When Dakotah Coates visited a chain video game store looking for a new release, he had no idea he would meet the love of his life and future business partner. His jovial nature had Meaghan Riley laughing so hard she cried. So when Coates asked for her number she gladly said yes. That was also her answer when Coates asked her to marry him in front of 180 people at a Super Smash Bros. charity tournament he hosted at the Byrd Theatre last month.
Coates brings the same level of passion to anything he puts his mind to, including DawnStar Video Games, the Scott’s Addition arcade and game shop he co-owns with his fiancee as well as his best friend, Andrew Griimmoiire.
Coates got his start in the industry selling games on consignment at Wax Moon Records, owned by Griimmoiire. His choices sold so well he pitched Riley and Griimoiire on opening their own video game store and arcade together. Throwing names back and forth, the trio ultimately landed on DawnStar as a foil to Wax Moon -two celestial shops located on Altamont Avenue.
They acquired the current site of DawnStar in late 2018 and after building out shelves, installing glass merchandise cases and setting up a suite of pinball machines, the store was ready for its grand opening in 2019. DawnStar’s retro logo blending a CD-ROM with a sunrise hints at the shop’s mix of old school and cutting edge entertainment.
Offering everything gaming from Atari to the PS5, folks from across the region flock to DawnStar to buy, sell, and trade their favorite video games. Although Nintendo 64 and GameCube selections prove most popular, the breadth of the shop’s selection and its owners’ knowledge of the industry is hard to beat. Coates is currently hard at work creating video game-infused trivia for anyone looking to go toe-to-toe with a DawnStar founder.
Every Thursday Coates takes his show on the road hosting a combination Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart tournament at the Answer Brewpub. DawnStar’s next big event will be a quarterly tournament at Aslin Beer Company’s Herndon location on the 19th. Coates’ live gaming competitions have become so popular that Brooklyn-based Kings County Brewers Collective has invited him up to host a pop-up tournament in New York City next month. Those hoping to smash their way to the top a bit closer to home can hold out hope that the Byrd Theatre invites DawnStar back soon to host only the second video games tournament in that institution’s nearly 100-year history.
Whether for a quirky date night or just a bit of fun during lunch break, the DawnStar arcade is open every day of the week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Some of the shop’s premium pinball machines date as far back as 1979, while DawnStar’s latest acquisition was manufactured just last year. Some of the themed pinball machines include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Mandalorian, Stranger Things, Mario Bros., Space Jam, and even Royal Rumble World Wrestling Entertainment. With each new pinball machine the trio purchases, they always dress it up to fit the theme.
“A pinball machine is an experience you can’t get or emulate anyway else,” says Coates. “It’s one of the last kinetic forms of entertainment. We pride ourselves on the fact that we are passionate and take great care of our machines. We do the maintenance ourselves 95% of the time, but we do have a pinball guru just in case we need help.”
Eschewing a burdensome token or ticket model, for just $10 flat visitors can play DawnStar’s pinball machines as long as they like. Arcade patrons also have access to classic Japanese rhythm games (similar to Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution for your hands) such as Hatsune Miku. With 18 games in total, there are plenty of familiar and foreign arcade adventures to be had at DawnStar.
With Riley in charge of the shop’s selection of plushies, figurines, anime VHS tapes and DVDs, and other novelty collectibles, each of DawnStar’s three partners has a specialty to bring to the brand. “It doesn’t work without all three of us,” says Coates.
While anime and arcades were once seen as the wheelhouse of the nation’s nerds, today video game enthusiasts are often on the cutting edge of cool. Coates sees DawnStar’s mission as helping to maintain the quirky character of Virginia’s capital. “Our vision has come to fruition in trying to bring back that cool edge to Richmond in the face of the city’s increasing corporatization.”