It’s 2:45 p.m. and Benita Kapoor keeps checking the time on her laptop. In 15 minutes they’ll be here—ready to choose their weapons, hijack cars and blow up buildings. She goes behind the counter to prepare herself.
The clock strikes three. It’s time.
A few minutes later Deontae Mark and Dashun Buffun walk into Gamers-Audio World and More, a new shop that opened up on Macdonald Avenue at 23rd Street this July. It’s a trading post for video game lovers and the new go-to hangout for kids like Dashun and Deontae, 13-year-olds who make the trek from DeJean Middle School every afternoon.
“How was school?” asks Kapoor, a preschool-teacher-turned-business-owner.
“Fine,” they shrug, shoulders lopsided by the weight of their backpacks.
They shuffle to the counter. Only a couple inches over five feet, they have to lean over the surface to get a good look at the newest games stacked on Kapoor’s shelf.
“What music shall we play?” asks Kapoor. She walks over to her laptop, which is plugged into the store’s speaker system.
“I like classical,” says Deontae. He’s been learning about the genre in school. Beethoven is his favorite, but he also enjoys the “classical” music featured in Assassin’s Creed, BioShock and Dante’s Inferno—some of his all-time favorite video games.
Kapoor suggests Lady Gaga.
“Dashun likes Lil Wayne, so if you say anything negative about Lil Wayne he’ll deny it,” Deontae says.
Dashun nods sheepishly.
“But if Dashun says anything, it’s mostly about video games,” Deontae says.
Kapoor is banking on this type of devotion to video games. While she has no children of her own, Kapoor, 45, is an aunt to seven nieces and nephews, all of whom share a singular love.
“Seven birthdays a year and all they want is video games,” says Kapoor, who admits she, too, enjoyed video games while growing up.
Dashun and Deontae say they used to go to Game Stop, the video game retailer with a franchise near the Target on Macdonald Avenue. Now they come to Gamers-Audio World where the video games range in price from $35 to 99 cents.
“I got into the game business because it’s nice for these kids to get reasonable prices for games,” she says. “Parents can’t afford to buy full-price games anymore.”
Kapoor is empathetic with families facing tough economic times. When she was 15 her own family moved from London to a motel in Stockton after they suffered real estate losses in the late ‘70s. She lost her own home in Stockton during the most recent foreclosure crisis. Today she lives in Atchison Village in Richmond’s Iron Triangle.
“Can I sell a game today?” says Deontae, pulling a video case from his backpack. “I have Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.”
Kapoor examines the disc.
At Gamers-Audio World, customers can trade in games for store credit worth one-and-a-half times the re-sale value of the item they’re selling to the store. Kapoor says many customers use the credit amount toward the higher-price items she sells in her store like Xbox and PlayStation sets or audio equipment. Those sales are where she makes her profits, which vary widely day-to-day.
“The other day I went home with $22,” she says. “What am I going to do with that?”
One of the challenges with her business is the requirement that trading customers be at least 18 years old or come with a parent.
Kapoor hands the disc back to Deontae. He will have to bring his mom next time.
Kapoor is applying for a loan from the city’s revolving loan program. She wants to spend more money marketing her business and adding to the store’s inventory. Today, the merchandise is modest: a few rows of headphones, game controllers and radio alarm clocks. There is one rolling bookshelf stacked with games and a glass counter stocked with a few gaming consoles. The most striking thing in the store is Kapoor’s argyle sweater—a pop of bubble gum pink against floor-to-ceiling gray.
But to Deontae and Dashun, the shop is a play world of endless options. Kapoor lets them try out the games in-house.
They huddle on the floor in front of an old box TV testing their mettle in Mortal Kombat, Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater and Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects. They’re lost, deep in another world.
Kapoor says she actually wishes kids showed the same interest in reading, arts and other creative activities. But she understands why they feel so attracted to games.
“Games are an escape from their reality,” she says. “They’re bored.
“When we grew up there were safe places you could go after school to play and talk to your friends,” she says. “We don’t have many places like that anymore.”
She hopes to someday partner with one of the exisitng after-school programs. Her idea is to give kids free weekend video game rentals as a reward for consistent homework completion.
For now, she hopes her store is a place where kids can play and feel safe. But the iron bars outside the shop windows can’t always hedge all the reminders of the outside world.
Earlier in the afternoon, Kapoor caught someone stealing money from the glove compartment in her car, parked right outside the store.
When the police officer arrives to take Kapoor’s report, Deontae grows quiet.
“I’ve seen her before,” he whispers to Dashun.
The same cop has made house calls in his neighborhood, he says.
Kapoor asks the officer to take the report outside the shop.
For now, Deontae goes back to being a superhero.