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Jake: The entrance is disguised so you canít find it. [...] And they donít let anybody in without a VIP card. So donít expect to waltz through the door by accident.
Marth: But... how do they stay in business?
Jake: Who knows! Last I heard, they were desperate for customers.
Marth: Then maybe they should reopen as a "tell your friends" shop...

Most businesses follow a pattern: you need something to sell, you need people to buy it, so you advertise your shop and get a big sign, and you choose an obvious location.

But then there is that one shop, restaurant or bar, whose proprietor takes the opposite approach and hides their shop, even making this their shop's defining feature how hard it is just to find it or get in.

Maybe it's just ludicrously hard to find or get to, maybe you need a keycard or you have to tell the shopkeeper a password, or it's behind a revolving bookcase, or maybe only the king is allowed to shop there naked during a full moon while holding a child's teddy bear in one hand and the Sword of Plot Advancement in the other. Maybe some combination thereof. Either way, expect getting in to this place to be harder than getting to your local department store.

So how does this shop stay in business? That would be their secondary defining feature: this shop sells the good stuff, and for lots of money. If purchasable, this is the place where one would buy the Infinity +1 Sword, some spare Green Rocks, or a Wave-Motion Gun. You need to be an insider and have the secret to getting in, making it an exclusive shop. Sometimes a selection of secret shops will cluster together into a hidden, secret mall where wands and broomsticks are sold note .

Sister Trope to Black Market and The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday.

In Real Life, some ultra-hip nightclubs make it a point of pride that they can sell out the venue despite having no sign and having a nondescript door at the end of an alley.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In ◊◊◊HOLiC, the shop can only be seen by those who need it, and sells wishes for something of equal value.
  • The eponymous Pet Shop of Horrors doubles as The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday.
  • According to Read or Die there's a secret book shop in the Jinbocho area of Tokyo, full of ultra-rare books. Reaching it requires inputting a secret code in an elevator, as well as the use of a card key (though in the TV series, Anita manages it by just picking the lock on the elevator).
  • Flying Witch has a cafe run by witches that's disguised as a decaying abandoned house. After performing a short ritual, (human) customers see a perfectly normal building with a sign out front. Regulars include a pair of ladybugs and a fox, so the disguise is probably to keep Muggles from bothering the other guests.
  • Cardfight!! Vanguard: The PSY Card Shop is of the "hard to find" variety - it is located in a back entrance in the local mall, in the place where you'd normally expect to find the toilets or a maintenance room. There are also no advertising signs whatsoever. This gets pointed out a few times, but the three girls running it are also professional idol singers. And yes, it sells super rare cards and has top of the line holographic equipment in the back.

    Comic Books 
  • The question of, "who makes every character's costume" was answered in Amazing Spider-Man #502, which introduced Leo Zelinsky. A tailor from Brooklyn, he doesn't do much to keep his business secret except what small business owners like himself always rely on - using only word of mouth to advertise - but he caters to just about every super-human in the Marvel Universe, heroes and villains alike. (Why does he see nothing wrong with this? As he explains, "If Doctor Octopus goes into a deli and orders a cheese sandwich and the clerk gives it to him, does that make the clerk a bad man? Everyone has to eat, everyone needs clothes.") To avoid conflicts between the heroes and villains, his shop is open for the first group on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, the second on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. He also maintains a strict confidentiality policy for all of his clients, only breaking it once in order to prevent a murder. Otherwise, his clients have included such big names as The Avengers, X-Men, and Doctor Doom.
  • The DC universe has Paul Gambi, whose shop is similar to Leo's but not seen as often, mostly in The Flash's comic. (clearly a Shout-Out to Paul Gambaccini.)

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • In The Angel of Khan el-Khalili, Seeker's sanctum is hidden in the twisting back alleyways of the Khan el-Khalili bazaar, down in the basement of an automaton repairman's shop. Visitors hoping to bargain with her can only obtain an audience by asking the repairman to see "the lady of the house" and gaining his permission to enter.
  • Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. To even see the front of the pub that leads into the back alley that has one brick which must be tapped to get there, you need to be a witch or wizard. Or maybe a squib.
  • I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level: Parodied with Eno the Witch of the Grotto. She lives alone in a remote, inaccessible cave because she thinks it's what witches are supposed to do, disregarding that it's barring her from having a social life or selling any of her herbal remedies. At Azusa's urging, she moves into the city.
  • The Merchants MacDoig in the Lonely Werewolf Girl books operate like this, if you don't know where they are then you don't need to buy anything from them.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • The Mirage Village in Final Fantasy V. You encounter it as a random battle in a specific place.
    • Final Fantasy VI has a strangely inverted example. The weapon shop in Narshe... nothing can be bought there, and Narshe is the first town you see in the game. Plus, the town is otherwise deserted, and the door is locked. However, the weaponsmith will offer to either give you a piece of magicite or forge it into a weapon.
    • Final Fantasy IX has a secret synthesis shop, which you access by defeating Hades... who is, in addition to being tough to beat, also hidden in the Very Definitely Final Dungeon. Plus, you'll need the ingredients for whatever you want him to make... a few of which are unique.
    • Final Fantasy XII features an invisible shop in the Necrohol of Nabudis. It is located in a room that looks just all the other rooms; you have to get within a few feet of it to see the interaction icon. In the original game, it is the only place where you can buy Scathe (the strongest Black Magic spell) and Telekinesis (probably the only Technick worth using aside from Steal and Libra) as well as readily-available Ethers and a few accessories otherwise found only in treasure chests or the Bazaar. The catalogue is changed in the Zodiac versions, but most of the items are still exclusive to the shop.
  • Some Fire Emblem games have secret shops, which are slightly-different-looking tiles of floor in out-of-the-way locations, all run by the unofficial Series Mascot Anna. You require a member's card to get in, which can only be obtained by stealing one from enemies, and the prices can be downright exorbitant. Discussed in Shadow Dragon - Jake, Anna's boyfriend, admits that business isn't looking so good for them because they're a secret shop.
  • Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together has Deneb's shop. The shop isn't too hard to unlock, but it does move to a different city every day.
  • Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis has a secret shop in one of the early towns, which you can access when you recruit Deneb.
  • The Binding of Isaac:
    • Very rarely, crawlspaces will lead to an underground black market where you can sell Heart Containers in exchange for shop items. It's the rarest area in the game by far, since crawlspaces are already extremely rare to come across.
    • The Member Card item adds a trapdoor to every shop that leads to an "exclusive access" shop. It sells items at marked up prices, occasionally including some non-shop items and even powerful Devil and Angel items (for ridiculously high prices, of course).
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has two:
    • Wallace has a not-so-incredibly secret shop in the first stage. It's marked with a star in the underpass near the end of the level.
    • Mobile has a more well-hidden shop in the sixth stage. About midway through the level, there's a house in the background framed by trees in the back of the stage; walking between the trees takes you to the house. The shop itself is accessed by walking into the fireplace of the house once inside.
  • The Black Market in Wild ARMs 3 sells some pricy stuff, and you need a Black Card to get in.
  • The Knife Guy's casino in Super Mario RPG.
  • The DLC location Black Emporium in Dragon Age II. Sells some of the best items in the game.
  • Crazy Redd's store in Animal Crossing: City Folk. You need to have one of your neighbors mail an invitation to you, and in order to do that, you need to randomly talk to them. If you don't have an invite, he'll casually shoo you away, and drops the not-so-subtle hint of how you're supposed to get in. Other than that, it's actually pretty easy to find. Only place with an iron-looking door.
  • MapleStory has a shop on the far side of Leafre, which you can't get into until you complete a high-level quest.
  • In Mabinogi, several of the regular stores have "secret shop" tabs, which can only be accessed when you become friends with the owner, or some such; these shops typically have costlier, more useful items. Plus, there are 2 NPCs who wander from town to town; finding them requires either luck, stakeout and patience, or a guide.
  • Some shops in The Legend of Zelda series are hidden under bushes, which must be chopped down.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: In Gerudo Town, there is a hidden shop that requires a password to access. If you do manage to gain access to it, you find out why it's hidden: it sells goods that are illegal by Gerudo law, such as male Gerudo clothes and a skeletal outfit deemed heretical to their spiritual beliefs.
  • River City Ransom has Merlin's Mystery Shop, which is hidden in the Armstrong Thru-Way Tunnel. It sells expensive fantasy items with names like "Excaliber" and "Zeus Wand" that provide enormous stat boosts.
  • Runescape has several of these (usually involving the completion of a quest), but the prime example is the Ape Atoll; you can't shop anywhere on the island until you're done two (moderately long) quests, you will be attacked if you show up in the vicinity without turning yourself into a monkey of some kind, and you can't communicate with the monkeys unless you're wearing a monkeyspeak amulet. Also, the island itself is right on the southwest edge of the world, and can only be reached by gnome hang glider. The most commonly-bought item on the island is a Dragon Scimitar, which is a good weapon for medium-high level fighters, and cannot be purchased (from NPCs) anywhere else.
  • Knights of the Old Republic:
    • There is a merchant on Korriban who sells some of the best items in the game, but you have to talk to his associate on Tatooine before you can get a recommendation. Unfortunately, a bug stops him from turning up if you have reached a certain stage in Juhani's side-quest.
    • You find the abandoned space station orbiting Yavin 4 only because Davik left the coordinates in the navcomputer. The "proprietor" is an elderly Rodian and former slave to Exar Kun's empire that salvages artifacts and materials for weapons and armor from the abandoned wreckage planetside. His clients are mostly Exchange bigwigs (like Davik was) or the Trandoshan pirates that were passing through his system.
  • La-Mulana has many secret Dungeon Shops that are hidden behind pots or blocks or are only revealed by using seals or Key Fairies. In a major Guide Dang It!, one vital Plot Coupon is sold from a shop that only appears if you buy an obviously fake item from another shop.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Morrowind has a pair in creatures who surprisingly run stores. Creeper is a scamp, a type of lesser Daedra, who has setup shop in the Ghorak Manor, a mansion otherwise inhabited by Orcs. The Mudcrab Merchant is a mudcrab who looks like any other on a small island surrounded by dozens of others. He also has the most gold available for bartering in the base game with a whopping 10,000. As each are creatures, they do not have the Mercantile skill and thus buy/sell items at base value, making them the best options for selling loot.
    • The shops in the Thieves' Guild in Skyrim. At first, there's only your fence and a bartender selling stuff, who must stay secret by necessity to avoid being persecuted by the few honourable city guards left in Riften. When you first show up, both the bar and the Thieves' Guild itself are both down on their failing luck. Once (if) you restore the Thieves' Guild to its former glory, more shops show up. From the player's point-of-view, they're secret because you have to unlock them by finishing an entire questline plus a lot of sidequests. From everyone else's point-of-view, they're secret because the Thieves' Guild isn't exactly on Main Street...
  • Shining Wisdom has a secret shop hidden in the middle of nowhere past a lake, just south of the Earth Shrine; the first shrine you would normally visit. The trick is that you can only reach it after completing the Water Shrine, which is several dungeons later, after which you can freeze the lake and slide across it.
  • The Great Tree's shop in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is hidden behind a tarp (which Flurrie's ability can remove) in an apparent dead end.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei IV, the Ginza shops are this. Not only is the area surrounding them littered with the rare 5-Star Relics, they sell the most absurdly overpowered armor, weapons and medicine of the game, all at appropriately obscene prices. To open the area, first one must pay 5,000 Macca to a Ginza guard to gain access to a certain area, then find a Gold Card sold there at 10,000 Macca. Next, pay another guard 50,000 Macca to open another section to find a Platinum Card, and pay a man 100,000 Macca for a Silver Coin to be exchanged for a Black Card, which can finally be used to access the stores and their surroundings. By the way, the prices are linked to the difficulty level - playing on Master difficulty will make the shops nearly triple their prices.
  • Dota 2 and Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars: There is literally a place called the "Secret Shop", although it's not actually secret to the players. It sells items which aren't available from the normal shop. It's located close to the river running through the middle of the map, and by visiting it you run the risk of being found and killed by the enemy team.
  • The Sims 3: World Adventures feature the Special Merchants, who wander about the destination sub-worlds (Shang Simla, Al Simhara and Champs le Sims) and sell Adventure rewards for ancient coins (a special currency that can only be obtained during adventure travels).
  • Ashley's shop in Ace Fishing. She occasionally pops up after the player catches fish and sells an assortment of items (usually potions, treasure keys and special lures) that can't be purchased from normal shops.
  • Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath has a black market that sells upgrades to your Abnormal Ammo can only be accessed by getting the password (Molasses) from one of the local townsfolk. While Stranger mangles the password (Mole's ass), the black marketeer still lets him in on the basis of "Close enough".
  • Pokťmon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky has the Secret Bazaar, which can very rarely be accessed through finding a secret entrance in dungeons. The Pokémon inside provide a variety of helpful services for 100 Poké: Mime Jr. will fully heal the party, Swalot will sell you random items from the dungeon, Lickilicky will clean any sticky items, and Shedinja will help you escape the dungeon.
  • Yakuza has the Arms Dealer hidden behind (or in cahoots with) the porn DVD shop in Kamurocho or inside a small truck nearby. The codeword to access it is almost always the title of a peculiar movie obtained after doing a sidequest or talking to a random NPC.

    Webcomics 
  • Done deliberately in MegaTokyo; when Largo is asked to watch over Mega Gamers, he installs a fully functional maze of cardboard robots and obstacles... which turns out to be outrageously popular.
  • In one Bobwhite Christmas story arc, Cleo learns from her younger sister Adelaide of a secret store in their hometown selling used and super-rare videogames. It's hidden behind a shady internet cafe in order to stay secret.
    Cleo: I especially liked how the cartridges and discs were loose and barely in alphabetical order! Probably to discourage the noobs.

    Western Animation 

    Real life 
  • During The Roaring '20s, alcohol was prohibited, so there were illegal speakeasy bars selling bathtub gin. They would have hidden entrances to avoid police raids.
  • The Baxter Inn is a secret bar in Sydney. It is behind an innocuous-looking basement door in an alleyway in the business area. It is known for its pretzels and whiskey.
  • In the Los Angeles Athletic Club, there is a Bookcase Passage hiding the door to the Blue Room bar, which was launched in 1912. This members-only bar, which hosted Hollywood stars such as Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin during its heyday, is now decorated with antiques and collectibles.
  • In London, Callooh Callay has multiple tiers of secret bars, like a Russian doll. To reach the bar's hidden lounge, you have to open a wardrobe and walk through. To get into Jubjub, the upstairs bar, you need the passcode, which is changed every day.
  • In Toronto, there is a comic book shop with a hidden restaurant. Patrons who press a red button in the comic book shop open a door to reveal Figures, a 2,000 square foot comic-themed restaurant decorated with comics and poetry.
  • Played with by SafeHouse, a Milwaukee restaurant that is themed as this trope, complete with hidden passages, an entry password or (goofy) clearance test, and an entrance camouflaged as a generic shipping company. The play comes in because the spy-themed "secret" eatery is a famous local attraction with a website and Wikipedia page.

 
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Cafe Concrucio

A witch's cafe you're unlikely to find by yourself.

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