By BOB SMITH
Kitsap News Group
PORT ORCHARD — It wouldn’t be a stretch to confuse Port Orchard’s newest video gaming and collectibles store with a teenager’s hangout space in heaven.
Inside the store, there are showcases filled with both vintage and current video games. There are shelves lined with unopened toy kits that were sold only in the 1980s. And, undeniably and in every corner of the store on Mile Hill Drive, there are all things Star Wars, past, present and, of course, from the future (apparently from a galaxy far, far away).
It takes a fanboy of galactical hardware and collectibles to amass these pop culture oddities and place them into a 1,400-square-foot space next door to Albertsons.
Not surprisingly, that’s who owns Back in Time Gaming II, open since November. Ben Ramirez is definitely a gaming aficionado of the third kind, having been enraptured by toys, games and comics since he was a child.
But the Port Orchard store isn’t his first foray into retail store ownership. He opened the original Back in Time store in Bremerton a little more than three years ago upon retirement from the Navy.
The family man has a brood of boys and a wife who, like it or not, are face-first most of the time helping sort toys, games and collectibles.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he said of his life as a civilian, Ramirez said as he took a break from negotiating a sales price with a customer who had a small collection of video game cartridges to sell.
“We’d been collecting things for years and wanted to make it into a business,” he said.
But when an opportunity to open a store in Bremerton arose, they hesitated before ultimately taking the plunge.
“We always told the kids to take a risk, so why not us?”
So far, the risk has paid off — enough so that the couple began looking for another location. Port Orchard, it turns out, was a perfect landing place.
“We had a lot of customers from Port Orchard who would travel to our Bremerton store,” Ramirez said.
“There really isn’t a lot for kids to do here,” he said, which has prompted a steady stream of youthful customers to visit the new location at 1456 Olney Ave. and Mile Hill Drive.
While the store’s inventory is eye candy for those in the teenage category, Ramirez said their customer base encompasses every demographic group. “There’s no typical customer age range. I have an 8-year-old boy who collects vintage GI Joe items.”
It’s easy to see why customers continue to trek to the store. It provides a sensory overload as they walk into the store and step onto its red carpet entry.
Near the front, an 8-foot-by-3-foot plastic floating aircraft carrier replica of the USS Flagg is attached to the wall, easily capturing their attention. The vintage G.I. Joe behemoth was sold in toy stores in the ’80s and is highly valued in collectors’ circles. Some models in pristine condition sell for thousands, he said.
In back of the store sits a replicated Yoda, the wise and powerful Jedi Master, staring quizzically at visitors.
The affable business owner says his commercial venture has offered a few surprises. “It’s been a shock to learn how much we mean to our customers,” he said. “We don’t just make customers, we make friends while doing this.”
The shop also offers live-action gaming fun. Back In The Game II has exclusive territorial rights to conduct Friday evening PLAYlive premium gaming tournaments on site. Ramirez said it draws as many as 16 people to partake in the fun.
And soon, he has plans to also make the site a meeting place for the Phil Dunphys of Kitsap County — magicians and aspiring apprentices. The store owner, naturally, is a magician himself and hopes to begin selling magician supplies there.