The storefront at 112 Court Square in Lincolnton has been home to several businesses over the years, but for Mike Payne, one of the owners of Game Swap, setting up shop in the heart of downtown meant coming full circle.
In the location where Off the Wall Comics used to be, and a place where he says he spent a good portion of his time, now stands a mecca for gamers, comic book lovers and anyone with a notion to track down the games and toys of their childhood.
A lifelong Star Wars and Godzilla fan and Lincoln County native, Payne was working third shift at Wal-Mart when he began trading and selling games, comics and memorabilia on a Facebook page he created — also called Game Swap —but it wasn’t until his father passed away in 2009 that he began to put some serious thought into starting his own business.
“I know it sounds cliché, but it was a life changing experience,” Payne said. “I had the idea for it, probably about a week after he passed. It actually started out, the idea that I had, to be strictly arcade and it kind of molded from that.”
After building up enough inventory and seeing the high traffic on the Facebook group, Payne made the decision to put in his two week notice.
“I was kind of daring myself,” Payne said. “There was no putting it off. Either it was going to work or it wasn’t. It was definitely a gamble. A calculated gamble.”
Game Swap first opened its doors in a little shop on North Aspen Street in June 2013, but because of the success of the business, it was less than a year later that Payne and his co-owner packed up the retro game consoles, old Star Wars memorabilia and boxes of comic books and took up residence next to Faustos and Ride-A-Bike on the court square. Game Swap, in its new location, opened its doors June 2, and the customers just keep coming.
“It went beyond our expectations,” Payne said. “We outgrew ourselves.”
Before Game Swap opened, members of the community with the varied interests that Game Swap caters to were relegated to driving to Hickory, Gastonia or Charlotte, and the prevalence of social media and the internet has helped to bring more people out of the woodwork when it comes to hobbies like gaming and comic book collecting. But Payne said the amount of people that are frequenting his store is no surprise.
“There’s a great community here,” he said. “There just needed to be something to bring everyone out and a place for them to go to.”
Among some of the more interesting items the store carries are original Ataris, rare games, even at one time an original firehouse toy from Ghostbusters. Browsing the shelves that line the walls, there is something that almost everyone will recognize from their childhood. During the weekends, Game Swap hosts free gaming tournaments, often times having to use their counter space because they run out of room at the long tables that stretch through the middle of the store. There are competitions that run the gamut from Halo to Mario Cart, even a Tetris play-off, which Payne said got pretty competitive.
Though the business is still young, it is doing well and drawing in varied crowds, even bikers during June’s Hog Happening. People of all ages have begun to stop into Game Swap, and Payne couldn’t be happier about it.
“We plan on being here as long as I’m able,” said Payne. “I love being in the heart of everything. It’s a wonderful spot.”