SF Gaming Shops, One Month into Quarantine

Versus Games, Game Post, and Gamescape have all found new ways to play during the pandemic.

In the lead up to San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order, the city’s tabletop game community was on a doomed campaign. The Game Manufacturer’s Expo — or GAMA, the annual event in hobby gaming — was set to begin in Reno, NV on March 11. Luckily for D. Veloz, owner of the Versus Games in the Sunset, life had rolled him a +1 to Wisdom: he had family in China.

“We’d been hearing things about the situation in Wuhan as early as December,” Veloz says. “I was already looking at the numbers, and thinking about what could happen.”

Veloz decided to bail on GAMA, and instead began to hold a series of all-staff meetings with the store’s four other employees.

“In late February, early March, we had three major meetings, and a couple more phone meetings. My staff at the time told me they thought I was a little paranoid.”

Clearly, he was not. By the time March 11 arrived, both California and San Francisco had declared states of emergency. Statewide, confirmed cases had quadrupled in a week. Major cities were banning mass gatherings, and the NBA had canceled its season. While GAMA forged ahead, retailers and publishers pulled out in droves.

Back in the city, Veloz went to his brain trust.

“I tasked all my employees with coming up with three to four ideas of how we could make revenue with our doors being closed,” Veloz says. “They presented a lot of interesting ideas. Some were workable, some were not, but I didn’t discourage any ideas.”

Among the employees’ pitches were plans for online D&D sessions, contactless card collection purchases, and offering $5 same-day delivery for orders in and around San Francisco. The last one in particular caught on.

“The delivery has been doing phenomenal,” Veloz says. “We beat out Amazon, because they don’t do same-day anymore. When we open back up I think it’s going to stay.”

But while Versus Games had the benefit of early insight, others around the city didn’t have the same tactical advantage.

“Everything’s on pause,” says Diana Goldman, owner of Game Post in SOMA. “By the middle of March, sales tanked to 10 percent, maybe 20 percent. Now, there’s nothing.”

Since opening in 2018, Game Post has carved out a niche for itself among the city’s dedicated Warhammer 40,000 community, offering gamers a one-stop-shop where they can buy, paint, play with, and even store the game’s extensive catalog of baroque miniatures. But as the city’s youngest game store, it was still finding its footing at the time the Public Health Order was issued.

“Getting the online store up and running was one of my summer projects,” Goldman says. “So much of this I’m doing on my own, and I was still researching the best way to go online.”

Even if she could have gotten a webstore running in time, there would still be the issue of inventory. Goldman estimates Game Post works with six different distributors to stock the store’s many cards, games, rule books, and miniatures. All are currently closed. “I can’t get product in,” Goldman says.

Like many small business owners, Goldman applied for federal loans through the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program weeks ago. And like many small business owners, she still hasn’t received any money.

“I actually just went online today, and it said they have my application, but I haven’t seen anything from that yet.”

Without federal aid, Goldman estimates Game Post can survive another month of lockdown. “If I don’t hear anything from these loans, or if I get declined for these loans, after May, I don’t know.”

Over on Divisadero, San Francisco’s oldest game store has been profoundly changed by the lockdown: for the first time since opening in 1985, Gamescape now offers mail order.

“We have a bunch of cardboard boxes, and we have the games in store. We have a coordinated pickup with our postman. We just put them in boxes, he picks them up every day,” says owner Tom Hamilton matter of factly.

One game in particular has been selling well.

Pandemic, the board game, had a resurgence in interest this month,” Hamilton says. “It’s a good game, so I don’t fault anyone for it. But it’s pretty funny.”

Opening a small business in one of the most expensive cities in the world is always a roll of the dice, but all three stores have one thing in common: sympathetic landlords. In response to the pandemic, all say they have had rent either forgiven, lowered, or deferred. A natural 20, if there ever was one.

“Disasters and situations like this, you either learn from them and get better,” Hamilton says, “or else you learn more about each other.”

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