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, and you need to make more money than you spent every time someone DOES buy it. This is pretty simple to understand.
But then there is that one shop, whose proprietor takes lack of advertising Up to Eleven: this shop's defining feature is how hard it is just to get in. Maybe it's just ludicrously hard to find or get to, maybe you need a keycard or passcode, 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.
- 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.
- 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, who's shop is similar to Leo's but not seen as often, mostly in The Flash's comic. (clearly a Shout-Out to Paul Gambaccini.)
- Men in Black had Jeeb's shop for special "imported merchandise", which was more Hidden in Plain Sight than anything else; his pawn shop is a front for selling guns under the counter. Only his hardware is... unconventional:
Kay: "You sold a reverberating carbonizer with mutate capacity to an unlicensed cephalopoid, Jeebs, you piece of shit..."Jeebs: "He looked all right to me. "
- Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. To even see the front of the store 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.
- Subverted in Terry Prattchet's Soul Music.
- 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.
- The Unusuals: the squad comes across a "Murder Store," where you can buy everything you need to kill someone. They decide to run it themselves as a sting operation.
- Dollhouse: the eponymous Dollhouse serves only the "very wealthy" and the "very connected."
- Wong's Lost and Found Emporium in the The Twilight Zone (1985) episode of that title is a combination of this and The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday.
- 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.
- In the secret dungeon of Final Fantasy XII, there is an invisible shop 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.
- 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, as quoted above - 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.
- Wallace has a not-so-incredibly secret shop in the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World game. It's marked with a star near the end of the first level.
- 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 has 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 also 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 shops in the Thieves' Guild in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. At first, there's only your fence (plus 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.
- 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.