By DAVID ALMEDA
General Manager Troy Brazelton of recently opened Max Video Games reclines at his desk in a dark stock room filled to the brim with gaming merchandise. It seems that he and his staff are finally starting to arrive to the end of a nightmare that has reared its ugly head for six long months.
The journey has not been an easy one by any stretch, but the employees of the Woodstock video game retailer have bounced back from an armed robbery last September that left part of their business, then under the Play N Trade umbrella, in flames and the 42-year-old Brazelton with severe burns on the right side of his body.
Although he is still recovering from the injuries and psychological trauma he sustained that day, Brazelton still stops by occasionally and is pleased to see how the new, independently owned store is holding up.
“It started off slow but it’s gotten better as people found out that we moved here,” he said. “Sales have been good. Lots of trade-ins, people bringing us stuff to get us going and helping us out. Without that, we wouldn’t be able to be in business and these guys wouldn’t have a job.”
One of the men is 27-year-old Zack Crider, who opened Play N Trade on the morning of the robbery. He is ecstatic about the new store on Bells Ferry Road and what it means in terms of security.
“I love it over here,” Crider said. “I love this feeling. I feel great coming to work in an open area. It’s huge. You’re on a busy street. It’s not like a dark alley.”
The long road that Brazelton, Crider and the other employees have taken began on Sept. 29, when, at approximately 11:30 a.m., three armed men entered the store on Eagle Drive, holding up Crider and another employee at gunpoint.
“I started opening the store as usual,” Crider said. “I realized that the power was out. I go to check the fuse box and as I come back down the hallway, I’m met with a dude with a gun five inches from my face.”
After locking Crider and his coworker in the bathroom, the assailants snatched all of the new games and took them to a vehicle parked at the back of the store before proceeding to pour gasoline all over the stock area. Then the bathroom door opened.
“They opened the door, pointed the gun down the hallway and told me and my coworker to run,” Crider said.
The two employees fled to a nearby Taco Bell before the men lit the gasoline as they left, creating a blaze in the back of the store. It was then that Brazelton arrived and saw the smoke billowing from the building, along with his employees’ cars in the parking lot.
“I pulled in, jumped out and went inside the store, thinking that the employees were in there,” Brazelton said. “When I went around the back of the counter area, it just ignited.”
Brazelton was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he spent just over two weeks recovering from the initial injuries. It’s a part of his life that he is determined to move on from.
“Being asked 20 times a day what happened, it’s tough,” Brazelton said. “That’s the reason that I haven’t been able to come back to work myself. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from it because of nightmares of being on fire, just constantly reliving the event.”
In the aftermath of the incident, it started to become clear that the devastation wasn’t limited to the stock room. The entire store was affected.
“The water sprinklers went off for four and a half hours because the fire department didn’t’t know if there were armed people in there,” Brazelton said. “The police didn’t’t go in. The water just sat there for four and a half hours, so gasoline spread throughout the store.”
Play N Trade reopened its doors soon after the incident, but the environment inside was less than ideal for a retailer. After the carpet was ripped up and the ceiling was removed, the store was essentially a large concrete box. For months, transactions were carried out on folding plastic tables.
A major renovation was necessary, requiring an investment from the landlord of the property. In the six months that followed, that investment never came.
“They initially came out and told us, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do this and do that,’ but then never came to do anything,” Brazelton said. “We kept sending emails, couldn’t get anybody to do anything.”
Then, a new opportunity arose. With the help of a new financial backer, Brazelton and his employees were given a chance to begin anew.
By closing and reopening in a new location in early May as ‘Max Video Games’, the business became independent and was able to start fresh, all while keeping employees from what was Play N Trade from losing their jobs.
Finally beginning to emerge from the storm, everyone is relishing in their new beginning. Crider sees no other boss he’d rather do that with.
“Troy’s the man,” Crider said. “When I found out that he saw my vehicle and smoke and he ran in and tried to find me … How could you not want to work for a guy like that? Not only does he just give you money and pay your bills to have you work in his building, but he’s willing to run into a fire for you? That’s the man.”