With a threadbare, mustard-colored couch and mismatching area rug, the back room of Magpie and Crow feels a lot like a 1980s basement cast in amber. A tiny old box TV perches atop a wood-paneled media case, with a dusty glass door that clicks into place.
Today, the case holds gaming systems from every decade: the Sega Master, PlayStation 1, and universally beloved Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Towering arcade games bookend the TV, which is hooked up with controllers—as if someone is just about to sit down and start playing Super Mario World.
This is the whole point, according to Alec Featherstone and Adele Edwards, partners and co-owners of the retro game store.
“We have an arcade sort of vibe,” says Edwards. “We wanted it to feel like your grandma’s basement, with the wood-paneled walls and your old floral couch.”
“We want this to be an extension,” Featherstone adds, “of what you think of when you think of your dream game store.”
Magpie and Crow, the newest shop to open on Wait Avenue in Wake Forest is a place for people to just hang out—a “geeky, nerdy YMCA,” as Featherstone describes it. He and Edwards hope kids from the nearby Wake Forest High School will feel comfortable coming by the shop after school to play games or do their homework.
The couple also plans to start hosting events like video game tournaments, Dungeons and Dragons sessions, and even seminars on how to clean and care for retro technology. A different local artist will be featured in their store every month, with work for sale on the walls. Even the arcade games help the community, serving as donation boxes for local nonprofits.
“The core of it for us is always community,” says Edwards. “We want to build and cultivate that community of diverse people. We want this to feel like a safe space for everyone.”
The store has to make money to keep the lights on, Featherstone says, but the business means more than that to him and Edwards. For them, Magpie and Crow is an extension of their own love for video games and “nerd culture.”
“The video games are definitely our original loves, but we’ve also got toys and books and media and vinyl and comics,” says Edwards. “It all feeds into itself. We have such a passion for that community and for fandom in general.”
The Origin Story
Edwards and Featherstone moved from Texas to North Carolina after business at Featherstone’s first venture, Freaks and Geeks, waned during the pandemic. That first store grew out of Featherstone’s hobby of collecting retro video games.
“Anyone who collects anything understands that sometimes you look up at your collection and you realize you have far too much stuff,” he says. “It turns into trading with your friends or trading for things that you need, or selling, or gifting. So it morphed into sort of a side hustle.”
Featherstone and Edwards first founded Magpie and Crow to sell products online. Occasionally, they also sold products in person at different gaming conventions up and down the East Coast. In 2021, when the pair first visited North Carolina, “we just fell in love with it,” Edwards says. After learning that there was an audience and demand for retro games in the Triangle, plans began to take shape for a new store.
Magpie and Crow officially opened its doors for the first time earlier this month. More than 300 people showed up for the store’s soft opening, some coming from as far as two hours away. For every customer, there was something to discover … or rediscover.
Like the birds featured in the store’s name, Featherstone and Edwards collect a little bit of everything. In addition to the hundreds of video games lined up along the wall, the shop is full of comic books, collectibles, and trading cards. There’s a cabinet of tabletop games and a shelf of music, from CDs to cassettes. VHS tapes and DVDs fill another nearby cabinet, with stacks of manga and anime resting on top.
None of these items are bulk-ordered, according to Featherstone. He and Edwards spend early morning weekend hours at garage sales hunting down rare and retro merchandise. Their inventory is always changing, and the “buy, sell, trade” sign on the store window represents a philosophy they embrace in every aspect of their business.
Ultimately, every customer that comes in the store has a different definition of “retro,” Featherstone says—but it’s always something that brings back a flood of childhood memories. The gaming system of Featherstone’s pre-teen years was the Sega Genesis, originally released in 1989.
“The first console that was given to me by Santa was the Sega Genesis,” Featherstone says. “[It’s] still very closely tied for my favorite system of all time. My heart lives in that 16-bit, 8-bit era. I see those things and I feel immediately transported someplace.”
Edwards, who also started playing video games at a young age, has a lot of nostalgia for the Nintendo Entertainment System, or “NES,” as she calls it. She also played PC games, including the original version of The Sims. Later, Edwards grew up with the PlayStation 2 and GameCube, both consoles of the early 2000s.
A New Generation
Today, the couple sees teenagers come into the store reminiscing fondly about the PlayStation 4 system they grew up with. Conversely, they’ve also met a preteen girl who was “amazingly stoked” because they had a cassette Walkman.
“She was with her mom and she got this little cassette player,” Edwards adds. “And her mom was so excited for her. She said, ‘I remember the day I got my first Walkman.’”
“Everything that was old is new again,” says Featherstone. “Mario just came out with a full 3D movie. Sonic just got a remastered re-release of a bunch of the older games. At conventions, we have seen fathers bring their kid up and be like, ‘My son just got this Sonic game from grandpa for his [Nintendo] Switch, and I want to show him the older ones.”
Magpie and Crow is a place for people to find the things they find “cool,” and to introduce it to their friends and family, according to Featherstone. Seeing people so happy to find these rare items gives Featherstone a “little [feeling of] euphoria every time,” he says.
“It’s such a nice and warm and fuzzy feeling,” Edwards adds. “If I think about it too much, I’ll start tearing up. Like, people like this! It’s such an extension of ourselves.”
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