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Downsized, but not dead: Calgary video game store closes two locations to survive COVID-19

Despite a population bound to their homes, a popular Calgary retro video game store is having to scale back to survive the coronavirus.

Video Game Trader, a Calgary company that’s been around for almost 30 years, has been struggling ever since their doors were forcibly closed. This led owners Jeff and Heather McNair to a very difficult decision.

In a Facebook statement released on May 2, they announced the permanent closure of two of their locations – one on Centre Street, and another in Forest Lawn.

Their Lake Bonavista location will remain open and become the company’s sole base of operations.

“In order to make sure there’s still a Video Game Trader post-COVID-19 we have to do this. We have to scale down our expenses,” said McNair.

Mounting expenses forced them to reset

The expenses have become overwhelming, and McNair won’t be receiving any government financial assistance to help his business stay afloat.

“Because we kept working, we didn’t qualify for any [benefits],” said McNair.

“And things like the 75 per cent rent relief – which would have saved us – is voluntary. “

Out of the three locations, only one allowed the rent relief while the other two still asked for the full amount. And rent isn’t the only expense piling up.

“I haven’t used my debit terminals in over a month, and my fees were the same as if I was running the tons of transactions we normally do,” he said.

“It’s actually bonkers that there’s been no help for us.”

Lake Bonavista location the logical choice

When it came to downsizing and choosing which location to keep, it seemed to be an obvious choice.

The Lake Bonavista location, which was opened in February of 2018, is a 4,000 square-foot megastore. It’s the largest dedicated video game store to open in North America.

“It can hold our inventory. I mean, we have [nearly] 30 years of accumulation. We have a lot of stuff, so we need a lot more space,” said McNair.

What used to be a store bursting at the seams with merchandise, the Centre Street location lies almost barren, with inventory getting packaged away and made ready for transfer. LAYLA DART / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

But even with the increase in space, the company is still struggling with the changes to their business.

“The biggest change is we can’t operate anymore. If I wanted to be an e-commerce store, I would have bought a warehouse and had a website. But that’s not what we’re about,” McNair said.

“We’re a cool place to hang out, and we have knowledgeable staff that can help you with things.”

McNair said it’s virtually impossible for a small business like his to input such a massive inventory online, let alone have someone able to wade through it.

Plus, the hands-on customer experience is so integral to the store’s retail.

“That’s all gone when you’re just pointing and clicking on a website,” said McNair.

“There’s a level of customer care that we can’t do anymore.”

DVD browsing-based business takes a nosedive

While the video game business stays strong and McNair’s team tries to keep up, another side of their business has collapsed in wake of the closures.

“We had a large movie business, and it’s dead,” said McNair, referring to his massive collection of DVDs, “It’s browser-based entirely. Everyone needs to browse through your DVDs to buy something.”

They have about 40,000 DVD titles.

These shelves at the Centre Street location were once lined with DVDs; now only a handful remain, awaiting storage.

While he can’t open his doors, McNair asserts that he’s still in business, and he’s still open. They’re delivering games to customers through the mail, delivery or by curbside pick up.

Things may seem bleak for this local business, but they’re determined to come out of this pandemic on the other side.

“We’re hardworking people and we’ll keep going as long as we possibly can,” said McNair.

“We didn’t go out of business. We are still here. We’re not dead yet.”