Ed Marki’s new video-game shop in downtown Lancaster has everything a kid – or a kid at heart – could want.
Meb’s Games has a 1982 Super Mario Brothers arcade game rigged to play for free.
And there’s a room where kids and teens can pay $1 per hour, or $5 for the day, to play games with their friends and scarf down snacks provided by Marki, who fits in with his youthful clientele.
“I’m a 12-year-old in a 43-year-old body,” said Marki, a Lancaster village trustee and veteran middle school teacher.
Marki didn’t need to open a store to sell video games and game consoles, because he’s done that over the Internet from his home for 15 years.
Instead, Marki invested $30,000 in rent, TV monitors and inventory for the shop, which opened the day before Thanksgiving, because he wanted to give young people in Lancaster a safe place where they can hang out and bond over something that engages them.
“As an educator, I have a passion for helping kids find the right path,” he said.
Marki’s love of gaming dates to 1977, when he was 8 and got his hands on an Atari system.
In high school, he and his friends spent hours at the arcade pumping quarters into Pac Man, Space Invaders and other games. Players logged their high scores under a three-letter name, and it was lame to simply use your initials, Marki said.
So he picked MEB – short for Marki Edward Backwards – and the nickname stuck.
Marki relished getting new game systems straight from Japan, before they came out here.
“You were playing games that nobody else had,” he said. “You were in a select club.”
He didn’t start selling video games until 1997, when he sold some of his old games on eBay.
Marki began hitting garage sales in the area, buying used games and game consoles and reselling them on eBay. He stacked boxes of inventory in his basement. “It was like one of those ‘Hoarders’ episodes,” Marki said.
In college, he worked part-time at Babbage’s and Electronics Boutique, eventually helping the latter open several satellite resale stores. He left when his job became “too corporate.”
Even after starting as a teacher, Marki continued buying and reselling games during the summers, making as much as $10,000 each year during his months off.
Marki held gaming tournaments in the school gym when he taught at Catholic middle schools in the area; only students who showed sufficient effort could participate.
He retired in 2011, after 20 years of teaching social studies and English language arts.
A Lancaster trustee for six years, Marki was active this summer in negotiations between village officials and members of the business community over complaints about teen skateboarders and BMX bikers.
Sirens Skateshop, at 30 Central Ave., was a focus of the dispute. Marki defended the shop and the teens who gathered in downtown Lancaster, but Sirens closed in September.
The summer standoff got Marki thinking about how he could best serve the community, and he decided to open his shop.
Meb’s Games is located in the old Sirens storefront, and it draws on some of the same demographic, but Marki said his young customers will play games inside the store or take home whatever they buy.
“Ed’s a good businessman. There’s a lot of kids, teenagers, around who have disposable income,” said Megan Burns-Moran, executive director of the Lancaster Area Chamber of Commerce. “I think it was smart for him to capitalize on it and keep them in the store.”
The shelves of Meb’s Games are lined with classic Atari video games, such as Pitfall! and Missile Control, and new releases such as Call of Duty: Black Ops and Assassin’s Creed III.
Marki will offer a game seller a certain price in cash but will pay slightly more in store credit.
Last Friday afternoon found Cole Friend, 8, visiting the store with his mother, Stacey, because he wanted to buy a used Wii, which Marki sells for $69.
Marki patiently explained how much Cole’s Nintendo GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2 were worth as a trade-in, and Stacey Friend said her son will have to do extra chores for the $11 he needs to buy the Wii.
Cole’s brother, Sam, 12, spends hours in the game room, where consoles and 22-inch, high-def monitors line the walls.
“I love the fact that they can come and play and there’s supervision,” Stacey Friend said.
If the game room has a crowd, he orders pizza and pop, and he plans to offer tutoring services and set up a study area.
Marki still has a day job as a patient transporter and dispatcher for Erie County Medical Center. Meb’s Games has no other employees, though the store’s six volunteers include the boyfriend of one of his daughters.
Marki has to contend with the Internet, though he sells games at www.mebsgames.com. And Oogie Games has four area stores, but he said competition doesn’t worry him.
As he turned on the Super Mario Brothers arcade game, it was clear Marki was right where he wanted to be.
“As soon as that starts,” Marki said of the game’s familiar music, “it brings you back.”