Voltage Video Games survives summer with retro games, personal service

The downtown Syracuse shop lowered its prices to compete with GameStop, but its dedicated customer core helped it surpass expectations.

A group of customers assembled outside Voltage Video Games one Sunday afternoon, waiting for the store’s owner to open up shop. After filing into the store, some customers went straight to the register to exchange old games for new ones, while others wandered the aisles, scoping out games that span back decades to systems like the original Nintendo Entertainment System and Atari 2600.

Photo: Evan Lewis
Voltage Video Games' storefront invites gamers in with a throwback Nintendo sign.

As he scanned the Super Nintendo shelf, one customer, who appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s, began to quietly whistle along to the remixed version of the “Song of Storms” from “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” that was playing over the store’s sound system.

These dedicated consumers of both new and retro games are the types of customers Voltage Video Games’ Managing Owner and self-proclaimed Shovel Knight, Space Commander, Releaser of the Hounds and Captain of Industry, Mike Saltzman, said he depends on to keep the store running.

“Those customers are the ones that you should treat right and who really keep the business going,” Saltzman said. “They’re the loyal guys.”

Due to the drought of high profile new releases and increase in outdoor activity, summer months are the slowest for the video game retail industry, Saltzman said. Because of this, major national game retailers like GameStop resorted to summer sale events and price cuts, and locally owned and operated businesses like Voltage had to respond with cuts of their own, as well as other business strategies, to stay competitive.

Despite the challenges of operating a video game store in the summer, Voltage opened a second location in Manlius on May 28. So far, the store has not only weathered the summer, but has also exceeded sales expectations.

“We’re beating our best case scenario,” Saltzman said. “It’s growing at a faster pace with more loyal customers and with better numbers than we anticipated.”

Saltzman has no confirmed plans for other new locations for the business, but he says he is open to considering further expansion if the Manlius store continues to perform well during the busier fall season.

During its Summer Sale, which ran from July 14 until Aug. 17, GameStop offered discounted sale prices and trade-in incentives. When customers brought in games to sell to the store, they received 30 percent more money than they normally would, plus additional limited-time trade in bonuses.

To compete with GameStop’s national marketing and name recognition throughout the summer months, Voltage needed to prioritize competitive pricing and trade-in values, Saltzman said.

“People like supporting local companies, but they don’t like getting gouged, whether it’s by the local company or the national guy,” Saltzman said. “If you can’t offer a better value for your products, then you won’t be in business.”

In response to recent price cuts at GameStop, Voltage reduced prices on a large portion of its inventory, including items with prices that were already lower than GameStop’s adjusted prices. Voltage also generally gives significantly higher trade-in values on most games, Saltzman said.

GameStop offers a membership program to incentivize customers to return. Instead of membership cards and bonuses, Voltage uses personal service and a unique inventory to attract customers. The store carries retro games and accessories that GameStop does not keep in stock, and it maintains an inventory of unique collectibles, local video game-inspired art, and fan-made games.

Adam Mika, a regular customer at Voltage, said he appreciates the store’s personal service and distinctively localized atmosphere.

“I feel more like it’s a hometown shop versus one of those bigger chains you can just go to anywhere,” Mika said. “I feel like it’s just Syracuse downtown, like it’s a special place.”

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