Richard McWilliams has been collecting vintage video games, consoles and comics for the past three decades, creating a collection so massive, it took up quite a bit of space in his home. Until recently, that is, when he moved more than 80% of that collection to his new store, Blast From the Past.
"I filled the whole store and I still have more at home. I got to a point where I realized I'm going to bury and drown my family in this or open a hopefully successful business with it," says McWilliams, 34, who's been dropping by comic shops and video game stores around the world for years to acquire rare finds such as a 1977 "Sensational Spider-Man" Marvel Treasury Edition comic book or a 1992 Sega CD Model 1 Console. His first collectors’ item was a Nintendo gaming system, a gift from his mother when he was 5 years old. "I guess you could say that started it all," he says.
On a recent afternoon — a mere week after opening his shop on Main Street in Bay Shore specializing in collectibles from the '80s and '90s — McWilliams juggles a telephone interview as he mans the register and helps a steady flow of customers comb through buckets of comic books and tightly-packed shelves.
"That one's $100, but it's a really rare one in mint condition," he says to a customer looking for Superman comics from the '80s. "The comics are mixed in these boxes; all the boxes right here … Hi, sorry. It's been busy," he returns to the call. "I'm basically a one-man operation at this point with help from my wife."
PAST BECOMES PRESENT
McWilliams, who lives in Islip with his wife Christina and 18-month-old son Leonardo, wasn't discouraged from opening a business in a pandemic. After spending 10 years dreaming up the ideal scenario to open Blast From the Past, he priced out the location in August following the shuttering of other shops in the area.
"Like everybody, I was trying to figure out how to move forward in this new world," he says. "The collectibles market and demand for such has soared through the roof this entire year. As popular as it was prior, it's become even more so with people having more time on their hands."
The business opened in time for the holiday season, which, aside from pandemic-related demand, is what McWilliams also credits for the grand-opening rush. That's what brought in Breanne Wakefield, who's returned to the shop with her family a few times since its opening day.
"I came in for my son's birthday," says Wakefield, 34, of Bay Shore. "He loves the '80s toys, so I thought we would take him there and check it out." Her son, Justus, 9, left with two older Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures. She came back again after her daughter Selah, 6, won the store's recent cosplay contest dressed as Supergirl, and then returned to stock up for her children's holiday gifts.
"It's a really unique store, and during these times more than ever, I want to support the small businesses," Wakefield says. She isn't a collector herself, but notes, "obviously, my son is going to have a collection now" thanks to the rarities she's already stocked up on from Blast From the Past.
The shop's unique items include a $1,000 PlayStation 2 game Kuon ("I've only seen two copies in my life," McWilliams says), a 1980 Golden Dream Christie Barbie, a 1984 Fireball Island board game, a 1938 Action Comics No.1 reprint and a 1990 NEC TurboExpress handheld gaming system.
Wakefield adds what he feels sets Blast From the Past apart from other toy stores is its combination of merchandise. Aside from video games, the store also sells comic books (most priced between $2 and $3), action figures, toys, board games, DVDs, VHS tapes, laserdiscs and more. Seller's consultations are also available.
"If you want to find a lot of stuff like this, you have to cover a lot of ground," McWilliams says. "I'd hunt down in stores and look for anything I'd think was really rare. When we were able to travel, I'd look for things in Bermuda, Puerto Rico, pretty much anywhere. It's a never-ending addiction. Collecting on a mass scale is like an addiction you can't turn off."
LOCAL VIDEO GAME SHOPS
Consider browsing the shelves at some of Long Island's vintage video game shops:
Blast From the Past — 125 W. Main S.t, Bay Shore; 631-328-1693; blastfromthepastgames.com
Retro Games & Toys Of LI — 3041 Hempstead Tpke. Mezzanine Level, Levittown; 516-450-5357
GameOn Video Games Inc. — 270 W. Main St., Smithtown; 631-656-9797; 465 Route 25A, Miller Place; 631-821-4263; gameonmp.com