After 12 years and 9 months in business, Jester's Playhouse, a comic book and game store in Northfield, NJ is closing forever.
For many, including myself, Jester's Playhouse was a unique place, an oasis of geekdom in a desert of mediocrity and cultural catatonia that is southeastern New Jersey.
Owners Rich and Joanne Gain were more than proprietors: they were good friends. They're closing shop because of the economy, because they just can't make it.
In 1994, when I moved to Cape May County, I first encountered Jester's Playhouse. Back then, Rich ran the shop in Cape May Court House, where it was strictly a game store. I came in one day looking for Call of Cthulhu RPG books. Right away we clicked: we both liked Lovecraft and RPGs and card games. While I was primarily into Cthulhu then, Rich changed my life by showing me a new RPG, a bright orange book with a zombie gunslinger on the front cover. The game was Deadlands by Pinnacle Entertainment Group.
After reading it, I became instantly hooked. I played my first Deadlands game with Rich as Marshal. My huckster character battled ghosts, zombies and gunslingers along with the posse, a group of guys who I still game with. Yes, we play Deadlands 11 years later, all thanks to Rich.
I became a Deadlands fanatic, snagging up all of the books and boxed sets. I ran the game for a while, taking the posse on adventures I wrote as well as published scenarios.
I even crashed in Rich and Joanne's hotel room, along with a few other people at GenCon in 2000. It was my first gaming convention and was filled with so many great memories.
Rich and Joanne held All Night Gaming at their store, a celebration where you'd pay admission and spend all night with RPGs, card and board games and free food and soda. One night, I played and won a Doomtown tournament.
I started a correspondence with Shane Hensley, Deadlands' creator and president of Pinnacle Entertainment Group. In 2003 one of my scenarios, Fort 51, was published in the Deadlands Epitaph.
Over time, my activities with role-playing games waned, but I still kept in touch with gamers and still read gaming products. In 2005, I began development on my own RPG which used Pinnacle's Savage Worlds system. That game was eventually optioned by Reality Blurs and published in 2008. The game was Ravaged Earth, a pulp game set in an alternate world filled with magic, super powers and fantastic science.
During all of this, Jester's Playhouse remained a beacon of light in a dismal place. Whenever the stresses of my day job got to me, I'd cross the bridge into Atlantic County and head to Jester's, where I'd grab the latest issue of Rex Mundi or The Spirit or some other strange comic book and have these great political discussions with Rich. I appreciated his views and injected humor into the conversations, which were funny and enlightening.
Rich knew I liked pulp, and set aside pulp-themed books and magazines. He also introduced me to great graphic novels such as Transmetropolitan and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
Now it'll be all gone. The wonderful times, the conversations, the afternoons of browsing the stacks.
I wouldn't have played RPGs nor would I have written them if it wasn't for Rich. His goofy little store meant so much to me and so many others, including neighborhood kids who came in and played card games. Within the last year, Rich and Joanne installed a bank of Xboxes and computers and charged a fee to play World of Warcraft and other games. I think they saw the writing on the wall, that RPG sales for them dried up and they inclined heavily on the comic sales and video games.
Rich told me a a year ago that if it weren't for the comic books, the store would've folded.
Now that time is here, with the store only accepting cash before Rich and Joanne close the business they nurtured and grew, a place that meant so much to gamers, comic book enthusiasts and dreamers.
Thank you, Rich and Joanne. You really made a difference in my life.