By Jose Mujica
June 18, 2018
Wilder Hamm loves video games. That much is clear as soon as you step foot in Save Point Video Games near UNCC. Arcade machines greet you as soon as you step in the door, a few occupied by some determined kids lost in concentration. Artistic reimaginings of childhood heroes look down upon their fans as customers peruse the carefully organized shelves of video games around the store. Unlike other game stores who only cater to the latest trends and current consoles in gaming, Save Point and its founder, Hamm, showcase a deep appreciation for retro gaming. Most of the floorspace is taken up by NES, SNES, original Playstation and other games of generations long past. It is perhaps the only video game store in Charlotte where a parent would be more familiar with the stock than their child. It’s in this niche intersection of arcade, video game store and collector’s memorabilia shop that Save Point Video Games exists and distinguishes itself today.
Originally from Raleigh, Hamm’s gaming passion ignited when he was gifted his first Nintendo console at six years old. He remembers perusing and collecting games at a local mom-and-pop trade store, Buy-Rite, and dreaming of owning his own video game store one day. When asked why he originally moved to Charlotte, Hamm chuckled and admitted it was for a girl and, despite it not turning out as planned, he wound up finding his crowd and grew fond of the Queen City: “It’s like Raleigh but bigger, with more things to do.” Even before he opened the store, he was an avid collector of retro video games and regularly scoured Craigslist and other internet sites in search of good deals. He recalled how much easier it was back then, when “you could find a lot of good deals. Nowadays, even on Craigslist, everyone wants retail price.” Hamm began doing this hustle full-time, sold most of his video game collection and was eventually able to save up enough money to open Save Point Video Games in October 2012. He laughed at how barebones the operation was at the start, “If you go back on our Facebook, you can probably find the pictures of our first day with, like, eleven games on the shelf.” A stark contrast from the buzzing and vibrant establishment seen today.
A 2013 interview with WinLossGaming on Youtube provides a window into Hamm’s mindset as he talked about his then nascent enterprise. “Appealing to the community of gamers is really the most important thing that we do here,” and that’s putting it lightly. Since its founding, Save Point has hosted over 200 competitive gaming tournaments, one a week for four years straight. Classic competitive games such as Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart were regular titles at these tournaments, though Hamm also tried to incorporate newer and more obscure titles in the field. The winners would receive $25 store credit and bragging rights. Eventually, after having the same champions emerge victorious on the same titles week after week, Save Point stopped hosting weekly tournaments and now hosts them less frequently but with bigger prizes. The last one being a Mario Kart tournament in conjunction with local arcade bar Abari, in which the winner was rewarded a Nintendo Switch. Hamm admitted that even though the tournaments never brought in much in the way of sales, simply bringing people with common interests together was incentive enough. Being able to provide opportunities for in-person friendships and rivalries to form allowed Save Point to stake their claim within in the Charlotte gaming community and was doubtlessly instrumental in building their base and name recognition during those fledgling years.
While it may have been the tournaments and college kids that allowed Save Point to build its name during those formative years, Hamm detailed the event that put Save Point in the national spotlight: the day they got their hands on the most expensive video game in existence, a boxed version of NES’ Stadium Games with the instruction manual. A lady had bought the ultra-rare game for $8 at a Goodwill and proceeded to bring it to Save Point to get it verified. Hamm valued the game around $10,000-$15,000. Unfortunately, Save Point wasn’t even half a year old at the time and didn’t have the funds available to purchase the game. But, before the lady left to go sell it on Ebay, Hamm asked to take a picture of the game which they then posted on their Facebook. The post took off on social media and eventually led to a Kotaku article chronicling the incident. The article went viral and catapulted Save Point into a new level of recognition nationally and across the web. Since then, others with copies of the game have sought the store out specifically because of that article to sell theirs.
The years that followed, 2013 and 2014, were Save Point’s best years. They had collectors come and trade in their console and game collections fairly regularly. They’d post pictures of their fresh hauls every morning on social media and would get hounded by avid collectors and enthusiasts begging for titles to be held for them. However, in recent years, the amount of big collections that came in and the frequency of such trade-ins seems to have slowed, presenting new dilemmas for the entrepreneur and his business model. If there are no longer many collectors willing to trade in their wares, then Hamm and Save Point must look for new ways to raise revenue and they’ve now set their sights on “fun-focused” tech companies like Google.
A new venture being developed by Hamm and Save Point, in conjunction with Zach Pulliam and Abari, aims to facilitate bringing old-school gaming fun to any company, campus or social organization. The days in which “Jeans Friday” or a birthday cake celebration are considered morale boosters are long gone. Many millennials and tech companies with a younger workforce would scoff at such concepts being taken seriously by employees. Instead Save Point offers a breakroom staffed with an arcade machine, an old school console and a TV with current consoles and the latest titles in order to provide workers with modern ways to relieve stress in their free time. A monthly subscription-based service, Hamm shows that even though his passion lies in decades-old retro games, he’s not afraid to look forward and face the future for new, innovative ways to help people fall in love with the past.
Save Point Video Games
8640 University City Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28213