Mo Troper seems to be teetering between frantic activity and calm centeredness all at once. It’s a totally understandable reality as Monday, December 9 marked the grand opening of his new store Hawthorne Game Exchange, which took over the digs of CD Game Exchange. While the former and current storefronts share a business sense (selling a combination of video games and music), Troper is putting his own spin on it by focusing more on vinyl records, live music and retro games, which all comes natural to one of Portland’s resident multi-hyphenates.
For those unfamiliar with Troper, it would be an understatement to describe his year as eventful. The DIY-brandishing, power pop progenitor released a live video playing at the Multnomah County Library’s Central Library as part of the Library Music Project (watch below), played at this past summer’s PDX Pop Now! festival, and also signed with Tender Loving Empire, releasing the singles “Jas From Australia” (watch the animated video at the end of this article) and the brand new “In Love With Everyone,” which you can get your first listen to at the end of this article.
It’s also worth noting that his fake announcement of being asked to write the theme song for the new James Bond film was the most brilliant part of his year, as I for one totally fell for it. "Never Dream Of Dying" makes me think of an alternate reality where Elliott Smith takes up the mantle of a more commercially accepted John Williams.
Troper also took a trip to Japan, and it was during the trip that the transition from employee of Hawthorne’s CD Game Exchange location to owner of his own Hawthorne Game Exchange took place.
“I was approached by the previous owner [Dave Goshien] to buy the store and I remember it was like 3am [in Japan],” Troper tells. “It felt really serendipitous, like a huge investment, but not unrealistic. I was sort of managing the Hawthorne store at that point and knew what about the current model was effective and what needed to change in the event of a relaunch.”
While in Japan, Troper also had to time to reflect on how he wanted the store to feel when one would walk into it.
“In Japan, I was going to a lot of game and record stores,” he continues. “There was a tower in Shibuya that had a cafe that was cool because you’d see all these people ripping the CDs they just bought onto their computers and talking about music, and they also had one section of an entire floor dedicated to local bands, with listening stations. I can’t think of too many places in Portland that have that kind of focus or even that sort of physical space dedicated to local music.”
With that in mind, Troper also thought about how to work a game store into the mix as well, with an emphasis on curating specialties and curiosities, items that would catch the eye and imagination of game enthusiasts.
On the night of the grand opening, Hawthorne Game Exchange looks completely different from the former store. Upon entering, one can see the register has been replaced with arcade cabinets from QuarterWorld, and a couple of quarters grants you a play of Star Wars or Crystal Castles. The layout has an immediate open space. Gone are the dollar bin aisles that gathered dust, replaced with a small rack for records, but most of the vinyl now lines the walls, with titles ranging from soundtracks to albums that compete with offerings across the street at Jackpot.
The open space leaves Troper and fellow owners Chris Hanson and Skyler Stimson an event space, which, on opening night, featured DJ Yousef Hatlani spinning a combination of game music and indie rock on top of a table lined with classic games to eye and buy, followed by acoustic sets from the emotionally resonant Phone Voice and Growing Pains. It’s clear that this space has been purposely created to include all kinds of people, with an emphasis on it being an all-ages space, something that is sorely needed in this city. And while the sets were hushed at the grand opening, plans are in place to soundproof the place, getting it up to code while being respectful of the neighbors in the adjacent residential area.
Between handling sales, engineering the sound, or providing information about the newly opened space, the crew were busy on opening night. And they’re doing a great job to present a more perfect union to come.