In my first diary post I left off with the earth shattering announcement that unbeknownst to me, my friend Shea Mathis was intending to go into business for himself by opening up an arcade in town. An arcade that would harken back to the glory days of the Showbiz Pizza of our youth, where one might once again find the camaraderie of fellow Players and those powerful seducing sights and sounds of electronic mayhem that only classic arcade games could and still do create.
Thanks to diligent planning Shea had already found the ideal location for his business, the Evelyn Hills shopping center which just so happened to be the place that ‘our’ revered Showbiz Pizza had originally been located back in the day. With the friendly advice of other arcade owners around the country, not to mention a certain arcade game collector by the name of Rob “Flack” O’Hara he found himself a little more prepared for many of the first pitfalls that an entrepreneur must hurdle like upkeep and operational costs. The largest hurdle for the birth of the Arkadia Retrocade was the daunting task of taking a 60+ year old abandoned store and getting it up to code to become an operational arcade. That required finding a contractor that could meet the limited budget and not only deliver modern bathrooms but a complete reworking of the electrical wiring to support 50+ arcade games with enough power leftover to bring in more games as Shea obtained them.
At the same time as the search for a suitable contractor began the arcade had to be cleaned up and preparations for construction had to be finalized. The Arkadia Retrocade as Shea envisioned it would have a party room for private functions, a small snack bar and a ‘deck’ where the Atari 2600 and other retro gaming consoles would be showcased alongside the collection of cocktail style arcade games. In the beginning the arcade looked like this…
The first week after the announcement involved masking off the areas of floor where the party room, deck, and pony walls would be built as well as removing the extremely heavy old shelving from the walls. When I say heavy I mean it took three grown men to remove each from where they had been bolted into the concrete. I was amazed how winded you can get from lifting a 100+ pound piece of wood and carrying it five feet into another room.
After masking off the floor we spent a day or two just measuring and walking the length of the arcade, getting a feel for how much space would be between the outer walls of the party room and the deck, etc. A lot of this time involved Shea showing the patience of Job as he answered thousands of questions from not only myself but from other friends and his family. Just a few of the questions that popped into my mind and I peppered him with on an almost daily basis:
1) What was the paint scheme going to be?
2) What plans did he have for keeping the games maintained?
3) What type of food could we sell?
4) What was the plan for admission? Could a Player purchase a lifetime membership?
5) Were we planning on selling merchandise like arcade pins and t-shirts?
6) How were we setting up the lighting for the arcade? Would it be brightly lit or darkened with black lights?
7) What games could we afford to add to the collection that were ‘must haves’?
After the first week Shea was able to secure a contractor for the proposed bid and things were ready to move forward on the construction. The contractor would take care of the hiring of the electricians and the laborers to replace the one tiny bathroom and storage room in the back of the building…
..and construct two separate bathrooms with handicap accessibility. In this photo the laborers had just started on the Women’s restroom.
At this point the Arkadia Retrocade was scheduled to be opened by Halloween. That was about two months away and appeared to be plenty of time for the heavy construction to be finished and cleaned up, the construction for the bathrooms by the way included the jackhammering of the concrete flooring to lay in new pipes for the bathrooms as well as sealing up the original entrance to the backroom and building a wider doorway to allow access to the restrooms.
When we waited for the beginning of the construction, which was scheduled that following Monday, we got to work on applying butcher’s paper to the plate glass windows. Not only did this give us the freedom of not worrying about the surprise of an arcade opening in the area being blown but it also had the added bonus that people were chomping at the bit to learn what kind of business was moving in. I couldn’t help but smile later on during the building phase when I would look up from hammering a nail or sanding drywall to see two to three people trying to peek in between the gaps of the butcher’s paper.
So Shea decided that it might be a good idea to bring out the games from the back room and start lining them up to get a better idea of how much space they would actually take up, before making the trip and emptying the storage locker where the other games were being held.
I remember coming in one morning to find that Shea had started to clean out the area under what would become the office, an area that overlooks the entire arcade…actually it’s a little like Flynn’s bedroom from the original Tron. Shea came up to me with a piece of paper in his hands and joked that he might have found something that I could post about on the Retroist.
He had found a stash of old receipts from when the place used to be a pharmacy and by the end of the day we also discovered some order forms including this one for Lilt, Gleem, and Crest!
It also appeared as if there was a Giant SECRET available for order as well. ;)
During this beginning phase of the arcade I found that both mine and Shea’s enthusiasm fed off of each other which was a good thing because in the coming weeks on an almost daily basis it felt like the dream of the arcade was being threatened on all sides by things not in our control.
But that will be discussed in the third chapter of the diary.