Malls are dying.
Malls are a relic of the 1980s.
Malls are a waste of real estate that are going the way of Blockbuster and Circuit City.
You’ve heard it all before.
While Rolling Oaks Mall in San Antonio has suffered two body blows, losing Macy’s and Sears, they took on the “Rocky” persona and answered the bell for the next round. Their secret weapon?
The Geeks of South Texas.
Within the past few months, new stores have joined the growing Geek community of the nearly 900,000 sq ft mall on the north side of the 2nd largest city (population) in Texas. Beyond the brick and mortar, there is a series of shows and events lining the halls to appeal to everyone that crosses the threshold. The mall’s general manager, Ruffin Moore, promises more is on the way. I’ll get more into that after giving you a taste of what each store has to offer.
We kick off our coverage by talking about this hub for all things geek. Originally in a smaller space, the owner decided to expand not only to a bigger space, but his inventory as well. He did this during the height of the pandemic.
Yeah, that’s gutsy.
“The challenges were staggering and I know I lost hair over it,” Ray explained. “The decision to expand is just a response to our continuing customer growth rate. We sought a larger storefront and the opportunity was presented to us by Rolling Oaks Mall and we couldn’t pass it up.”
Selling comics, art, and figures is one thing. But Ray kicked things up a notch by opening a gaming lounge that would impress any avid computer gamer.
“The desktops are sponsored by Texas Gaming Empire through Alienware. Each PC boasts a Ryzen 9 with 3090’s. Each have 32 gigs of ram, are water cooled, and have 4k monitors for the best gaming experience.”
The experience working in the mall and with mall management has been nothing but a positive experience. The leadership showcases innovative thinking, pivoting during a global crisis.
“The relationship at Rolling Oaks Mall has been an amazing adventure! They are super supportive of tenants and are very encouraging of thinking outside the box.”
Yes there are plenty of anime-related stores, but how many import products from Japan and are Japanese-owned? Animeland boasts a variety of products to consume, wear, adorn your walls, and nurture your Asian soul.
Speaking with Eric, the manager of the Rolling Oaks Mall location, he described that particular location as “definitely unique” compared to other Animeland stores in San Antonio. “A lot of loyal customers, which is really nice. I see a lot of regulars.”
This store avoids the trends others get caught up with and enjoys giving a market to the more obscure and harder to find items. “Our posters are $10 a pop, 3 for $25, and we love obscure anime. They’re all over and we sell more of those than other stores.”
One of the veterans of the mall, they have moved twice, but enjoyed seven years of doing business at Rolling Oaks. “There is more of a community feel around here. You can feel it when you walk around.”
Warhammer 40k? Star Wars Legion? Age of Sigmar? No matter what tabletop game you’re rockin’, this store has what you’re looking for. But, wait, you wanted more? How about free tables, a painting/repair station, and did someone mention local craft brews?
Yes gamers, you’re home.
Speaking to owner Jazz Broome, he glowed about how the community has reacted to their store opening in the past six months. “We are far exceeding expectations. I have new friends, regular gaming groups are forming, people are calling this their home away from home, which we love.”
There are more than a few gaming stores in San Antonio and each has their own look and feel. “You should feel the personality of the owner in the store. The store should feel like their owner. We wanted to build a community first and the sales portion second. That’s our personality. We wanted ‘Cheers’ but with board games.”
Looking around at the expansive inventory, including figures, paints, and games, my eyes wandered towards the bar area once he mentioned “Cheers”.
“I’m definitely the Woody Harrelson character,” Jazz chuckled. “The ‘Pub’ part of our name came together. We don’t do wine or hard alcohol, but the idea is that this is how we enjoyed games at home. It was social interaction with friends, but with a cold drink. It’s local craft beer.”
As far as malls dying, Jazz scoffed at the idea. “New people are flocking in. The mall’s leadership is trying to bring in more stores that offer an experience. They want to hit that niche market. The convention scene that’s popping up is transforming the mall and the management is very supportive of that.”
Who says it has to be October to enjoy all things Halloween?
Moving up from the Wonderland Mall, this store is truly unique to Rolling Oaks Mall in that it offers up products from the horror side of Geekdom. Halloween related furniture, dishes, cups, figures, movies, decorations, you can find it all here. Speaking to owner Lori Gonzales, she is one of the newer tenants having opened up in the past three or four weeks.
“It was exhausting because we had to open this bigger location and prepare for the ‘Halfway to Halloween’ event at almost the same time. But the mall has been very helpful and supportive of us. With this bigger space I can bring in more home decor items, more furniture, this is exciting.”
The walls were adorned with Halloween items, but she says it’s the people and other tenants that have made a difference.
“I miss the family we had at the old mall, but we’re settling in here and everyone has made us feel very comfortable. The foot traffic has been impressive. There’s a sense of “oh my God, we’re so glad you are here” from people. Our shows are inspiring others like Joseph (Wizard Music) who is opening up a haunted house soon.
Being a fan of Halloween myself, my jaw dropped when I walked through the location. You could find nearly anything from apparel to wall decorations to food items. While an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” played on a TV, I felt transported to a time when trick-or-treating (and cooler temperatures) filled my days.
Legos got their start in 1932 and have grown into an $8 billion business in 2021. The not-so-little slice of this massive product at Rolling Oaks Mall boasts a staggering display of figures, sets, bricks, and even a birthday party area.
Speaking with Krystle Zwoll, the opening of this location seemed destined to happen.
“We opened in November of last year, and it was fate. One of the mall managers was walking around our store in Pennsylvania and I told him I’d love to open a store in Texas. He said he owned Rolling Oaks Mall and I said that was exactly where I wanted to go.”
The store is wall to wall Legos with Star Wars leading the way in popularity. The number of ships, playsets, locations, and figures clutching lightsabers dominates the display cases.
“Star Wars Legos fly out of here. Marvel and DC are good too, Muppets and Simpsons, but Star Wars is always in big demand.”
With several locations (including Andy’s Brick Shop), Rolling Oaks Mall holds a special appeal to her.
“It’s really fun to have a new type of mall that focuses on things like that. If you’re into shoes, we got it, wrestling we got it, racing we got it, this isn’t just big box stores. We have awesome events here every month. We try to pair something in the store with the events.”
Want something for just about everyone to get excited about? RC Racing has fired imaginations for decade after decade, but Radio Control Headquarters has gone three-dimensional and added drone racing in their store as well.
Oh yeah, they went airborne.
Sitting down with Robbie Allen, he outlined what got them through the pandemic.
“We opened just before all that got started, just around 2019. It was actually good for hobby stores. We made an experience store, not just a hobby store. We didn’t promote, we didn’t talk about all this, we just let people experience this on their own.”
Planes, boats, trains, models, custom modifications, you can find it everywhere and it doesn’t come close to breaking the bank.
“Things like this used to be crazy expensive. But now I can watch people enjoy themselves. It’s very satisfying; it gives people a lot to look forward to and provides that escape and create lasting friendships in the RC community. You could spend $2000 or $3000 easy, back with the old store. Now you can have a racer, a competitive racer, for $200.”
He explained that it was the vision of Rolling Oaks Mall leadership that enabled them to experience this success.
“We tried to get into a mall, any mall, for about five years with no luck. I made one phone call here and literally within a couple of days we were here. The general manager is very tuned into their tenants. We’re all tuned into each other. The Lego guys come over to build cars and we go over there to build Lego sets.”
You can see more about the racing on their YouTube channel. RCHQ events can be seen every Wednesday and Saturday.
It’s no secret that video game soundtracks, quite simply, rock.
The owner of Wizard Music, Joseph Devine, not only formed his love for this music into the band “Bitfest”, he expanded on that by opening his store at Rolling Oaks Mall on September 1 in 2020 when the pandemic was just starting to really take effect.
“There were no shows, nothing. My life revolves around events but I wasn’t the only one hurting. I opened the studio after helping Ray with his Kids Camp back in May or June. The space was just an empty shell at the time. I figured all this would blow over, right? The pandemic wasn’t really that bad at the time. But we opened anyway and we’ve been fortunate. Schools were closing, not doing music lessons, so they came to us.”
Being a fan of classic soundtracks myself such as “Ninja Gaiden”, “Castlevania”, and “Legend of Zelda”, I enjoyed that he was able to integrate that into the core of Wizard Music. Each student can express themselves based on their love of music and move at their pace.
“Every single student is different, right? Some are on the spectrum. So we tailor the curriculum to what they want and need. We’re unique in that it’s never the same for each student.”
His go to, old school, soundtrack? Mega Man 2.
“It’s just so Power Metal. If I want to go for a run or do some Rocky motivation that’s it. Either that or all the “Ocarina of Time” tracks. So many amazing hits on that, especially if I want to vibe and chill.”
Joseph echoed the sentiments of other tenants in that Rolling Oaks Mall is creating experiences, not just a place to shop.
“You can buy just about anything online. But here? We have live music outside, you can do online gaming with Ray, go race cars, play tabletop with friends. We’re one family here and you can do so much here besides shop. The mall management knows people want more than just shopping and they are creating those experiences.”
Running a mall in the 21st century can’t be easy. Ruffin Moore, the general manager for Rolling Oaks Mall, sat down with me for a bit to talk about the state of things and this Great Geek Revival.
GNN: A large number of vendors we spoke to gushed about the mall and mall leadership. What does this tell you about your approach in dealing with them?
Ruffin Moore: First, that’s very nice to hear and means a lot to us. Our leasing representative, Margo Saldana and I are always available. We try to be responsive and ‘on call’ at all times. Our entire staff has that attitude. We view our tenants as partners and I think they appreciate that.
GNN: Talk about this “Geek Revival” at the mall. Shopping malls are allegedly “dying” but this growth seems to not only buck that trend, but do so with a new customer base.
RM: Four years ago our mission was to find unique stores and to increase events. We always wanted a music studio, an art studio, a comic book store. Current tenants have been a big part of finding those. For example, Ray at Lvl up! has really been pivotal. He started here as a small Art Studio. He’s expanded his business tremendously but also referred to us a couple of other key tenants. Joseph over at Wizard Music Studio is the best example. We wanted to diversify our tenancy with stores who would host events. Radio Control Headquarters has ongoing events, at least 10 events per month. We love that. It helps everyone.
GNN: What future plans are in the works for the mall?
RM: We will continue searching for unique stores. That is job one. We would love to have a record store/music memorabilia/type store. We’re currently working with a gentleman who wants to do some pickleball courts. We’re even targeting a couple of sports bars and grills.
A list of upcoming events at the mall for local Texans to enjoy?
Frida Fest July 9-10
Christmas in July July 16
Musical Arts Center of San Antonio July 24
Hidden Leaf Fest presented by Lvl UP! August 6 – 7
Scifi Fest August 13-14
Art Smash August 20
MS Bike Ride October 1
Haunted House opens October 1
Light in the Dark Encounter/ Artist Night Out Oct 8
Dio De Los Muertos Market Oct 15
Zombie Fest Oct 27
India Fest Oct 29
Crumpus Fest Nov 5
Concha Throwdown Nov 19
Comic Fest Nov 26
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