By Casey Flanagan Tribune Staff Writer

Game Zone owner Jo Ann Mazak holds little Chandler Roof, a second-generation fan of the closing store. (Courtesy of Cheryl Smerekar)

It’s “game over” for a popular Gilbert video game store whose Mesa owner is retiring after 25 years of serving East Valley’s gaming community.  

Owner Jo Ann Mazak said she is closing Game Zone, a family business, in part because “I’ve been working by myself for quite a while, and with Amazon and the virus, I couldn’t hire employees right now.” 

 She also said it is simply “time for me to retire.” 

Mazak opened the game store with her husband and son back in 1996, “when the Nintendo 64’s came out.”   

“My husband and son were there every day and I just helped out at that time,” said Mazak, who has been running the shop herself since her husband and son both passed away about 10 years ago.

Game Zone mostly sold older video games and accessories.  

“The old ones really sell, like the first Nintendo 64’s, Game Cubes.  People like the old stuff,” said Mazak, who also sold plushies and figurines. 

Mazak said she sold the Gilbert Road storefront to Amazing Discoveries, a store just a few doors down that sells games, comics and toys.

Amazing Discoveries is “moving everything to their store,” Mazak said, adding that they plan to “get a sign out front, and that way people will know that they have Game Zone games and stuff.” 

Mazak said people sometimes come to Game Zone and tell her how much they enjoyed the store years ago when they were kids.  

“They liked me I guess, I don’t know why,” Mazak said humbly. 

One of those customers was Joe Romero, who is now 39 and lives in San Gabriel, California.  

Romero painted a mural of Crash Bandicoot, a popular video game character, on the store’s wall when he was a teenager in 1997, he said.  

Romero came back to the store recently with his father and his own children, he said. 

When Mazak broke the news that the store is closing, “it was a moment for me,” Romero said, because Mazak had allowed him to “do a little piece of artwork and she kept it for that long.” 

“My daughters are into artwork too, so it was kind of nice for them to see, ‘look, this is something that I did way back when.’” 

“Nowadays, there’s other options to go,” Romero added, but to people he knows in Gilbert, “she’s like a legend, you know, it’s a really big part of the community.” 

Chandler resident Chaz Schober, who grew up with the Mazaks and used to test game systems after Mazak’s husband repaired them, had a similar sentiment about the store.  

“If you wanted nostalgia, and you wanted a retro throwback to the 80s and 90s, that was the store,” Schober said.  

Schober said big chains became hard to compete with for newer games and systems, but the nostalgic factor was “the pillar, the little niche that she filled in the community.” 

Some loyal fans were upset to hear Mazak sold the store, she said, “but I just couldn’t do it anymore, it was a lot of work.” 

Despite this, she added

“I miss it, I miss all the people. I might go back and just sit there.”

Mazak left a sign on the door announcing that Game Zone would close, Schober said, and when they came back to the store there were “a bunch of handwritten notes and phone numbers,” from customers sad to see it go. 

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