I’m about to commit rank heresy: to wit, I am going to suggest that the interaction between customers and their Friendly, Local Gaming Store (FLGS) is very much a two-way street. Which is to say: it is important to be the right kind of customer, of course. But it’s just as important to be the right kind of merchant, too.
I feel that the last sentence is not always acknowledged, honestly. You see, I was struck on my way to Free RPG Day that I wasn’t familiar with the particular FLGS that I was going to, which meant that I had no idea what retail Perdition I might be getting into—and I wasn’t too thrilled with the prospect. As it turned out, the store I went to was very nice; but you hear horror stories. You’ve probably lived through horror stories. So let’s not pretend that it can’t be a problem.
So, what are the obligations of a good FLGS? Well, aside from the obvious ones for any vendor—clean premises, basic security, honest cashiers—there’s a few conditions that are specific for the gaming industry (or at least for the second-hand bookseller industry, which gaming stores are arguably a subset of). The most immediate one that I can think of is space and organization. This shouldn’t need to be said, but: don’t cram the game books in the shelves, or cram the shelves together. Group the games by gameline or publisher as you please, but be consistent about it. Check the stock for expiration dates (yes; for example, miniatures paints have expiration dates) and rotate accordingly. And meticulously vacuum the carpets. People kneel a lot while book-browsing.
Then, there’s attitude. There are two categories of vendor attitude to avoid: Surly, and Extra Chirpy. Regular Chirpy is more palatable than Surly, but Chirpy is not always welcome and the I’m-going-to-make-an-extra-effort-because-I-think-I’m-antisocial version can be downright tooth-grinding. When in doubt, go with Polite Professional. Ask if they found everything that they needed or wanted, ask if they’re members of your local rewards program or want to be, smile, ring up the sale, and tell them to have a nice day. And, remember: if there’s a line, virtually everybody in that line is there to have an item rung up, not to hear about what just happened in your campaign. I mean, if you can talk about it while still ringing up people lickety-split, go for it. If not, don’t*.
This next part is perhaps delicate; it certainly does not apply to all stores. The gender ratio in gaming has been steadily improving over the last few decades, particularly since the first wave of gamers started having children of their own and saw no particular reason why their daughters could not play D&D. As such, the presence of women in one’s FLGS is no longer quite the exotic event that it once was. Obviously, it behooves gamers to not act like jackasses while encountering a woman in a gaming store (or anywhere else); but it also behooves game store owners to do the same. In a somewhat related note: if a FLGS has a players’ room—a lot of them do—there should be at least a minimal security presence there. Even if it’s as simple as a window that allows people outside the room to see everything inside it**.
Lastly, and this may be the most controversial statement: you can overdo ‘a sense of community.’ Specifically, this aren’t the old days. There are enough people interested in our shared hobby that we don’t have to tolerate brazenly antisocial behavior anymore. Regular antisocial behavior, like being shy, easily embarrassed, and/or finding small talk awkward? By all means, continue politely ignoring those behavior patterns. But actual jerks who like being jerks don’t need to feel welcome in your game table – and they don’t need to feel welcome at your FLGS, either. I know, I know, the customer is always right: but a lot of the worst offenders never actually buy anything, so there you go.
PS: Amazon exists. It is a thing. It prevents drastic markups of gaming products that are currently in print. Please accept that.
* One other thing: store managers are there in part to handle questions that you don’t have answers for. Shunt those questions up the food chain with all due speed.
** Particularly if kids use the room for card tournaments or whatnot.