J&L Game, one of my favorite game stores as a teenager, has vacated its iconic location on Elizabeth Street in Chinatown. Though relocated for some time now, this was the first time I've seen my old institution as a shell of its former self with my own eyes, and boy was it jarring.
As a New Yorker, Growing up with a fondness for video games, anime, and tech was easy. I was a train ride away from everything I loved right here on Elizabeth Street. I could trade in my unwanted games, buy the latest imported Gundam series and game, and have my US system modded to play both in the blink of an eye. Of course there were plenty of storefronts that were willing and able to service my needs, but none became so familiar as J&L Game.
J&L had a surreal selection of everything a nerd could want, along with even prices, a no-tax-on-cash-transactions rule, and a friendly staff that was willing to banter about otaku shit all day. All this, without the holier-than-thou attitude, delirious trade-in values, and incessant upselling that came along with corporate gaming stores, even those of years ago. I'm looking at you FuncoLand.
Along with Chinatown Fair, Penguin Village, and fifty-cent char siu bao, Chinatown had everything I wanted as an awkward, pock-faced teen who longed for Akihabara nights. Little did I know, a decade and change later, I'd be working so close to the neighborhood I once loved so much, on the exact street I spent countless amounts of lunch money and hard earned retail-industry paychecks.
In recent years, I've lost a bit of my geeky edge thanks to the bland - but more lucrative - pursuits known as adult responsibilities. But every now and then I'd take a long lunch break to recapture my youth by walking through Chinatown and experiencing all the feels I thought I had drank away. Though the staff largely remained the same, as friendly as ever - even now to my older, unfamiliar face - J&L hadn't been the same for years.
Had I changed? Had they changed? Probably both. I didn't want to pay full price for a PSN Card, knowing I could find one cheaper on the internet. They didn't want to compete with shady, bargain basement internet pricing, because hey, a store's gotta pay rent. Somehow though, J&L persisted through the internet age and the advent of internet sales, and managed to stay in business. I was happy about that. Respect knuckles.
I'm relieved J&L hasn't shuttered their doors completely. They're still surviving, they're just doing it a little farther North. Like a native priced out of the city he grew up in, J&L has been bundled-and-stacked of the increasingly expensive Chinatown, finding shelter in Midtown of all places - bane of an old school New York kid's existence. Will I visit the new location? Maybe. But I don't want to. I want to hold onto that sweet time in the back of my brain. An easier time, simpler time. A time when I could walk into a little shop on Elizabeth Street and have my youthful mind blown on a weekly basis by geeky wonder.