Arkadia Retrocade - 111013

Diary Of An Arcade Employee – My Time At The Arkadia Retrocade Pt. 6

In the five 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 being the day before the grand opening. Many obstacles were overcome by Shea to bring the Arkadia Retrocade to life, lots of sacrifices to his original vision of what the arcade would look like and thousands of hours of hard work and planning brought to fruition thanks to his dedication and the help of family and friends.

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
Diary of an Arcade Employee Pt. 5 – Crunch Time

On November 10th, 2012 the doors to the arcade were finally opened to the Players of Northwest Arkansas…and they came in droves to experience the thrill of once again being surrounded by other players while attempting the High Score on Donkey Kong and Galaga and so many others. Of course for some this was the first time to experience that electronic magic that can thankfully still ensorcell Players of all ages today.

Now as I said in the last diary entry, I had to work the day of the opening so I couldn’t fully attend and bask in the joy of seeing the Players appreciate the hard work that was put in to bring it to life. But I did make sure to stop by for about five minutes to just snap a few photos before heading to work. Just those few minutes made me feel not only proud for what little I did to help but relieved that Shea’s vision was already being embraced by the community. It was a stellar first day when it was all said and done with a Player count of just a little below 300.

Arkadia Retrocade 45

Arkadia Retrocade - Players 3

Arkadia Retrocade - Players 4

This diary entry is going to be a little different as I plan on showing you how some of the things that have changed from the opening of Arkadia last year, as well as share some of the aspects of the arcade I’m most fond of. In the last diary entry I mentioned that we have a vintage TV and Atari 2600 setup with a wonderful old sofa that would fit right in with the decor of any basement from the late 70s!

Arkadia Retrocade - Atari 2600

The collection has grown quite a bit over the last year in no small part to the generosity of the community as well as Flack and the Retroist himself, I believe at last count we offer 110 Atari cartridges for the Players to enjoy.
Arkadia Retrocade - Atari 2600 2

When the Arkadia Retrocade first opened its doors this was the basic layout for the machines. Shea had the arcade wired up so there would be a ‘Showcase’ row of games for the Players to see when they passed by the windows. In the beginning as you can see in the photo we had Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, Mario Bros., Galaga, Centipede, and Ms. Pac-Man.
Arkadia Retrocade - Showcase

This photo was taken from outside through the window but you can see we had Sinistar, Gorf, and Phoenix in the corner.
Arkadia Retrocade - Showcase 2

On the opposite side of where we had Donkey Kong, etc. was Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, Mr. Do!, Milipede, and Burgertime. In this photo you can see Tempest in the background as well as Time Pilot and Pengo.
Arkadia Retrocade - Showcase 3

The machines continued along the wall until it reached the Snack Bar, with games like Tiger-Heli, Operation Thunderbolt, Jungle King, and Battletoads to name a few.
Arkadia Retrocade - Games Row 2

The opposite row from the wall included titles like Shooting Master, Street Fighter II, Double Dragon, Willow, and Astynax.
Arkadia Retrocade - Games Row 1

Then of course we had our cocktail games on the deck. At the beginning we had Crazy Kong, Pong (A four player model), Popeye, Centipede, and Frogger.
Arkadia Retrocade - Deck Games

A view from the office would have showed you this. You can see Shea Mathis with his back to the camera as well as his right hand man, the esteemed Andy Pickle leaning against Final Blow, and one of our regulars to the arcade, John M. who is probably looking to see if he still had the high score on most of the machines.
Arkadia Retrocade - Game Floor

This is how the main floor of the Arkadia Retrocade looks today.
Arkadia Retrocade - 111013

Arkadia Retrocade - 11102013 B

One of the first things Players requested at Arkadia was a Foosball table as well as an air hockey table. Shea was too happy to oblige them. In fact we’ve gone through two Foosball tables and three Air Hockey tables since the doors have been opened.
Arkadia Retrocade - Foosball

Arkadia Retrocade - Air Hockey

Does the ‘brick wall’ behind the air hockey table look familiar to you? That would be because Shea had selected that section of the building to showcase a machine he had hoped to obtain before the doors opened, but a month late is all well and good when the Arkadia Retrocade could offer this…
Arkadia Retrocade - Tron

…as well as this.
Arkadia Retrocade - Discs of Tron

I’m going to end this diary entry here for now, this is not the end of the series though, I hope I’ve given you a glimpse behind the scenes of what it took to bring such a wonderful place to life through these first 6 entries. With the next entry I will begin to share what it is like to be an employee in a fully functioning arcade!

Thank you all so very much for reading these diaries and I hope you will hop on over to the Arkadia Retrocade Facebook Page today and give Shea and the arcade a mighty congrats on its first year anniversary.

I will leave you with what is my favorite photo…this was taken just a few days after Shea’s announcement and you can see myself flanked by Shea on my right and Shannon on my left. It was the beginning of a time where the arcade held so many promises…and thankfully delivered on them.

Arkadia Retrocade - Promises

Arkadia Retrocade - Outside 1

Diary Of An Arcade Employee – My Time At The Arkadia Retrocade Pt. 5

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.

Arkadia Retrocade - Drywall Dust

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.
Arkadia Retrocade - Drywall Dust 2

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!

Arkadia Retrocade - Mario - 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.
Arkadia Retrocade - More Games

Arkadia Retrocade - Free Play buttons

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.

Arkadia Retrocade - Painting 2

Arkadia Retrocade - Painting 1

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…
Arkadia Retrocade - Sign 1

…and by the end of that night it looked like this!
Arkadia Retrocade - Sign 3

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.

Arkadia Retrocade Banner

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.
Arkadia Retrocade - Outside 1

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.

Arkadia Retrocade - Snack Bar 1

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…
Arkadia Retrocade - Snack Bar

…and then more decorations.
Arkadia Retrocade - Snack Bar 2

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.

Arkadia Retrocade - Deck Building 5

Diary Of An Arcade Employee – My Time At The Arkadia Retrocade Pt. 4

In the three previous installments of the Diary of an Arcade Employee I have revealed the 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 the hard work that Shea as well as his friends and family were putting into the arcade with the building of the party room and cocktail game deck.

The first three 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

So we had most of the dry wall up and secured by this time in the birth of the Arkadia Retrocade which meant it was once again time for us to direct our attention back to the cocktail game deck. Due to the surprise cost of obtaining a three compartment sink the original idea for the deck had to be scaled back. As originally planned it would function as a 3 foot island in the middle of the arcade where the Players could take a breather and look out over the games and other players, enjoying a soda or snack while playing our cocktail cabinets. Of course the budget cut changed that but in this particular case it turned out to be for the better in the long run, while we naturally still needed to build a wheelchair accessible ramp we didn’t require railings on the edge of the deck.

Arkadia Retrocade - Deck Building 2

In this second photo you might notice the amount of Dr. Pepper and Mt. Dew resting on the snack bar along with all of the bags of nails and other building materials. Somehow Shea stayed rail thin while I ended up gaining ten extra pounds during the construction phase!
Arkadia Retrocade - Deck Building 4

Arkadia Retrocade - Deck Building 5

At about this time we had a very lucky break. Shea knew that he was going to have to learn to repair the machines as they went down, which when dealing with sometimes 30 year old games is something you have to prepared to accept, but he still wanted to find someone local we could count on to help keep the games up and running. I mentioned before that we did everything we could to make sure that people didn’t know what Shea was working on by putting up butcher’s paper in the windows, word though still got out on the streets and that word reached the ears of Jeremy Bright…who just so happened to be a high-school friend of Shea and myself.

Besides being super excited about the idea of an arcade opening up again…he happened to be a student of electrical engineering. A quick talk with Shea one afternoon while we were working on the deck and the Arkadia Retrocade had its ‘mechanic’!

Arkadia Retrocade - Jer Bright

Within two days Shea and I had completed the construction of the deck, though we still had to paint it of course. Before the sun went down on the second day, Shea had begun to move the arcade games to roughly where he wanted them to be when it was time to open the doors to the Players. That evening we celebrated of sorts as Shea revealed another decoration design, this time to the deck. Blue ‘Tron’ lights that would run the entire length of the deck so that when Shea lowered the lights in the arcade the Players would still be able to see and not trip on it.

Arkadia Retrocade - Lights

I’ve documented nearly 100% of the entire process of the building of the Arkadia Retrocade. I’ve over 3000 photos of the construction ranging from the few you’ve seen in the diaries to under the stairs of the office to the inside of every arcade machine on the floor. The amount of work that Shea put into the arcade not to mention his blood and sweat and occasional tears demanded to be preserved (I admit I had always planned to make these arcade diaries as well). When we dimmed the lights that night I took some of my favorite photos so far…the machines glowing in the dark just itching to be played by a new generation!

Arkadia Retrocade - Line Up 4

Arkadia Retrocade - Line up 2

Arkadia Retrocade - Line up 1

It was a magical moment to be sure and still continues to be every night that I get to visit the arcade. When the business day is done and the music is turned off…you hear only the siren’s call of electronic nirvana and the glowing machines have a way of making the stressful day just slip away.

While there was one more monkey wrench thrown into the bathroom construction…when the laborers up and vanished for two weeks…the arcade was really taking shape. We had missed our October 31st opening date and now it was getting down to brass tacks, Shea was being forced into a point of no return. If we couldn’t get the doors opened in the first few weeks of November it would be if you will pardon the pun, Game Over.

There was still much to work on and very little time to take care of sanding down the dry walls, the painting, and a whole ton of clean up.

But that will be discussed in the fifth chapter of the diary.

Arkadia Retrocade 45

Diary Of An Arcade Employee – My Time At The Arkadia Retrocade Pt. 3

My friends, in the previous two installments of the Diary of An Arcade Employee I have touched on the announcement by my friend, Shea Mathis, of the dream of the Arkadia Retrocade as well as the beginning of the construction for what would become the first arcade in Northwest Arkansas in over fifteen years.

The first two 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

When I last left off, the hard work of bringing Shea’s vision to fruition had just barely begun. The contractors had been hired to transform the one tiny bathroom and storage room into Code approved bathrooms, with double stalls for the Women’s restroom and handicap accessibility.

Watching from the sidelines during these early days I saw Shea handle business matters that would resemble the fate of Sisyphus. Agreed upon construction costs were changed it seemed to me from week to week, starting dates slipped by and worst of all the promised completion times were not upheld.

Please bear in mind that Shea didn’t have access to an infinite amount of money, he had been smart however and did his homework and had budgeted the cost of everything down to the last nail used in the construction of the cocktail games deck. That is where the sage advice from the other arcade owners really helped, to lessen the burden somewhat of Shea having to find out the hard way on his own, though there was still a steep learning curve.

But for everything that changed in the construction plan something else had to be put on the back burner or sacrificed for the time being to reach that proposed opening date at the end of October. So what could we do in the meantime while we waited for the bathroom construction to begin?

We began to work on the pony walls at the entrance of the arcade as well as the party room. During the construction period Shea and I worked from seven in the morning until ten at night every single day, except for the weekends when I worked my 48 hour shifts at the Hotel, that is when Shea would typically be doing everything himself. Thankfully we also had the aid of our group of friends and associates that we knew in our other jobs that could be counted on to lend a much needed and appreciated hand with the massive amount of work.

So within a few weeks what was just tape on the floor to mark the areas of the pony walls and Party room went from resembling this…
Arkadia Retrocade - Work begins

…to this.
Arkadia Retrocade - Pony Walls 1

Arkadia Retrocade - Pony WallsParty Room Walls

Arkadia Retrocade - Party Room Walls Deck Outline

At the same time as the party room construction had begun we had to work on repairing nearly all of the insulation as it wasn’t up to par for health reasons, Shea did that all by himself on a single weekend. Many of the ceiling tiles had to be replaced as well or worked on to allow speakers to be inserted and for new wiring to facilitate appropriate lighting as well as Code specific emergency signs.

Arkadia Retrocade - Working On The Ceiling Tiles

We learned quickly that sometimes the most valuable thing you needed when starting your own business, the thing that was even more important to have than the aid of your friends…
Arkadia Retrocade - Hacksaw!
…was a good hacksaw!

The building of the deck was the next project and the one I ended up helping with the most. We started off with just placing the planks of wood atop the masking tape, so that we could get a picture in our mind’s eye of how it would look when finished.

Arkadia Retrocade - Deck Building

In this photo you can already see some of the 50+ games that were moved from the storage locker and that Shea had already begun to paint the Super Mario Bros. pipe!
Arkadia Retrocade - Deck 1

Arkadia Retrocade - Deck Building 2

Like many times as we were working we found that the best way to not lose our minds was to take a quick lunch, in our case there is a local bakery that sells doughnuts and strong coffee that in my opinion must be crafted by angels. Shea and I would talk through the problems facing the arcade and then bounce the solutions off of each other as we slowly would get hopped up on the sugar and caffeine. Which helped when you get back to the arcade and find that you had to put the deck on hold to begin putting up the dry wall for the party room and pony walls.

Arkadia Retrocade - Dry Wall

Arkadia Retrocade - Inner Party Room

Arkadia Retrocade - Inner Party Room 2

Before we actually started putting up the dry wall though, Shea revealed a neat little adornment design he had planned to the outside of the main party room wall…

Arkadia Retrocade - Party Room Adornments

Thanks to one of Shea’s brothers he was able to get his hand on these three pieces of actual arcade games and we installed them into the wall.

Now weeks into the construction we were fortunate that the bathrooms were well on their way to completion and the electricians as you can see in some of the photos had already laid most of the work for the new power outlets. Little surprises of course continued to pop up such as suddenly needing to budget in the purchase for a three compartment sink for Arkadia to have a snack bar. We were only going to be selling bagged chips and candy as well as canned or bottled cokes but the type of business that was being opened necessitated the need of the sink.

These continual surprises led to these continual looks on our faces…the exhaustion gaze. In this photo Shea is discussing some of the changes to the plan of the deck with one of our friends.
Arkadia Retrocade - Tired

Still we were getting closer and closer to the prize.

But that will be discussed in the fourth chapter of the diary.

Arkadia Retrocade Logo

Donkey Kong Kill Screen Attempt By Jonathan McCourt At The Arkadia Retrocade!

Arkadia Retrocade Logo
Exciting news has just come across the Retroist Central News desk that this evening Jonathan McCourt will attempt to reach a Donkey Kong Kill Screen at the Arkadia Retrocade!

Jonathan McCourt currently is the 25th best Donkey Kong player according to the Twin Galaxies site where he sits with a documented 729,700 points! Jonathan took part in the Kong Off 2 tournament last November where he competed among the giants of Donkey Kong High Score Holders like Hank Chien, Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, Vincent LeMay, and Dean Saglio.

Jonathan will stream the attempt on his TwitchTV Channel which you can watch by following the link provided below. The live stream at the moment is having some issues, something to do with the camera set up so the Arkadia Retrocade has reported.

Updated: Looks like the feed is up and running.

http://www.twitch.tv/awsomejon

Let’s all wish Jonathan the best of luck in his attempt!

Arkadia Retrocade 45

Diary Of An Arcade Employee – My Time At The Arkadia Retrocade Pt. 2

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…
Arcadia Retrocade - Empty Floor
Arkadia Retrocade - Empty B

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…
Arkadia Retrocade - Back Room
..and construct two separate bathrooms with handicap accessibility. In this photo the laborers had just started on the Women’s restroom.
Arkadia Retrocade - Women's Bathroom

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.

At this time Shea only had a handful of games being stored in the storage room.
Arkadia Retrocade - Store Room A

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.
Arkadia Retrocade - The First Line Up

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.

Arkadia Retrocade - Surprise

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!
Arkadia Retrocade - Surprise 2
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.

Arkadia Retrocade 45

Diary Of An Arcade Employee – My Time At The Arkadia Retrocade

For those of us of a certain age who proudly call ourselves Gamers there is a dream, one that is sadly impossible to achieve for most of us in this day and age…the dream of working at an 80s arcade. For myself I can say that particular dream started in my youth back when I first stepped into the hustle and bustle of our local Showbiz Pizza for the first time. The neon lights combining with the heat from so many people and machines, the sounds of yelling and laughing merged with the already staggering electronic din from the machines themselves. It was simply wonderland.

But then the Showbiz Pizza in my neck of the woods became a Chuck E. Cheese and the machines were carted away to be replaced with more ticket games and a large inside playground for toddlers. It had ceased to be an arcade. I could still plop in a quarter in a machine at a convenient store or shopping mall…but it really wasn’t the same was it? Where could I find the thrill of gaming with like-minded Players now? How would I ever be able to become an employee of an arcade that matched my memories from the 1980’s?

Those answers wouldn’t come to me until nearly 28 years later.

I would like to share my personal story, a diary of an arcade employee of sorts of not only what it is like to work at the Arkadia Retrocade but to shine a light on some of the behind the scenes of what it took to bring the dream to life and what it takes to maintain it.

But an arcade obviously doesn’t spring into existence, it has to start with a prime location and a person who has the vision to see an empty store like this…

…and the willpower and drive to transform it into this…

The Arkadia Retrocade is the dream made reality by one Shea Mathis. A friend of mine that quite frankly decided without spilling the secret to anyone that he was ready to be a business owner and wanted to bring to our town something that he felt had been missing for many years. An arcade, one that catered to the family element but focused on the arcade titles of the 80s and early 90s of his youth. For over a year as he researched and got sage advice from other arcade owners he began going to arcade auctions and scouring the likes of Craigslist and eBay for affordable machines that matched his criteria and honestly his budget.

After obtaining over 50 machines, hiding them away in a storage unit in town so the beans weren’t spilled to any of his friends he went about finding the perfect location. While he knew the arcade needed to be near the local university he kept an open mind in scouting the locations where he felt the business would thrive. Should it be opened in a nearby Mall? Next to a comic shop?

The answer turned out to be in the Evelyn Hills shopping center, which just so happens to be the very same center where Showbiz Pizza and then Chuck E. Cheese used to be in operation. Sadly the building that housed those places was far too big and naturally expensive to fit Shea’s budget. But a slightly smaller shop about five stores down had been vacant for near six years and it had a proud history to it as well, worthy to house an 80s arcade! Before it closed in the 90s it was THE place to get music in this town and was known as Sound Warehouse, in fact I picked up my first 45 record there in my youth, Cyndi Lauper’s “The Goonies ‘r’ Good Enough”.

The next thing facing Shea was the logistics and daunting task of getting the necessary contractors to take a shop that was built in the 1950’s and possessed one bathroom and sink and bringing it up to Code, building two bathrooms, a snack bar, a deck for the cocktail cabinets, and making sure that there was plenty of grounded outlets installed for all of the many arcade machines as well as for future growth.

This is about the time that Shea brought his friends in on what he was planning. He called me up one evening and asked if I was able to meet him at Evelyn Hills, he told me that a friend of his brother had vacated a store there and left something behind that I would be greatly interested in. I drove up and met him and his brother there and they led me to the backroom of this darkened vacant shop, they opened the door and inside was a group of arcade cabinets! They had Pengo, Street Fighter II, GORF, Centipede, Millipede, Dig Dug, Track and Field, Willow, Thunder Blade, and Double Dragon II. I was speechless. These friends of Shea’s brother had just left these machines back there? The first thing that popped into my head is if they had abandoned these machines could I legally lay claim to them?! Then Shea with an impish grin told me that these machines were indeed owned…by him and he was going to open an arcade.

My mind went blank and I couldn’t stop a smile spreading across my face…the dream of working at an arcade was within my grasp. The problem would occur with the contractors and that is where I learned just how much backbreaking labor was involved with starting your own arcade.

That all begins with the second part of the Arcade Diary though!