Discover more from Pete’s Perspective
Thinking Back to FuncoLand
From being a new customer to becoming a store manager within 8 months, it was a heck of a time.
On my way home from a call center job I was working, one summer afternoon in 1998, I spotted something that I thought I would never see in my neck of the woods:
A FuncoLand store.
I’d heard of the company. I’d seen the ads. I’d even read an issue or two of Game Informer. But… I didn’t think Springfield, MA was a budding spot for a video game store chain to set up shop. I was glad I was wrong. Naturally, I had to stop by to see the store for myself.
When I walked in, I wasn’t prepared for how cool it was. Multiple demo stations had different game consoles hooked up within them— NES, SNES, Genesis, Saturn, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 were all represented, each with a different game that could be sampled. Boxes for older games lined the walls, and the newest games were lined neatly on shelves behind the counter. All of the used games didn’t have price tags; instead, a printed newspaper circular showed the prices for all of the games. The only trick was knowing what was in stock and what wasn’t. You had to ask about those. I literally spent hours just browsing around and trying out games.
I knew, as I browsed around, that I had to get a job here. This was my dream, even at 26 years old. Working in a video game store, with my enthusiasm and knowledge, was what (I thought at the time) I was made for. I landed that job, albeit at a second location, a few weeks later. I attribute part of this to holding my own in Hot Shots Golf against the District Manager… but I digress.
Working for FuncoLand was mostly awesome, especially early on. I began as an Assistant Manager. The Store Manager was great to work with. He was responsible for getting me to try Metal Gear Solid, a game that I would’ve passed over otherwise. We played through the game in-store over a couple of shifts. The team at the store talked me into trying WCW/nWo Revenge one night after closing, and that got me into wrestling in general for awhile. Also, having access to so many games and consoles meant that I could try any game in inventory. NES games, SNES games, PlayStation games, Nintendo 64 games… it was awesome having such a library to sample from.
The downside of trying out these video games was that it was hard to resist temptation to buy them. In my first month, I bought NFL Blitz and Mortal Kombat 4 for the PlayStation, plus F-Zero X for Nintendo 64. That was a quick $130 back to the company. It’s probably fair to say that a not-insignificant percentage of my pay wound up going back to the store register. In fact, NES games were so cheap that there was a stretch when I bought a game or two for less than $5 during or after every shift. It was a good “problem” to have.
I did well enough in my first holiday season to earn a promotion to Manager-in-Training to assume command of the store I first set foot in, less than 6 months after I was hired. Running the store was great for awhile. Getting to pick the games for the demo stations, getting to place orders for games, and being the most visible employee was pretty cool. It overlapped with preparing for the Dreamcast launch, and that kept the blood pumping. The Dreamcast launch was legendary, at least for me… but that’s a story for another time.
I have to admit that accepting the promotion was… probably a bad decision, in retrospect. I really wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility yet. I needed better supervisory skill and more trust of other employees. I often was in the store 7 days a week, with my two off days checking to make sure things were running smoothly. This burned me out quickly, along with dealing with a break-in during the summer of 1999 and having a customer force his way behind the counter to steal a Game Boy Color during that holiday season. I wound up leaving the following March. I never forgot the chain, though. I still loved it and would stop by stores to say hello and buy stuff after.
Sadly, though, FuncoLand didn’t last long after I left. The growing juggernaut that would become GameStop ate up FuncoLand in June of 2000— just three months after I resigned. What used to be great about FuncoLand… the demo stations, the laid back atmosphere, the comfortable experience… soon vanished. It’s too bad, because I believe that model of retail could have worked with a bit of persistence. Now that retro gaming is popular, the chain could have done well for itself.
At least I have the memories, as a customer and as an employee. It was one heck of a ride.