This is a series of posts dedicated to independent and interesting videogame shops in the UK with a focus on those that sell retro/import games, both those that have perished and those that still survive today. We could always do with tip-offs of new or old places to cover, and would love to get memories or perspectives of the shops featured, so please take the time to comment. With the rise of the internet, dedicated retro videogame retailers are becoming scarcer and harder to find. This series will cover London for the most part since that’s where I’m based but I’m interested in other parts of the UK as well. This first post is a personal reminisce by my partner.
This may seem like an odd place to start a series on videogame retailers, but is it fitting given the current state of videogame retail? It is very tempting to say so, with retail being drowned out by the internet and the second-hand game market dominated by the ubiquitous CeX. But enough of that, here’s The Video Gallery on Hornsey Road, on the outskirts of Islington.
My childhood memories of swinging by this shop have started to blur. I used to visit with my big brother and maybe some of the neighbour’s kids (yes, this was from a day when you might actually want to interact with your neighbours) to buy rare, imported Pokemon cards, swap Sega Megadrive games and marvel at the dodgy adult videos that would often play in one of the dingier corners. This was before child abuse was invented by Jimmy Savile.
As the signs outside indicate, this shop has long since been closed and has been in a dilapidated state for well over a decade. It’s a small miracle that the sign and shop front have survived intact (the sign’s reference to Sega and Nintendo is very telling of the era). Incredibly, although it isn’t there as of this afternoon, until recently anyone could spy through the dirt-covered windows an Action Replay device for the N64 on display.
Though I know the internet has brought us ever widening convenience and range – especially in the videogame market – I can’t help but be nostalgic for this shop and others like it. The counter was like an altar of amazingly exotic produce that I was somehow exempt from – though my brother knew the language, why Dreamcast was rubbish, the difference between booster packs and other gaming stuff that he obsessed over (unlike Mr Very Very Gaming, my brother is a hardcore Final Fantasy fan, RPG crazy, and Japanese-speaking wonder – he is extremely particular and discerning). The Video Gallery was where I eventually bought my first game – the still much loved, Final Fantasy IX. The shop closed not long after, I believe in 2001.
There is something about the magic that occurred in these dingy spaces. These places gave me a very different perspective on my brother and his friends: perhaps this is just a young girl’s perspective (or a much older girl’s hindsight on this memory), but this cloistered, masculine space, where games and cards were exchanged in absolute seriousness and with a degree of reverence, was fascinating to behold. It was the place where hard earned pocket money, and hours of my brother begging our mother for just a few more pounds, got splurged on Sonic Spinball, or Cool Spot, or Ecco the Dolphin, or a shiny Erika’s Venasaur.
It seems a shame to begin a series on videogame shops with this sad picture of what is a very tough market, but I smile when I think of the shop owner who knew everyone, and took us children (well, our money at least) so seriously: he got out of the retail games market early, and I like to imagine him laughing all the way to the bank having sold all his awesome stock on ebay.
If anyone has memories of The Video Gallery or information about what happened to the shop/owner, please let us know below. Also any suggestions for videogame shops past or present that deserve spotlighting would be appreciated! On the near horizon: Awesome Games in Walthamstow, Northeast London and Retro Game Base in Streatham, South London.