On the 28th of September, the southwestern part of Florida was hit by Hurricane Ian. This storm was a massive Category 4 storm (two miles below Category 5 at its peak) that absolutely wrecked the entirety of Southwest Florida. Seriously. This storm has done immense damage that we’re still recovering from. Whole communities have simply been wiped off the map. Fort Myers Beach is a memory right now. Sanibel Island is uninhabitable. There are parts of SWFL that still look like a bomb went off, nearly two weeks later.
I work as a video editor for a local news station. I’ve been working non-stop since the storm hit, moving from our station to the local university’s broadcast building, back to our station, working 12+ hour days providing the public of Southwest Florida information about what to do during the storm and the aftermath.
I’m okay. My apartment is fine - one of the few areas to not get catastrophic damage. Unfortunately, one place that did get damaged beyond repair is 8-Bit Hall of Fame, a retro game store in Bonita Springs, Florida.
8-Bit was a store that was owned by Jason Crosser, formerly a teacher for one of the local county school districts. He grew up with video games, like so very many of us. In 2014, he decided to give his notice to the school district and follow one of his dreams - to own a retro game store. Lemme tell ya, 8-Bit lived up to its name as a hall of fame. This place had basically everything you could ever dream of. Looking for NES games? He had tons of them. Sega Master System? Ooh yeah. Tiger Game.Com? Yeah. Even stuff like that. He carried retro, modern, imports… He even had some arcade and pinball machines at different times. The stock of the store was ever-changing, full of countless games and consoles that you’d be hard-pressed to find in some company archives, let alone at other game stores.
^ The above video is a brief tour of the store from around the time it opened, but the store evolved quite a bit over the years.
Over the last 8 years or so, I frequented 8-Bit roughly every month or so, maybe a little more in some cases. Jason would post new stock daily on his Facebook page, and much of what he posted would be sold within a day or two. I distinctly remember barreling down US 41 to get to his store before some items sold. Sometimes I’d be lucky, other times I’d be too late. Jason’s customer base was far and wide - mostly locals, but also tons of people from outside of Florida and even outside the United States. I definitely spent a lot of cash there on some amazing stuff, but there were a few customers who would fly in from outside the US, head specifically to 8-Bit, and buy out significant amounts of games and consoles simply because they couldn’t get the stuff anywhere else for a decent price. I can’t compete with that, though I definitely tried.
I’ve got a lot of awesome memories of hanging out at 8-Bit. Jason is an amazing dude. He has an amazing attention to detail with his stock, and he never carried stuff like reproduction cartridges. That’s kind of become a rampant issue in the retro gaming community, and Jason would have none of it. A few customers would try and pull a fast one on him by trying to pass off repros as legit games. They always got a swift booting from the store. Jason knew to check high-value games by opening the cartridges up and making sure it wasn’t a hack-job inside. If you happened to buy a copy of Earthbound or Ducktales 2 from him, he made sure it was legit. You could buy with absolute confidence. His prices were reasonable, usually undercutting eBay or other sources. He also gave fantastic trade-in credit, usually about half of what he’d sell something for. That’s a way better value than other stores would give you. I don’t normally like trading in games because you never seem to get enough, but trading to 8-Bit was a pleasant experience that allowed me to own some games that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. As the ultimate example, I was lucky enough to buy this Game Boy kiosk from him a few years ago:
That kiosk is literally the holy grail of my collection. I always wanted one ever since I played Wario Land on one of these kiosks in my local Toys R Us back in the early 1990s. It outputs the Game Boy's video to a black-and-white screen, with a green filter over it to imitate the original Game Boy's green tinted screen. These kiosks are in pretty short supply since most of them were probably destroyed or sent back to Nintendo after the Game Boy's heyday, so i'm honored and ecstatic to own this beautiful piece of gaming history. Fun fact: I paid for this baby in store credit. No cash exchanged hands.
Jason usually posted new finds on his Facebook page, and just browsing you can see the sheer amount of stuff he had in his store at any given moment.
Hurricane Ian is probably going to go down in history as one of the most powerful storms to hit Southwest Florida in over a century. We're still rebuilding and recovering, and we will be for a while. 8-Bit Hall of Fame was, unfortunately, one of the casualties of the hurricane's destruction. There's a video on the FB page that shows just how high the flooding got - you can't even see the roof of the store. It looked like the goddamn ocean. Every single item in the store was damaged beyond repair. See all of those beautiful games that Jason posted pictures of? If it wasn't sold before the hurricane it, it's gone. If it didn't wash away, it got ruined by the sheer amount of storm surge. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, several people said that they've found random games a mile in any direction from the store. The storm surge was that immense. Some of that stock is literally irreplaceale. I'd guess that it would take years for Jason to rebuild to the same level that it was at before Ian hit.
So, what's next? Southwest Florida is barely beginning to rebuild. Hurricane Ian destroyed so much of what made this area great, but the locals are planning to rebuild as much as they can. As for 8-Bit itself, it's hard to say. I don't really want to put words in Jason's mouth, but honestly I have no clue if he's even going to try and rebuild. Remember, this wasn't a break-in or some sort of freak accident, this was a natural disaster that can and probably will happen again. I wouldn't blame Jason for a second if he decides to not re-open. That said, I really hope he does. I just don't know.
8-Bit Hall of Fame was an iconic place in Southwest Florida. Hell, one of my best friends kicked off his bachelor party at the store just a few months ago. I have purchased some amazing stuff there over the years. The store's destruction is a massive, massive blow to anyone who enjoyed video games in the area. I'll certainly never forget the sheer joy and memories that I've gathered at the store, and I'll hold on to my collection a little bit tighter because of it.
There is a GoFundMe that exists for the store. The owner didn't create it, as Jason doesn't normally like hand-outs. The page was created by a fan from the Ft. Lauderdale area, someone who loved the store and the owner so much that he went out of his way to go there. That's some dedication, right there.
Game stores come and go all the time for different reasons. Maybe they just couldn't get a foothold in their community, maybe they couldn't afford the costs of leasing a building. Some places just fail because they aren't great. 8-Bit wasn't such a place. Had this storm not barreled through Florida and wrecked everything in its path, 8-Bit would still be there, and we'd be better off. Instead, it's gone, and I don't know if the store will come back.
Man, that sucks. I'm gonna miss it. I'm gonna miss it a lot.
If you happen to have your own local game store, be sure to cherish it. Do what you can to support them if you have the ability to do so. You never know what will happen tomorrow.