Q&A: Inside San Jose’s secret vault of video game nostalgia

Q&A: Inside San Jose’s secret vault of video game nostalgia

In the basement of an ordinary-looking computer repair shop in downtown San Jose sits a Library of Congress worth of video games, vintage consoles and assorted memorabilia.

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Okay, it doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance of the country’s oldest federal institution. But Gameshop Downstairs on East Santa Clara Street has its own niche as a cultural curator, offering a portal into digital entertainment’s past.

“I think we’ve really gotten to a point where we can sort of look at older tech like an art style rather than obsolete,” said Anthony Guarino, who runs the vintage video game and collectibles store Gamestop Downstairs along with his wife Hannah Yo. “Just like charcoal isn’t obsolete now that we have iPads.”

Anthony Guarino, co-owner of Gameshop Downstairs, stocks a wall of vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja figurines at his store in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

The couple oversees a massive collection of all things nerdy: modified Nintendo Game Boys, comic books, every video game you could wish for, action figurines, manga books, a life-sized Power Ranger and a wall of VHS movies. We descended into the depths of Gameshop Downstairs with Guarino to talk about the local San Jose connections to old-style video games, why he doesn’t collect VR headsets and how he got a 1,000-pound arcade console down the stairs of the shop.

Q Have you always been into video games?

A I never really considered myself to be a gamer specifically. I always really liked tinkering with stuff. I say I’m more of an artistically oriented person–and to me, video games are really just a combination of art and technology. So we really like to look at it in that light. Growing up, I had a younger brother so we played mostly racing games and stuff like that. Mario Kart, of course. And then PlayStation 2.

Q I heard something as we entered the store. What was that?

A Oh, yeah, that (sound) was (a speaker saying) “welcome” in Korean. My wife is Korean and so when people first enter the store, that’s what they hear.

Q You have a heck of a lot of VHS tapes for sale. Where’d you get all of these?

Anthony Guarino, co-owner of Gameshop Downstairs, shows off vintage Pokemon cards on sale at his store in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

A I obtained an entire storage unit that was a mom-and-pop video store (from) the year 2000 that had gone under and then it had remained dormant for like 20 years. So, the entire floor of the store here (last year) was filled up with 100 file boxes of 40 tapes each. It took us about a month to sort through everything in terms of genre and we have a lot of great stuff, kung fu, horror movies, sci-fi. (There were) a lot of Betamax tapes. This was a format that sort of died off early. It was a competitor to VHS.

Q What do people come in here for the most?

A (The) Game Boy, Game Boy Advance…every day we have people asking for the Pokemon games. I can’t keep those on the shelf. Game Boys were really the first ones that you could easily take around and, you know, the first portable games. Before that was mostly like those Tiger Electronics, sort of little mini-game things.

Q Do you ever sell virtual reality stuff?

A I don’t like to take those in used because they’re usually pre-sweated in.

Anthony Guarino, co-owner of Gameshop Downstairs, shows off a 1970’s-era Atari 2600 video game console at his store in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Q You even have an arcade game in here?

A A lot of people ask me if this is for sale. It was the hugest pain to get it down the stairs. It took me and a sumo wrestler to get it down.

Q A sumo wrestler?

A Luckily, I know a guy.


Age: 31

The most unusual thing in Gameshop Downstairs: Panasonic’s 3DO, a console that Guarino says was ahead of its time for its three-dimensional graphics in the early 1990s. (It flopped, unfortunately.)

Local connection to Silicon Valley: Guarino has consoles and computers from Atari, Namco and Apple, companies that all have connections to the South Bay.

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The oldest thing in Anthony’s entire shop is a 1970s-era console from Atari. He said middle school students who are interested in STEM like to purchase them.
Anthony has been overseeing the shop since 2017. Before that, he was selling modified Game Boys and making pop art from spray paint — and has one of his pieces of Godzilla hanging up in the shop.
Anthony is a native of San Jose and went to SJSU for music education.
Lots of former techies from companies like Atari or Sony like to drop stuff off in the store.
Anthony loves repairing old VHS players — and said the tech is making a comeback.