Robert Bartkowski arrived outside Nintendo New York in Rockefeller Plaza two days ago around 5PM. His camping supplies are modest: a chair, some blankets, and a lot of patience. His food, as well as his bathroom breaks, are dependent on a smattering of stores across from him.
Despite being subjected to the wilds of New York City for hours without end, the 20-year-old is in good spirits. He’s come to buy the SNES Classic, and less than an hour remains until the store opens its doors at 9AM. "Why line up so early?” he muses. “Honestly, because last year with the NES Classic, it was selling out like hotcakes. You could barely get your hands on one. I want to make sure I get the SNES Classic before it has the chance to sell out.”
Bartkowski isn’t alone in his reasoning. A handful of people behind him have also come a day early for the release of Nintendo’s retro console. And behind those dedicated fans, an even longer line has begun to snake its way through the sidewalks of Midtown Manhattan. They stretch from the store’s door near the corner of 48th St. and 5th Ave. all the way to 50th and 6th. The line breaks only to allow paths for cars or pedestrians.
Nintendo isn’t the only store selling the console in the city. There are a variety to choose from, but many of the people here are dedicated Nintendo fans. “I just feel like the proper way to celebrate a Nintendo console, a Nintendo game, or anything Nintendo related, is to come to the Nintendo store,” Bartkowski says. “They try to go out of their way to do nice stuff, give out free stuff [and] enhance the experience more.” The company even held a launch party for the console the night before for a mix of patient line waiters and influencers.
Despite his prime spot, Bartkowski says groups of people were cutting the line. “They had to disperse the entire line and stop giving up bracelets because of them." Nintendo closed the event before reaching its max capacity, he says, leaving him stranded by the door to watch the party play out inside the glass-walled store.
In the crisp, early hours of this Friday morning, it’s easy to pick out who’s waiting for an SNES Classic vs. the groups of people hoping to grab tickets for SNL or The Tonight Show, both filmed in the same Rockefeller Plaza. The Nintendo fans waited patiently with their 3DS handhelds, decked out in their favorite Nintendo gear. They’ve come to relive old memories with their favorite old games, people say, or introduce friends and family to these beloved games.
Joseph Dunn, who has the distinguished honor of being the very last person in line, is wearing a hat stamped with a logo from The Legend of Zelda. He isn’t usually the type to line up for console launches, but for Nintendo, he’ll do it. "I'm excited to play some of the games I never did, like the Final Fantasy game that's on there,” he says. “I still have my Super Nintendo and some of the old stuff, but there's a few games I can't find, or if you wanted to buy them now, they're super expensive. To get it all in one, it's kind of nice.”
The 29-year-old has taken the day off work in hopes of getting lucky. He’s done his research in choosing the Nintendo store as opposed to a Best Buy or a GameStop by calling ahead. A Nintendo rep told him showing up on the first day would be his best shot. "I figured if Nintendo is making the system, they're gonna probably supply their own store with the most,” he says. As we finish talking, more people trickle in behind him.
Stores have been tight-lipped about exactly how many systems they’ll have, leaving prospective buyers to take their chances and make a choice. At a Best Buy on 5th Ave., about a seven-minute walk away, a far smaller line has formed. Two men near the store’s doors, Jordan and Spazz, arrived last night. They chose the store based on convenience. It’s easy to get to — and they’ve already heard rumors of the monster line at the flagship Nintendo store. "Last year, it was a whole big mess with the NES Classic,” Jordan says. “People waiting in line, not getting it. It was maybe 20 [consoles] for like 100 people in line.”
Nintendo has vowed to correct the mistakes of its past with the NES Classic and properly address the high demand, but people are still afraid they’ll miss their chance. Lourdes Diaz, a mother who lined up at the Nintendo store yesterday afternoon, says she’s here because her 9-year-old son wasn’t able to get the NES Classic. He bounces excitedly nearby, his cherubic cheeks lit with a smile. "I promised him he'd get it,” she says. “What mommy promises, mommy gets.” Diaz isn’t alone. Many people near the front of the queue are there for their kids or grandkids. Quine Jackson, a mother of two, says it’s all for her kids. “They give me good grades, I go all out,” she says.
That dedication is about to pay off. As Nintendo employees shout out countdown times, the crowd starts to shift in anticipation. When the doors open, people clap and cheer.
Bartkowski wasn’t the first to buy the SNES Classic — that honor went to his sister, Lynda, who bought one as a Christmas present for their dad — but he exited the store in high spirits. "I just feel like a weight has been lifted, in a way,” he says, clutching two bags with the console and a Pokémon plush. He’s looking forward to getting some sleep when he gets home. “I have so much I've gotta do later on, so I don't think I'll be touching the SNES today. But probably when I get home on Saturday, I'll have it all to myself.”