- Long term residents of the Northern Virginia/Suburban Maryland area who are involved in the gaming hobby will recognize the Game Parlor retail store, a game and hobby shop that has endured in the same location (Sully plaza, in the back hinterland of strip locations) since 1991 The shop was started by Rob Weigend, a local attorney, and his wife Cindy. The store catered to virtually every classic gaming hobby during its existence, and had many tables set up for playing games– roleplaying games, the popular collectible card games, miniature gaming, and other pastimes.
The massive, MASSIVE collectible card sales display. You can find some of the earliest collectible card game here, going for full price..
Back in the 90s, if it was related to a popular gaming trend, something could be found for sale at the Game Parlor store. More importantly, the Parlor has served as a hub spot for most gaming in Northern Va, more or less. Magic the Gathering leagues would hold contests there, clubs would meet there regularly and all sorts of activity would schedule routine events– including Northern Virginia Gamers (NOVAG), which would hold their semi-annual game days at the store, which would (generally) make the store more money as gamers would stop and take a break to shop. There was, for about a decade, a second location in the Potomac Mills area, but that closed as rents increased.
Looking back at the miniatures tables, from the “recent releases” rack.
The shop persisted through the 2000s, but signs of trouble started cropping up. Inventory, which had been a huge attraction in 1991, almost never rotated by mid-2000s, and it was not uncommon to find something from that era stickered full price in 2007. Indeed, a casual perusal of stock the night I took these pictures turned up an illustrated military diary from the year 2000 going for full price. Of course, there’s the classic story of the Super Nintendo going for full price (its 1991 price that is) year after year after year until a mad collector ended up buying it, vindicating it taking up the shelf space for more than a decade.
A fantasy game, designed by Brian DeWitt, being run the night I visited.
Inventory started to become an issue in the mid-2000s or perhaps earlier. The shelves have always been crammed with older, somewhat out of date stuff (or “Classics”, depending on whom you ask). The explosion of popularity of both the newish boardgaming hobby and informational websites about gaming that started in the late 90s and and shot off like a rocket in the 2000s seemed to pass TGP by. The store buyers would certainly know of Boardgamegeek.com “hotness” list, but not order more than a few of any selected “hot title”, leading to frustrated would-be purchasers to special order, a process that took a long time and with little guarantees (unlike, say, just ordering it from Amazon, which would have it showing up at your doorstep in three days or so). An oft-repeated comment about special ordering was something like “dang, I WANT to give The Game Parlor my money, I really do.. but they make it so hard!” was heard from the late 2000s onward.
Gradually, I stopped buying stuff new OR used at the Game parlor store.. the old stuff was mostly picked through years ago and was never put on sale, the new stuff never lasted long and once the preliminary fuss was over, would never show up again. It was so much easier to purchase stuff online. The store itself, which seemed incredibly modern and swank in the 1990s, became more well worn and gone to seed by the late 2000s. When the carpet was almost destroyed after the Mongolian restaurant next door flooded into the Game Parlor store, the owner put out a contribution jar to help defray the cost of a new carpet. From his customers.. I was willing to donate, sure.. but I remember thinking: “Isn’t this the price of doing business?”
One feature of the Game Parlor experience that remained attractive to everyone over the years was the encouragement of regular gaming in the store itself.. many many tables and 6 giant miniatures tables were open to everyone. As the fortunes of the store declined, table fees were initiated, to no one’s particular surprise.. and to no strong objection. At least we could support the store after a fashion. Gamers were willing to put up with a storefront gone to seed and table fees to have a place to go week after week. That would never change, right?
In response to seeing a rumor online of the store’s closing, I visited last Friday night. The rumors are true. After 24 years of constant operation, the Game Parlor store will close forever on November 26, 2015. The reasons appear to be “retirement” (see the signs).
I find myself possessing mixed feelings. On the one hand, the store had not marched with the times all those years and it seemed a minor miracle that it had lasted until 2015. On the other hand, the Parlor was a fixture in the life of all DC area gamers. Everyone knew where it was.. it was our place. When it closes its doors, an era of good times, an easy location to socialize, and a big outlet for generations of geeks will finally come to an end. I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss it, and miss it a lot.
Could the store have been managed better? Certainly. The inventory issue was always a killer– more than one person has offered to assist the store in setting up an Ebay shop to unload all that embarrassing dated stuff on the shelves, but it was an ebay shop was never initiated. The store could have been better informed about trends and purchased accordingly– it’s not helpful to find a stack of ten expansions for the big hot game and not find the original, for instance. With all that said, The Game Parlor store filled a very important role in the history of gaming– not just for the surrounding community of geeks, but by creating a new tier of game store and a new approach for retail gaming. Maybe a store like this doesn’t fit in the modern market, maybe it does. I’m just glad I was around to see it happen. Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Weigend, for running an enterprise that was an important part of life as a gaming hobbyist in the DC area. We’ll all mourn the loss of the “Parlor: in the years to come.
(apologies for the use of the definite article “the” in front of GAME PARLOR in previous draft. I was falling back on traditional usage; we have long referred to the store in question as THE Game Parlor, even though this isn’t strictly correct usage, as one commentator generously informed me. As for misspelling “Weigend”, that I do feel a bit abashed about. I just never saw it in print much.