I sat down with Moscow residents Phillip Larin, who works at the "Club Portal", and Artem Voshchennikov, a single card vendor, to learn a little bit more about the unique challenges of running a store in Russia. You will be surprised to hear that there are quite some differences when you're comparing your typical hobby store in Moscow to one in Western Europe or America.
Artem, you're usually selling single cards, yet you've teamed up with "Club Portal" this weekend. How come?
Artem: We joined forces for this event so we could provide a large selection of singles (which I'm providing) as well as having accessories present on our booth like deckboxes, sleeves, etc. (which Club Portal is offering)
We have been friends for years since we're playing together in the same "club".
These "clubs" seem to be a pretty big deal over here. Can you explain the difference between a "club" and a "store"?
Phillip: A "club" is basically like a synonym for "store" in Russia. It means that you're only using a small amount of your floor space to sell items whereas you're using the vast majority to provide space for customers to play or do something else that's not directly affecting sales. So rather than "hobby store" or "gaming store", we tend to refer to our stores as "clubs".
Can you come up with other differences between the Russian community and the rest of the world?
Artem: I think it's fair to say that our community is a lot more used to travelling. They don't only attend the PTQs that are close by, they also cross borders to enroll in tournaments in Belarus, Poland, the Ukraine or Finland. When you're from St. Petersburg, it's often easier to travel to Finland to attend a PTQ rather than making a trip to Moscow.
This then in turn affects the preferences of our respective communities. Our friends from St. Petersburg are really into Legacy since it's an extremely popular format in Finland. So the Finnish excitement about the format has been instilled in our "northern capital" and that's why we refer to the St. Petersburg community as the "Northern School of Legacy".
Is there a lot of rivalry between the communities from different cities, e.g. between Moscow and St. Petersburg?
Artem: We are mostly friendly. We are travelling together to the Grand Prix in the other European countries; often, we try to turn them into longer trips. Last year, we travelled to Verona and we then went on and made our way all the way through Italy to end up in Utrecht where the next Grand Prix was taking place. That was quite an exciting trip and it's slowly turning into a tradition.
The only problem can be the visa situation, but we're on top of that and we can provide assistance to the few members of our group that tend to have troubles.
I have been told that Russian cards are really popular?
Artem: The Russian cards are - together with the Korean cards - the rarest cards on the market. That often makes them very popular with collectors and whenever we leave the country and attend an event in the rest of Europe, people are all over our binders, wanting to trade their cards for Russian versions.
How many hobby stores are there in Moscow, then?
Phillip: We have two clubs in Moscow and there's only one more place in the whole city where you can buy Magic cards that I know of. So the stores can actually sell a lot of product, which is, as far as I'm aware, not the case in the rest of the world where you can buy Magic in almost every mall. So the store owners don't face as much competition as they do in the rest of Europe or in the US where players are used to having access to plenty of different sources where they can buy their Magic cards.
Then again, the general interest in Magic is slightly lower, so you still have to put in a lot of work and effort to make a living as a store owner.
Well, thank you both for these great insights into the Russian community! We're looking forward to seeing you again at some of the upcoming Grand Prix in the rest of Europe!