In our game, in our hobby, in our community that surrounds tabletop gaming of various shapes and sizes there is a conversation that often works its way to the forefront of our minds for a brief moment, generates a bit of discussion and then dwindles away, waiting to appear again. That conversation is that of the Friendly Local Game Store, the FLGS, that many in our hobby are lucky to have in or near their hometown. Though nowhere near this Took’s Hobbit Hole of Maryland, I had the pleasure of coming across a great, welcoming store far from home that deserves some mention and recognition.
This past week I found myself on my very first business trip in Austin, Texas. For three days I would be sitting in a large ballroom with like minds within my industry, discussing struggles, accomplishments, and strategies to help in the months to come before we will meet again in November. The days were to be full of discussions, breakout sessions, and social outings afterwards that would leave little time for “free time,” thankfully Wednesday afternoon offered up an opportunity that I am glad I seized.
Whenever I go to a new area (usually a neighboring county or nearby city) I like to look up what game stores are in the area worth visiting. I’ve never really made the attempt this far from home, especially with limited time and no access to reliable transpiration (spoiler alert: I resorted to using a cab). A quick google search after settling into my room revealed a couple of options. One store that caught my eye was called Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy. It was a fifteen minute drive from my hotel and the photos looked pretty decent from what I could tell.
On Wednesday afternoon, when I decided to take the trek, I was a little worried at first. Having some significant difficulty landing an unoccupied cab I began to lose hope, and even felt some dread when I finally got a ride only to learn rush hour would make the drive over double the anticipated length. Regardless I stuck with it, had a very pleasant car ride with a cabbie named Jerry and made my way to a typical American Shopping Center equipped with a couple restaurants, a grocery store, and Dragon’s Lair Comics and Games tucked into the quarter.
The cabbie had never heard of this store, located on West Anderson Street on the western side of town, and I was concerned that with that fact, coupled with the store being wedged into a corner, that I had wasted my time and money. Man was I wrong.
Regrettably I could not stay too long. Despite my “free time” I had to make a 7:30 dinner and the traffic had made me more than concerned. The time I spent there, although short, was overwhelming, albeit in a positive sense. To the immediate left was a hefty supply of board games. Resting on clean, light-brown shelves of ikea-esque appearance, each board game was stood upright yet tilted slightly to an angle (much like many parking lots that angle cars to save space). In this case, however, the games were easily displayed and set up made it feel like a library, a visual I’m more than on board with. Kid games, card games, heavy games, two-player games, a variety of categories made up the shelves on the left hand side. Beyond those were some larger shelves. These were a little more random, some were kickstarted dames, newer releases, and others were organized by game company. To my excitement and frankly immediate disappointment, I found a section of Fantasy Flight Games. Each of their main LCGs was well represented, even our very own Lord of the Rings, except it appeared as if the recent AP, Flight of the Stormcaller, was either already out of stock or had not yet made it to the shelves. With this I turned away and headed to the right side of the store, the comics.
Compared to Maryland FLGS’s, Dragon’s Lair doesn’t necessarily have the biggest selection (though I’d say it was still a very impressive selection) but it was one of the best organized I’ve seen. Books were organized as you would expect, from New Releases to New Releases from the previous two weeks, by publisher, market (local and independent) and so forth. There was even a decent Manga section which I’m particularly fond of. My favorite aspect of the comic section, however, was the recommendations. Every few sections or so would be a select number of comics on display with a staff recommendation written below the book. I’ve seen this used in smaller, independent book stores, and I appreciate the opportunity to hear from staff members “directly” while also being informed of authors or publishers I may not have considered. The other caveat is though we try not to “read a book by its cover” it can’t be denied that a clever display will attract the eye. Having staff recommendations helps those fledgling titles get a little more recognition.
As I made my way through the comics, particularly the Manga section, I saw they had a series I had been looking to get into. Not seeing the 1st issue I made a few passes around the shelf before being approached by a staff member named Jamie (sorry if I misspelled the name). Unfortunately he had told me that if it wasn’t on the shelf, at least for the title I was curious about, then it wasn’t currently in stock. He did offer that they could order the item for me and have it shipped or ready for pick up at the store. I quickly informed him that I didn’t live in the state to which he politely replied that they’d be happy to still order it and ship it to my house. There was no cost to the service other than the shipping. When asked, he told me that the estimated shipping cost would be around $5-7 and with the pleasant service I’d seen so far, I figured “why not?”
So I picked up a shirt of theirs (that way they received some business from me immediately) and went to the counter to make my order. Jamie was nice enough to even set me up in their system. Though it wouldn’t be certain when I would return to the store again he said that by doing so there will always be a record of my purchase, particularly if I was dissatisfied or wanted a refund on the book. He then took down my information necessary for the shipment and informed me that my card won’t be charged until the book arrives at the store and my approval is given for shipment. Better yet, they didn’t need my credit card information and could get it later after the book arrived. Everything was pretty much in my hands as to how I would like the process to be handled and I was very happy for it.
Overall I was very pleased with my experience and the customer service from the staff, particularly Jaime the Night Manager. He was even nice enough to answer a couple questions I had about the store. He had told me that the store had been around for 30 years, and this was their newest location. I’m always happy to hear when an FLGS is able to become a prominent retailer and break away from the smaller stores that seem to outnumber the larger ones. The store was clean, bright, and had an atmosphere that made me feel welcome. Though I didn’t get to check out the back I could see a rather large area to play games as well as what appeared to be a decent selection of miniatures products.
If you are ever in Austin and have some time to head on over to West Anderson Street, then I highly recommend you stop by Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy Austin. Go in, have a look around, and pick up something to help this wonderful business thrive.