In the four previous installments of the Diary of an Arcade Employee I have revealed the beginnings of the Arkadia Retrocade, from the announcement by Shea Mathis of his intention to bring an arcade back to Northwest Arkansas for the first time in 15 years to the obstacles of getting things up to Code so the doors could be opened to the public. With the last installment I left off with it truly being crunch time, we had been fortunate enough to get the deck for the cocktail games up and ready as well as the walls for the party room and the basic layout for the arcade machines that would greet the Players when the doors to the Arkadia Retrocade were finally open to the public.
The first four chapters may be found by following the links below:
Diary of an Arcade Employee Pt. 1 – The Announcement
Diary of an Arcade Employee Pt. 2 – The Work Begins
Diary of an Arcade Employee Pt. 3 – The Construction Continues
Diary of an Arcade Employee Pt. 4 – All Hands On Deck
So the brass ring was within reach at this point for Shea Mathis and the Arkadia Retrocade…there was just a whole ton of sanding and painting left to accomplish. At this point in the construction I learned that on November 1st, 2012 the arcade had truly reached a point of no return. Shea had exhausted all of his available finances with the purchasing of paint and various pieces of furniture, such as tables and chairs for the Players to sit and relax while looking out across the shopping center, as well as the vintage TV and couch for the Players who wanted to give the Atari 2600 a spin. If we didn’t open in nine days…all of our hard work would be for naught.
So I immediately requested my vacation days from my day job, which I’m lucky enough to work at a place that would allow that, and Shea with our friends and family got down to brass tacks. For Shea and I that meant 12 hour days filled with one monotonous chore, sanding down drywall. For those of you that have worked with the accursed stuff you know how it finds a way to get into and onto everything…on top of the arcade games and inside them…on the people working with it and sadly inside their noses, ears, and lungs.
I would go home at night and take a long shower and it felt like I had a pound of the stuff inside me. Thankfully Shea was smarter than I was and took the precaution of wearing a mask while working on the walls…not that he didn’t feel like Q*Bert now and again while doing so.
To be honest it wasn’t all backbreaking labor even if I might have felt it was at the time. It especially helped when we would get awesome artwork to hang on the 1980s Memory Wall from fellow Retroist writer and artist, Christopher Tupa!
During the early stages of building, Shea and his older brother Shannon, when he wasn’t helping with the construction, was giving a lot of help in regards to finding even more machines than the 50+ Shea originally started with. So before the task of painting began the arcade machines that would be ready to play grew in number in a matter of a few weeks. There wasn’t a point in the workday that the arcade now didn’t have 3 to 5 people at the very least doing something to get the Arkadia Retrocade up and running.
Jeremy Bright would be working on installing free play buttons on the machines, you can see that gosh darned drywall dust on the machines in this pic by the way.
Now Jeremy could have easily drilled holes in the machines but Shea rightfully wanted to make sure that everything was done to be unobtrusive and limit any true damage to the original cabinets. Most of the time that involved removing the locks on the coin door of the machines and replacing it with the free play buttons and a backing so that they couldn’t be pushed too hard and drop into the coin box. Though I can tell you that does happen from time to time no matter how hard we tried to stop it.
It was also time to begin the painting process, earlier in the construction it had been planned to be a multiple color scheme but those budget cuts that I’ve talked about meant Shea had to go with one color and he decided on a Nintendo Entertainment System gray. I had burned through all of my vacation days so I reluctantly had to go back to work, 2PM until 6AM, so Shea put out a call to pretty much all of his friends and family for one evening of everyone gathering and painting the arcade. I was working of course so I didn’t get an awesome shot of everyone pitching in, but early that afternoon I did snap this photo of John Hillier and his family getting a start on the painting.
When I got back to the arcade it looked totally different. Almost all of the painting had been finished but thanks to a friend of Jeremy there was a sign to be constructed at the back of Arkadia. It started out looking like this…
…and by the end of that night it looked like this!
That wasn’t the only sign work to be unveiled that night. Shannon had obtained the Arkadia Retrocade banner to hang on the outside of the building so the Players could find us, which by the way was destroyed many months later due to a massive storm. Their is a permanent sign on the outside of the building now I am happy to report, still this banner was the first and that makes it special…which is why we’ve kept it in the back room even if it is in tatters.
The black paper you see on the inside of the windows in this pic is what Shea and his brother came up with to combat the setting sun making all of the games on the showcase row unplayable because of the glare.
The Snack Bar got a sign from an old diner that we were happy to accept, that helped to let the Players know what snacking and beverage options the Arkadia Retrocade offered.
To give you a sneak peek the Snack Bar like the arcade continues to go through improvements, so when the doors were open you just had the diner sign, it quickly gained decorations of its own however…
…and then more decorations.
My friends, we had reached November 9th, 2012 and Shea had declared the doors would open the next day…they absolutely had to…now sadly I had to work that following day so I was only able to drop in for about five minutes to celebrate the Arkadia Retrocade opening…but that I will save for the sixth chapter of the diary.