All I have to do is look through the looking glass, which in my case is the right hand bore of the Caldecott Tunnel. Over in the urban part of the Inner East Bay there is richer variety. There is heightened competition between game stores in the inner regions, such as Oakland and Berkeley. It's a level of competition that has divided up stores into their specialties. They have price wars on commodity games like Magic. They each seek a unique identity to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Their large population bases support this. One's a card shop, another is known as a miniatures store, while most good ones have a growing community in multiple areas. You can specialize, but you can't ignore too many other areas of interest. Most interesting though, customers seem to have a much wider range of tastes in these urban centers than my suburban comrades.
Over the hills and farther away from the Bay Area cities, we have the suburban Outer East Bay, where our store resides. We've got about half the population density, if you compare the four major cities around our store to the the population of Berkeley and Oakland. However, that smaller population base has trouble supporting more than a store or two. My feeling is that the burb dwellers have gamer characteristics different from the urbanites. My guess is that:
- There are far fewer of them to begin with. Urban areas promote cultural diversity while suburban areas are more up with trends. That diversity is why many of us live in urbanized areas. I grew up in the prototypical suburb, Irvine California, an early suburb that received an ideal planned community award from the then Soviet Union. I certainly felt the push towards conformity more there than I do in urban areas (although sometimes there's a tyranny of uniqueness in cities).
- They don't value independent stores. I get the impression that suburbanites spend a lot of their money buying online, far more than urbanites. Urban dwellers value local stores. They add flavor and support diversity of interests. They keep money in the local community, a crunchy granola value that suburbanites don't respond well to. It's survival of the fittest chain store in the suburbs. Why buy the new D&D book from you and your strange shop with walls of lead and odd customers when I can get my book with a Latte at Barnes & Noble? The holy grail in the suburbs is a big house in the best school district. The urban holy grail is an awesome bakery within walking distance. Suburbanites prefer convenience and consistency of experience over quirky independent businesses.
- Their tastes are more conventional. We sell a variety of games, but we have difficulty selling games out of the mainstream. There's less interest in the cutting edge, both in miniature gaming, board games, and role-playing. This isn't to say we don't have those customers, but we have a hard time selling things like war games and indie role-playing. On the other hand, we do really well with the Big Three: Magic, D&D and 40K. One of the interesting problems we've had is that many game designers live in urban areas, so it's natural for them to support urban stores with events and promotion. It's hard to get them to come to our special events.