When you walk into 1Up Games, you’ll immediately be transported into a Dreamland for gamers. From the bright colors, poster-covered walls, and Mario-inspired counter, right down to the music, you just know that this retro game store is different.
It’s meant to be, too. Owners Nick Harron and Tim Smith built 1Up Games around the idea of making collecting accessible again. They buy and sell games, consoles, and video game merchandise from every generation.
“The main thing we’re trying to do that’s different from a GameStop or other stores – we can’t be thinking about how can the store make money,” Nick explained. “It’s how can the store be two things: A, fun and sexy to go to – and sexy as in it’s eye-candy, it’s clean, the sounds you hear.
“And B, you have to make your customers feel like you’re going to bat for them every time,” he continued. “Here, you’re not just selling games. You’re a little bit of a Dr. Phil. You’re listening to people’s life stories because they’re opening up about their childhood, their memories. You’ve got to be a good listener.”
He emphasized the importance of being as transparent as possible about their prices, about trade-ins, and about what something is worth. It’s all about the market, which is constantly fluctuating, the condition of the merchandise, and what is included in the collection — is there a manual, the original controller, or the original box? All of that changes the price, and Nick and Tim work tirelessly to make sure you’re getting a good deal every day of the week.
‘Dude, it’s just like an NES game. You get better by dying a lot. You get better at business by failing a lot.’ – 1Up Games owner Nick Harron.
That’s why 1Up Games is different: the entire experience is something you won’t get anywhere else.
They’re a retro gaming store, but Nick and Tim know what they do would be meaningless without the gaming community. That’s why they put you first at every turn.
“We’re super appreciative and we try our best to never take it for granted,” Tim said. “We try to keep our standards high, keep the cleanliness of the store high and just remember how grateful we should be to have this place and to have such an awesome community of gamers.”
Nick added that he wants their store to be the epicenter of new friendships and of inclusion.
“It’s going to be so dope one day when someone comes in and is like, ‘I met my fiancée at 1Up Games,’” Nick explained. “More than that, I want a 25-year-old dude who is bringing in his 5-year-old son and I want that 5-year-old to be 25 and bring in his son and be like, ‘My dad brought me here when I was your age.’”
That’s the kind of culture Nick and Tim strive to create a 1Up Games. Their customers are noticing it too.
“It’s awesome,” Tim said. “Just knowing that there’s people who love the store as much as I do, it’s awesome.”
COVID impacted 1Up Games in a way Nick and Tim never expected — their sales grew, but their trade-ins (and therefore inventory) suffered.
“Nick and I talked when this whole COVID thing started and I was like ‘dude, we’ve got to be careful about spending money, because you see what’s happening with all of the shutdowns and people are going to be hard up for cash, they’re going to be selling their games,’” Tim explained.
Then, the total opposite happened. Their sales went up, but their inventory suffered as trade-ins became scarce. To this day, neither of them understand why, but they are extremely grateful they are able to keep doing what they love.
So how did a former dance teacher and a big time collector open a retro game store? The spark that started everything was their first meeting: one was looking to sell, the other to buy.
In 2014, Tim was a big time collector — he estimated he had around $100,000 worth of retro games, consoles, and the like at the time. Back then, though, he was getting tired of it — collecting was getting more and more competitive and it was losing its fun because of it.
Tim put up ads on Craigslist to start selling off his collection. Then, Nick came along.
“After I was at his house for five hours that day digging, I spent like a few hundred dollars,” Nick said. “We kept in touch, we started hanging out every other night. He is the dopest dude.”
One night, Tim brought up the idea of opening a retro gaming store in his garage. Nick immediately began asking about the logistics of opening up in his garage — the parking, the insurance, the zoning. That’s when Nick took action — he started looking for stores.
On March 9, 2016, 1Up Games officially opened its doors.
“It’s crazy how when you start something, it just gets bigger. It just goes,” Nick said. “Then you realize any type of fine you could have had, you had to pay it. We’ve lost lots of money by not knowing how to run a business, but I kept telling Tim: ‘Dude, it’s just like an NES game. You get better by dying a lot. You get better at business by failing a lot.’”
And they did fail from time to time. From a botched security system and a break-in, to a felony charge for having a coin-operated arcade machine without a permit, both Nick and Tim grew as business owners and turned those hardships into an amazing experience.
“You’re not going to be rich,” Nick said. “You live almost paycheck to paycheck. I made way more money as a teacher than I did doing this. But I get to see my best friend actually living his dream. This isn’t my dream, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Collecting and the retro gaming industry has changed drastically in the past decade.
“It was crazy,” Tim revealed about collecting in 2014. “I was driving all over the Valley, buying TurboGrafx stuff, Sega Saturn stuff, Super Nintendo Games for like $1 apiece. The dude would have Chrono Trigger and EarthBound and even back then it was worth good money, but it wasn’t like today. Today it’s just crazy.”
The two could have never imagined how big and competitive the retro gaming industry would become.
“Now it’s insane. For somebody like me, it’s hard to imagine people that are just getting into collecting,” Tim said. People will call the store and ask for specific games all the time — ones that are now considered rare finds — and the stock just isn’t there.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t diamonds in the rough still out there. 1Up Games sees a lot of rare trades coming into their store, including Panzer Dragoon Saga, Magical Knight Rayearth, consoles from every generation, and big names like Megaman, Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Starfox, and more.
If you’re a collector, a gamer, or just looking to browse a cool locally-owned store, then be sure to stop at 1Up Games. You can call them at 480-765-2875 or visit them at:
2111 S. Alma School Rd #6
Mesa, AZ 85210