I like my hobby stores like I like my dive bars: As spaces that have grown their character organically over the years. I like looking at a rack of minis and finding old, forgotten blisters that no one would ever purchase (Vespids) or eyeballing the out-of-production paints from multiple manufacturers placed to the side of an organized company display. I like when a board games section bleeds into the tabletop section, which then bleeds into the CCG section. However, with all that said, I can also appreciate a well-crafted, corporate-dictated, streamlined “here’s-our-product experience.”
That’s kind of what the Warhammer Store & Café in Monrovia, CA is.
Games Workshop made a big to-do about the grand opening of this new store back in February and April of 2021, launching it with the name “Warhammer Store & Cafe: Los Angeles.” As I have recently been in the LA area, I decided that it’d be worth checking out. As you read this, please bear in mind that I had no idea that GW had a similar store in Grapevine TX. Sure, this article mentions that but I don’t read too good. I was also under the impression that the pictures in that article were from the LA store so I was kind of pumped to go to this US Mecca of GeeDub stuff. In hindsight, this trip would be a lesson in setting realistic expectations, or at least informing yourself enough to set those realistic expectations.
A bit of background: I’ve been to a few GW shops in the past and I’ve always found them a bit stale… like a meatspace version of their webstore. Sure, there’s often a table or two, and I’m sure that’s huge for locals who don’t have their own setup or an independent gaming store, but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable playing in one. I’m even more confused by the people building and painting minis at the hobby tables, but then I’m the type of guy that likes my only hobby distraction to be a YouTube video about Surveillance Culture & Love Island or whatever. Also, trying to separate me from my Vallejo German Grey would be… inadvisable.
I hopped in my car and headed out to Monrovia with the mindset of “If it sucks at least I’ll have coffee.” For those of you unfamiliar with LA geography, Monrovia is not LA – it’s about 25 minutes east of the downtown area and about 50 or so minutes away from LAX. The drive isn’t that bad however and the location is pretty. The store is located on a little downtown shopping street surrounded by a bunch of other stores, cafes, and restaurants.
There was a lot of foot traffic the day I went but I also think the town had an event going on. I’m honestly not sure how many people come out to Monrovia just to walk around but it can’t be bad for the store. The store had some cute little seating out front with some branded tables in case you actually came there for coffee and then wanted to people watch.
I stepped into the store and was promptly greeted with a big-ass, kinda-to-scale Chaplain of the Imperial Fists (Please note that he’s a Firstborn. Suck it, Primaris!). A few seconds later I was also greeted by one of the four or so staff out on the floor. I was asked whether I was familiar with Warhammer, which at the moment was a weird question to me. But then again I kind of forget that the IP isn’t like Star Wars or whatever and someone may just want to know what the hell a store named “Warhammer” is selling. All of the staff were extremely friendly and I was able to chitchat with one of them about the business and store philosophy.
It’s a big space. Especially if you’re used to common sight of cramped hobby stores that need to display as much product as humanly possible and still make rent (GW’s own stores do this as well, typically providing only one or two 4×4 tables). The entrance and “lobby” area have all of the product along the walls and include a hobby table and one of those canned battlefield tables that make it look like a very small game is being played. The stock is genuinely impressive especially given GW’s current supply issues and more generally those currently plaguing the global supply chain. They have all of the standard store stuff like 40k, AoS, boxed games, and accessories, but also have a large amount of Forge World product stocked. I figured it’d mostly be the popular 30K minis but I was pleasantly surprised to also see things like Hierodules, Tigersharks, and Wraithseers in the mix. Coolest to me is that all (or most?) of the released Primarchs were available for purchase. I also appreciated the available selection of Black Library books that sort of led towards the café (good placement).
The café section is in the middle of the store and there’s surprisingly very little to say about it. I was chatting with Goonhammer’s Rob and Greg about going and we touched on the whole “themed café” thing. In a world with a less conservative GW, I could see a Warhammer café where drinks were served in guard canteens or tin mugs, all of the pastries are shaped like faction symbols (of at least had symbols glazed on them), and with Imperial propaganda projected on all of the adjacent televisions. But this is simply a coffee counter that you could find at any Starbucks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I like coffee and I don’t really need any window dressing when I’m looking to get a cup. The Americano I had was also pretty good (I take my coffee black, by the way). I also committed a cardinal sin, or maybe the only sin, when reviewing a place with food… not actually trying the food. I mean, it all looked perfectly fine; I’m just not a sweets guy.
In the back of the store are some more hobby tables and a few game tables. There’s not too much to say here, either. The lighting from the windows in the back is nice and makes the area feel a lot more comfortable. The tables and terrain look like pretty standard GW store stuff. It would have been cool to see some unique or weird terrain for the store but I guess the tables need to be played on, not gawked at. I was surprised that the tables were so close together, especially with the pandemic and all, but I guess this is to keep the gaming space from creeping into the café area. There is also some space outside the back of the building, which I would love to see used some day.
The store has one unisex bathroom which was in good condition (as far as either coffee shops or gaming stores go). I particularly appreciated the framed Litany above the urinal:
I wish there were a few more things like this scattered around the store… apparently, a manager hung it there themselves (so it’s not a corporate thing?). I’d love to see additional mask mandate reminders but with Death Korps or a poster at the register declaring “Support the Only-War Economy.” This would be leaning in the themed café direction but it’d be a neat little nod to the universe in the real world.
I suppose this leads into what I ultimately thought of the “Warhammer Store & Café: Los Angeles” in Monrovia. This is by far the best Warhammer store I’ve gone into (I haven’t been to The Citadel in Texas or Warhammer World), but it’s ultimately just a Warhammer store. I get the feeling that GW did not want to commit to creating an “experience” but also wanted something with a greater draw than their standard stores. I mean, stocking a lot of Forge World is neat and I do like coffee but that’s kind of it. The store even has two computers specifically so you can look up stuff on the GW and FW website… it’s as if to say, yeah this place is cool but you know you can buy everything online, right?
Or then again, I’m missing the point. Maybe I shouldn’t be looking at the store as if it were a sort of gaming holy place or museum but just a different type of GW store. Kind of like how there’s Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack, or you can go to a Taco Bell that also has a KFC in it. One of the employees likened it to a Barnes & Noble which I think is very apt. Whether they’re a fan or a casual/curious browser, a person may just swing in for coffee. The fan may pick something up on their way out and the browser gets introduced to the product. If this is GW’s thinking then I would definitely move the coffee to the front of the shop (notice how the Starbucks in a B&N is often off to the side of the entrance).
So what’s the final verdict? If you’re in Southern California and want Forge World immediately or if you’re a bored Warhammer fan in LA looking to pop into a nice Warhammer store then I say you should go. As mentioned, the staff are great and the product stock is very good. But if you already have a local GW store or better yet, your own characterful (divey?), local gaming store, I think you’d be hard pressed to make Warhammer LA your go-to spot.
You can find more of Mike’s wonderful hobby work and models – including his Inquisitor 28 conversions – on his Instgram.
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