarston and Ben1842’s store locator found a Next Level Video Games store in close range. I hope to dig around for some NES gold once I get the chance.

  13. I’ve almost exclusively stuck to Ebay for my retro needs. The only retro shop around here wanted $75 for a copy of Final Fantasy II w/o box. Ebay had a listing for Link to the Past and FF II for $15. They played on my SNES and I was happy.

  14. I was at Video Games New York during the summer, and they had a copy of Mega Man Legends 2, just the disc, no jewel case or manual, for $50. Of course, I didn’t buy it. A few days later I was at Next Level Games, which also had a disc-only copy of Mega Man Legends 2, and they offered it to me for $9. Needless to say, I snatched that one up! Video Games NY may have a lot of stuff, but I can’t imagine spending what they’re asking. Thank god there’s a few more reasonable retro stores around South Jersey!

  15. Video Games New York used to be owned by a total jackass, who actually did stock porn right in the middle of retro software. It was pretty jarring. All of their stock is left over from him and I don’t think the current owners have any idea what to do with it.

    I agree with the sentiments here – Digital Press and Next Level are both much better stores than either of the NY ones. They’re better maintained and have saner prices, although naturally the Japanese selection of stuff isn’t quite as diverse. I’ve never been to Level Up, but that’s way the hell at the bottom of the state…

  16. all that being said, these guys pay pretty well for used games. I sold a broken nes and some cartridges to them back in 2002 for something like $200

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