A one stop shop for Vancouver nerds

Photo courtesy of Mike Martins

If you're a twenty-something in Vancouver and you're not into drinking or movies, what do you do for a social life? Not much, says Mike Martins. Especially if you're in "the nerd range," as he puts it, there are few places to meet like-minded people and have a good time. 

Martins, 30, is on a mission to change that. He owns a gaming shop in International Village called One Stop Shop Games. Martins and his shop are well known among gamers across the city, the province, and even the country for creating a no-drugs, no-alcohol, no-tobacco environment, selling affordably priced games, and setting hourly rates for his gaming computers well below his competition.

The G-rated atmosphere and low prices have been essential ingredients in the shop's success. One Stop Shop began five years ago in a dying mall on the edge of one of Canada’s poorest urban neighbourhoods. It's not just a business, but a community and a social scene in Vancouver for young people who might otherwise be sitting at home alone every night, eyes glued to their monitors.

But his success has come at a price. Not selling alcohol is crucial to the milieu he’s created, but it also makes it harder to turn a profit. Raising his retail prices by much is a tough decision because the core of his business is young adults without a lot of disposable income. The economy being what it is, he’s paying his bills every month and growing his business steadily, but that means running his shop solo and often working 18-hour days, seven days a week.

Why does he stick it out?

"There are so many happy people here," he said. "I have 650 fans on my Facebook page and close to 800 members. People adore this place. A lot of people tell me, ‘I don’t know what I’d do if this store wasn’t here, I wouldn’t even go out’—like a lot of people, in their twenties, and their thirties. [They say,] ‘This is my refuge.’"

Martins himself isn’t at all like that. Born in Portugal, he remembers a life where everyone from John-the-grocer to Maria-the-seamstress knew, and cared about, everyone else in town—and their grown sons and daughters who’d gone away to university, and their cousins in neighbouring towns. He arrived in Vancouver five years ago after living several years in Miami, where he ran a successful body shop employing Cubans who’d been granted automatic citizenship on landing in Florida but who couldn’t find work for love nor money.

That made it ironic that, although he was told he was welcome to stay in the U.S. as a resident and run his business, he was denied citizenship. Not one to dwell, he sold his shop, did some research, and picked a place to move to. He chose Vancouver because of its reputation as a great place to live. But, paradoxically, he chose a games business because of Vancouverites’ reputation as polite but distant and hard to get to know.

Never at a loss for words or opinions, Martins doesn’t seem like someone who’d have a hard time meeting people. Yet, he says, “I’ve lived in my building for five years and I don’t know anybody.” But where a more introverted person would have seen that as a detriment, Martins saw an opportunity.

An alternative to Vancouver's bar and club scene

“I thought to myself, maybe if I could bring something to Vancouver that’s going to bring happiness and joy to people instead of this whole bar scene, and the bar scene, and the bar scene, over and over again,” he says. “I thought if I put like seven, eight tables out and introduced people to games and brought people together, [I could help] bring back the whole social aspect of life.”

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