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  • Courtney Jette

Sunken but Not Sinking

April, 2020

If that title isn’t a massive tip-off to the shop I’m going to tell you about, then maybe you’ve never heard of this little spot tucked away in the Richland Uptown. As with a lot of shops in that complex, they can go unnoticed by people who don’t specialize in what they offer. Sunken Treasures has been a Richland staple for 9 years. If your intrigued by the name, you’ll be even more by Sarah Cherney, the owner and operator. Sunken Treasures is a video game shop specializing in retro games and systems, and is now branching out to card games, specialized merchandise, and all sorts of fan-favorite products for any type of game! I step into ST and hear the crunch of dead leaves under my feet. No one has been in and out of Treasures in a few months, and the broken weather seal around its door has been letting in other things for far longer than the pandemic. Cherny is happy to greet me, and we fall right into upbeat conversation, and I forget all about wondering why the landlord hasnt fixed that door.

“Gamers are one thing; Twitch and YouTube have made gamers one thing, but I don’t feel like the definition ‘gamer’ is someone who plays games all day. Like any one that plays anything, even it is just your grandma who plays sudoku on her tablet, she is a gamer. Or you know, your mom who plays Pacman, she’s a gamer!!”

Can you recall a game you played as a kid? No matter how obscure, she may actually have it and a handful of other items from that same system.

“I love all my retro games. I love them. I have some crazy, rare cartridges right now.”

I wander around, and I always see something I’ve not seen before, a rare game, a weird foreign game system… it’s always a fun place. If it isn’t obvious, I’ve been in the shop before; so, I’m aware there’s a back room. It is typically filled with people there for video gaming tournaments, and I have never actually been in it.

So, I peeked in the room, and was surprised to find a mini arcade!

All the machines are off, and the screens are black. It was a weird moment, reminding me why that was and why I was there, standing in Treasures.

Cherney who recently took over full ownership of the store, is on a successful business route.

She has brought in a broad spectrum of new products from around the world, expanding her stock, and adapting to this strange and worrisome time by building an online store for Sunken Treasures. And she is expecting to have that up and running in a week or so. If you’ve been in the shop, then you’ll understand this is huge for a store like ST, because online their reach will be so extensive. It may be that the online demand for their products is more than they can keep up with. I can only hope that’s the case.

“I could just be online and do conventions and shows. That isn’t that fun for me, I like the people. You just lose out on the community. She pauses, “I just…”, she pauses again, and you can tell she loves her community. As if we don’t already know what most small businesses are worried about right now, I got to ask her a few questions about how this shutdown is affecting her and her store. *Did you have to let all your staff go?

“Luckily for the people I hired, this is their second job. I haven’t fired anyone; they just don’t have any hours right now. Thankfully, they are working fulltime at their other jobs. I am so thankful that they are all good. I would have felt so bad. Their income isn’t dependent on me.” “Which makes me feel so bad for the other businesses that had to let people go or where people’s income does depend on them,” she sighs. “I wish there was some way that I could help them,” she laughs. “But I have no money, either.”

She thinks people could also help by: “Getting people’s names out there. It is so important, like on social media. If you don’t have money, share people’s stuff, like and share.”

Right there, that’s what you can do, and it’s free. In a weird time where certain groups of people have no monetary income, and others are being paid to sit at home, it’s tough for some people to spend to help. Many owners are facing hardship situations and heartbreaking scenarios; a common one is like hers. Her landlords are not giving anyone breaks.

“I don’t know… If I don’t have that money, I don’t have that money. They could get a lot more money for my spot. I have a long lease and if I was gone, they could get someone in here, not quite double the rent, but a lot more than what I’m paying." “So, I’m,” she holds her hands up a bit … (holding her breath). Well, I’m holding my breath like I’m down on the bottom with that treasure too; in a situation where your landlords would greatly benefit from you having to close shop, it seems covid is just another “opportunity” for some people.

“Five years ago, not having an income for two weeks would have put us under. So, the fact that I have been able to remain here; I am really proud of that.” She laughs, “The thing is opening back up when school starts, that makes a lot more sense. Maybe before then, I don’t know. But May 4th!!??” She laughs. “Seems very unrealistic. So, yeah…you know if I have to do something crazy, like close this place, I don’t want to do that, but if I had to be just online only, I can make it work. I’ve got a lot of people and a great support network. Despite this hard time, I honestly feel, like in some way, shape or form, I can make it through. If I don’t have a physical location for a while, fine. Fine, I’ll make a new one. I’ll come back. I am kind of stubborn. I am not going to let a virus get me down. I am going to figure this out and I am going to make it work.”

Staying at home has had to become a new normal for a lot of people, and Sarah has been adapting. She’s been enjoying her time at home during covid. It has been “glorious” because she always wanted to be a stay at home mom but was never able to.

“But I got to be that last month, and it is super fun. I am kind of ready to go back to work, though.”

Ready to go back to work is something I smile at because she has never stopped. She’s determined to sail through this in one way or another.

“Over the last year, I’ve seen exponential growth. I think it is because I’ve been working so hard at it. It’s just on me now. I am going to fail or succeed on my own. So that has been good motivation to do well.”

From branching out to things other than video games, including card games, action figures, dice, and other items, Sarah had been going full force until the shutdown crashed, bringing momentum to a screeching halt. Not only does she miss her community now, but I know the community would miss her if the shop permanently shuts its doors. She can remember 14 or 15 years ago, while working at another game store, seeing kids come in that are now adults. And she has even hired a few of them in her store.

“I can remember them being little kids and buying games from me. These are people I watched grow up. I wouldn’t see them for a few years and the next thing you now they have graduated high school. I didn’t realize how many people’s lives I had touched until people coming back for Christmas were like, ‘I haven’t been in for a few years or since you opened, but I remember you from this other shop.’ And I’m like, you were a young kid!”

They really love her shop and coming back to support her. It is really cool.

“It is cool that I’ve been able to watch so many people grow and be in the community for as long as I have been. I know how I feel about me not being here, but how other people would be affected by it, I don’t know. I’d like to think that…” She paused, and we both reflected, in the silence.

She may not be sure, but I am. The Tri-Cities will have a huge hole in it if ST is sunk for good.

“The number of messages I get on Facebook. There have been people reaching out to me that I haven’t spoken to in a while.”

People from different communities have reached out to her, such as serious collectors who prefer not to consign their items, and people she doesn’t often do business with. They’ve reached out to say, ‘How are you doing, are you doing stuff on FB? There are a few people we can talk to if you want some resources to sell on line.’ She says, “That is legitimately, really cool. I haven’t done business with him in three or four years and he went out of his way for me. Just like Stephen, another owner at the Uptown went out of his way to help me.”

That’s all I have, right here. It sinks down to this one treasure, community. Sarah didn’t actually reach out to me about her shop, another Uptown owner did. And I know he would do it even if the shutdown wasn’t happening, because good people aren’t just good during crises. He insisted her shop needed a highlight more than his. But I’m definitely going to tell you to visit another amazing member of Uptown: Stephen, at the phone repair shop, just around the

corner from this treasure. Hopefully neither are sunk just yet. When you look at how far this shop has come and how far Sarah has brought it in the last year, even I feel proud of her and her accomplishments. And not only do you have your customers’ support Sarah, you have mine, and my respect for operating a game shop for 9 years! That right there is a true accomplishment. So, stay proud; I have faith you aren’t going down with the treasure and you won’t be sinking anytime soon.

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