The Penn Hills Game Exchange is a labor of love: The staff are all volunteers who can talk your ear off about your favorite games, and close a sale as well.
The unassuming store inhabits the first floor of a former house on Rodi Road. Lending nerd-legitimacy are walls covered with everything from Japanese Sega Saturn controllers to a poster for Chrono Trigger. While it's the only import video-game store this side of Allentown, the Game Exchange was conceived as an arcade. A second room is filled with pinball tables and standing arcade cabinets, with more planned pending renovations.
To Anna Hegedüs, who founded the Game Exchange (www.pennhillsgames.com) in February, the arcade atmosphere is crucial. Growing up in the 1990s, near Mercer, her local arcade was one of the few places her friends could escape middle-school cliques. She saw kids who could barely socialize light up in front of a Dance Dance Revolution cabinet.
As arcades got stereotyped as dens of iniquity, however, many towns made it harder to run coin-operated machines through taxes and other legislation. In fact, Hegedüs says, she met similar prejudices in various communities where she proposed starting the Game Exchange, before settling in Penn Hills.
The Game Exchange is open weekday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday. Hegedüs runs the arcade with an hour of free-play for a flat rate. It's not uncommon to walk in and see her tinkering with an arcade board on the counter, servicing or modifying it to work with a wall-projection setup. The stores does console modifications, too — simple tasks like getting an American SNES to play Japanese games, and unusual ones like making Atari 2600's video output compatable with modern televisions. Hegedüs, an IT consultant by day, says her first console mod, as a kid some 20 years ago, was adding LED lights to the inside of a Nintendo console, so she could see what game was inside.
Although the store attracts many hardcore import-gaming hobbyists, the staff always enjoy teaching newcomers each item's history, or looking up information on their big-screen computer monitor. The pricing on items for sale, and even on purchases from visitors, is based on average prices on eBay and similar sites — which staffers look up in right front of you.
"In the end, it makes us less money," Hegedüs admits, "but it's easier on my conscience."