Welcome back to Brick and Mortar! This week, we’re finally heading into the Boston city limits, to a neighborhood both rich in multicultural tradition and modern movements in art and music. We’re heading, of course, to Allston Village.
While it geographically covers a relatively small stretch of urban space, Allston is one of the most exciting places to be if you’re a college-age explorer in the city of Boston. Immediately due west of downtown, and not far from the gilded avenues of Brookline, this bohemian mixture of hipster and punk is a delicious buffet of sights, sounds and tastes. Once a cultural melting pot for immigrants new to America, Allston’s Victorian-era triple-deckers and Commonwealth Ave brownstones are now predominantly filled with college-age young adults attending one of Boston’s many colleges and universities in the area.
Boston is an unusually expensive city to live in, and city colleges often dump their students off-campus after their Freshman year, so these roving bands of students gather in Allston where the rent is cheapest – and the result is something intentionally not glamorous but painstakingly passionate and honest.
Allston is so densely populated with young adults from such divergent walks of life, that multiple cultural scenes exist in the same space, despite these scenes often being completely unaware of one another. Its residents are both unified by location and disparate by lifestyle. There is just so much happening here, that you may get whiplash just trying to drink it all in!
There’s a large and influential underground DIY punk scene in Allston, tied together by word of mouth, self-funded zines, and by websites like allstonpudding.com. A close friend of mine used to be involved in the scene, and took me to a lot of basement shows. At any given moment in time, there was a party on an Allston porch or a show in an Allston basement. Bring-your-own Pabst Blue Ribbon was a requirement, but the $5 donation was always optional. These kids were total badasses, but also some of the nicest and most motivated people you’ll ever meet. It was a thrilling social scene to be a part of!
Allston is also home to Great Scott and Brighton Music Hall (formerly Harpers Ferry), two small and storied music venues that are sure to provide some fun for your ears if punk isn’t your thing. A lot of excellent bands come through these venues right before they blow up, so it’s a cheap way to catch up-and-comers in their prime. And it’s also where the kings and queens of the basement scene come to play once they’ve built some buzz.
Another distinctive feature of Allston is that it is COVERED it art. Everywhere you look are posters for shows and events, elaborate graffiti, and more. Allston’s surfaces are seen as one huge canvas, and artistic expression is everywhere.
Allston is also packed to the gills with restaurants and bars, each with their own vibrant unique character. Pizza Regina’s has been an Allston staple since the 1930s, and today is also a popular bar destination on weekends. Blanchards doesn’t claim to be the official liquor store of Allston Village, but it might as well – positioned at the intersection of Brighton and Harvard, the heart of the Village, it’s huge neon sign out front has been drawing in droves of Boston’s college students over the years.
Directly across the intersection from Blanchards is Sunset Grill & Tap, “home of the 365 day a year beer festival”. They boast the largest selection of beers in one location that I have ever seen – nearly five-hundred! And the atmosphere is tough to beat. Silhouette, pictured a ways above, is one of Allston’s best dives, featuring pitchers of standard lagers at insanely affordable prices, and decor straight from an earlier era. And the aforementioned Common Ground as cornered the market on decade-themed bar nights. Like clockwork every week, they cover the 80s on Thursdays, the 90s on Fridays, and the 00s on Saturdays.
International cousine is also popular here, as mixed in with the student population are recent immigrants to America, coming from Hispanic, Middle eastern, and Asian backgrounds. Additionally, Allston is very friendly to alternative diets, and nearly every eatery has Vegan and gluten-free meal options. For an entirely vegan menu, check out Grasshopper, which was really popular with my friends from the punk scene.
Of course, as always, we’re here for a reason. Surely, Allston has a video game scene too, right? It sure does! … and don’t call me Shirley. Nostalgia fever has captured the hearts and minds of Allston residents, from antique shops to thrift stores. What’s old is new again! And video games are by no means an exception. Replay’d, just up the street from Blanchards and Sunset, and right across from Grasshopper, is where the locals go to shop for their retro gaming goodies, as well as to play popular arcade cabinets from yesteryear.
When I arrived at Replay’d last weekend, it was unexpectedly quiet outside. It was an unseasonably warm day, so it’s possible that people were too busy running around outside to think about gaming that day. As opposed to Sudden Impact, Replay’d also has an understated entrance. It could easily be passed by as yet another general electronics and smartphone re-seller. But you would be remiss to do so, because what’s contained inside tells a different story!
This is very clearly a game shop! I found myself immediately impressed by the phenomenal selection of games and systems, some quite uncommon, and a solid number of them complete in box or even sealed.
The store layout is easy to parse, with seventh-generation games (Wii / PS3 / X360) directly to your left when you enter, followed by sixth-generation (PS2 / Xbox / Gamecube), and then finally disc-based fifth-generation (Saturn / PS1) before you hit the back counter, where you will find a showcase of retro consoles and accessories, as well as a glass cabinet containing cartridge-based games up to the fifth-generation.
Translucent blue, green and black Nintendo 64 consoles/ Check. Boxed NES MAX? Check. SNES-101 and NES-101 consoles? Check. And here’s some of those stacks of sealed, boxed games I mentioned…
The prominence of sealed, mint condition games is a nice touch. And these aren’t even the rare games! A recent addition to Replay’d since my last visit is a new two-sided glass display case in the center of the store, showcasing the more notable items you’ll find here. The fact that they are nearly ALL sealed in box makes the collection damn impressive.
On display in this center case was also a number of CIB consoles such as the Sega Master System (Base System), Atari 2600 Mini (from it’s re-release alongside the 7800), a Virtual Boy (I must say, I’ve always loved the colorful, flashy, early-90s tech-look to the Virtual Boy’s box and marketing), and a curious object called the Family Computer Network System, which I actually had to look up to learn about. Apparently you could trade stocks over the internet with this thing – in 1988! Fascinating…
One other fresh addition to the store since my last visit was a collection of upright game cabinets, turning Replay’d into a pseudo-arcade. I loved this little touch, since Boston still currently lacks a “barcade”. I was particularly excited about The Simpsons cabinet, since it reminded me of that time I dumped twenty dollars worth of quarters into that game one summer at Old Orchard Beach. And I got the high score… only to come back the next day and see that they power off all the machines at night, so my score had been erased. Sigh. Lesson learned. All the same, a fine addition to Replay’d. It’s definitely going to pull in people off the street.
It’s clear that Replay’d knows what they have, and price their stock accordingly. You won’t be finding sub-eBay prices here. However, I would also argue that none of the prices are unfair in comparison to the US collectors’ market at the moment. They know the value of what they have, and price it at exactly that, or perhaps even a little lower. They lean heavily on complete, boxed items, so loose consoles and carts are often discounted nicely.
You’re not going to find them demanding $30 for a beat-up, naked, yellowing Super Smash Bros. cart for N64, or saying that Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt is worth $25 because “it’s a classic”. Nothing about Replay’d feels prohibitive or unfair, and their selection and respect for their product shows that they have an intimate understanding of the retro video game scene.
I also got the same impression from the employees on staff that day after speaking with them. They are a goofy, light-hearted bunch, cracking jokes, speaking with enthusiasm, and always humble, patient and understanding with their customers. And just like Sudden Impact, Replay’d appears to have it’s regulars, as they would be immediately recognized and greeted by the employees. At one point, an elderly gentleman carried a broken microwave into the store, left it on the counter, and said “here we go, another broken rescue!”. After he left, the employees told me that he picks up broken electronics on the curb and brings them in all the time, as Replay’d is technically an electronics recycling drop-off as well as a re-seller. And many mornings, they arrive at work to a small pile of dead electronics at their doorstep. So, in addition to bringing retro gaming to Allston, Replay’d, in conjunction with their customers, are providing a service to help clean up the community.
While I didn’t get the opportunity to speak with the owner, I left the store that day feeling positive about my experience. Replay’d is bringing the fun and doing good in Allston, and I can say with no doubt in my mind that it is worth the trip for that alone. That said, the rest of Allston Village makes for some phenomenal window dressing. If you live in the area, hop on the Green Line and give this neighborhood a look. And as always, #ShopSmall!