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Cashing in on '90s Nostalgia

A pizza joint and a video game store conjure up selling experiences from three decades ago

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THE FINAL 10 YEARS of the 20th century were “the last best American decade,” author/columnist Kurt Andersen wrote in a 2015 essay for The New York Times. From Nirvana to “Pulp Fiction” to “Seinfeld” and numerous other cultural touchpoints, Andersen says the 1990s “was simply the happiest decade of our American lifetimes.”

Such rosy-hued yearnings for those years are on prominent display at a pair of new retail outlets: the Nighthawk Brewery & Pizza in suburban Washington, D.C., and the first bricks-and-mortar store for Limited Run Games, a brand dedicated to video games and physical media.

This page: Much like The Max restaurant in “Saved by the Bell,” Nighthawk Brewery & Pizza features neon, eclectic patterns and bold graphics in its latest Arlington, Va., locale.

This page: Much like The Max restaurant in “Saved by the Bell,” Nighthawk Brewery & Pizza features neon, eclectic patterns and bold graphics in its latest Arlington, Va., locale.

Nighthawk Brewery & Pizza
Arlington, VA

Located in a former sports bar in the Pentagon Row Shopping Center in Arlington, Nighthawk is a beer hall/pizza joint. But converting that 9500-square-foot space into an environment that evoked the ’90s was anything but simple.

First, there was a major chasm between the layout of the previous tenant and Nighthawk’s space needs.

“Before the conversion, the space was divided between on-grade seating and raised areas, with half-height walls and railings,” says Megan Holden, Interior Designer/Innovator at architecture and design firm //3877 (Washington, D.C.). “To make the space work for Nighthawk, we had to completely re-orient the kitchen layout, as it was previously on a 45-degree angle that created non-functional spaces for future kitchen and brewery operations. In addition to increased operational efficiency, the rotation also allowed for increased seating.”

The brewery component of the business “was also a major challenge, because we had to raise the brewery floor for all of the drainage, rather than cutting through the floor,” Holden says. “Additionally, we had to integrate ramps into the space to orchestrate smooth deliveries in and out of the brewery.”

Once those infrastructure adjustments were made, //3877 set about creating an environment that pays homage to ’90s-era diner aesthetics. More specifically, the designers say, think of The Max restaurant, the local hangout for students of Bayside High in the “Saved by the Bell” TV series.

“Emphasizing bright colors and eclectic patterns offset by soft, Scandinavian-inspired neutral backdrops, Nighthawk Pizza packs a strong graphic punch and ushers visitors into a simpler bygone era,” says Holden.

This page: Through a mix of neon and 1990s-inspired “bowling alley” style carpet, digitally native Limited Run Games’ first brick-and-mortar store offers gamers and collectors a trip back in time.

This page: Through a mix of neon and 1990s-inspired “bowling alley” style carpet, digitally native Limited Run Games’ first brick-and-mortar store offers gamers and collectors a trip back in time.

Limited Run Retail
Cary, NC

Born as an online-only retailer in 2015, Limited Run Games (Raleigh, N.C.) works “to give worthwhile things another chance at life: physical games, music on vinyl and well-constructed books about electronic entertainment. We take stuff in danger of disappearing and bring it back to people in a realistic, sustainable way,” says Jared Petty, the company’s Senior Editor and Project Manager–Publications.

So, what prompted Limited Run Games to take a run at operating a physical store called Limited Run Retail (in Cary, a suburb of Raleigh)? The short answer: Covid.

“This is a weird transition,” says CEO Josh Fairhurst, “but the pandemic hit me hard early on and made me feel more disconnected from other people than I’d ever felt in my life. I thought about how I could fix that, and I kept coming back to this idea of opening a physical store so I’d have a chance to connect with enthusiastic Limited Run fans. It’d help kill my feelings of isolation, and it’d scratch my lifelong itch to own a store.”

Pizza Joint, Video Game Store Cash in on ’90s Nostalgia

As for what the store should look like, Fairhurst and his team drew inspiration from former industry giant Toys “R” Us, which at its peak in the 1990s had 1400 stores and controlled a whopping 25 percent of the global toy market.

“When I was young, I remember the aisles at Toys ‘R’ Us just overflowing with merchandise and shelves packed to the brim,” he says.

In addition to emulating that stuffed-to-the-rafters approach, Fairhurst incorporated variations on some classic visual merchandising strategies from several other retailers, including neon lights on the store’s periphery (Target) and a video wall (Nordstrom). As for the floor, the space is outfitted with carpeting that LRG officials describe as “straight out of a ’90s-era bowling alley.”

The overall result, says Petty, is just what they hoped for: “It’s an authentic time machine to the golden era of gaming and toy stores.”

Want to know more? Check out VMSD’s exclusive interview with CEO Josh Fairhurst on pg. 46.

PHOTO GALLERY (32 IMAGES)
Clarence Butts, Rockville, MD | Courtesy of Limited Run Games

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