‘Tis a day for some arcade location news. First off…
Super Arcade (Walnut, CA) To Move Locations – Thanks to CD ageS for the tip on this; Shoryuken.com has an interview with the owner Mike Watson about the move. You might recall that not long ago, Super Arcade ran a successful Kickstarter to renovate the space. The announcement of the move has caused some confusion out there – some claiming it is closing, others maybe a little upset over the Kickstarter getting somewhere and then they move. However I think it is completely sensible for them to do this. Mr. Watson mentions more than once that the landlord wasn’t willing to work with them. This is something that most arcade owners have to grapple with, high rent costs. A vast majority of arcade operators are going to be in a rental situation and in my own experience with that, the landlords have made a heck of a lot more money off of my business than I have. Granted that is all most of us can do as purchasing/owning is even more expensive to take care of. Running a business is about managing various things – money, people, equipment, laws, etc. If you are not making enough money to cover every single bill you have, then you will not be able to pay people, buy equipment and you have to close your doors. It isn’t a difficult concept to comprehend but from what I often see in my social media feeds it is not something that seems to be understood very well at all.
Overall I wish Super Arcade the best of luck in their move. From what Mike says, they will be able to do more for their customers at the end of the day, which is preferable to the alternative of them closing after they get locked into a foolish contract(then the owner having to be personally liable for the remainder of the contract which could bankrupt them). Trust me, if you were in the same situation and you are staring at 5 or 10 year contract with skyrocketing rental costs and little benefit to you, you wouldn’t sign that either if you had any sense.
Hollywood Connection in West Valley City, UT Closes – Speaking of closures, here is an unfortunate example of that and one that I have a personal history with. The Hollywood Connection was an FEC in my home town that opened up in 1998. They also happened to be my 3rd job when I got into the arcade/laser tag area. I usually stuck to running the laser tag arena instead of the redemption desk (this is where my loathing of redemption came from, in case anyone has ever wondered) as with the laser tag being surrounded by video arcades it was pretty much watching over that part of the arcade without the hassle of whining about cheap prizes and tickets. Eventually I moved in the the management team of the arcade and often I ran the whole show when the higher up managers couldn’t be found, I even interviewed people for jobs. It was a great “foot-in-the-door” for the arcade industry but even back then I saw various problems that would eventually snowball into the closure.
Now this was a situation where the owners of the site owned the building and being an FEC, they had quite a lot to work with – a huge arcade with over 100 video games, probably around 50 redemption pieces; a skating rink, party rooms, a restaurant, miniature golf, some theme park type rides and a 15 screen movie theater. They also were right across the street from a major event center where concerts, sports and various other events take place regularly. For a long time it seemed to do quite well, I remember closing up on weekends where just the arcade would rake in over $3000 a night (and this was around the time of the industry market crash in 2000). The one time they updated some of the game selection when I was there was adding a pair of SF Rush 2049 cabinets, a Rolling Extreme, a Crisis Zone and a few others I can’t remember. Setting them up and afterwards enjoying those games on break was a lot of fun – with so many employees there we had regular high score competitions. One thing that might not have been good of us to do (from a customer perspective) is we would set games we were competing on to the hardest difficulties, since that would equal the biggest scores and bonuses. I was proud of topping all of the Rush 2049 leaderboards, clearing Crisis Zone with getting hit in slightly over 12 min or trying to crack the top score on Star Wars Trilogy Arcade, which I never managed to do only getting 3rd place behind the top guy.
Here is a video I took from their arcade floor two months before I opened my own place:
So what happened to them? Did they close because they tried to make money with an arcade and that is cursed to be a death knell?
No, of course not. The first problem was neglect. You had management that wanted to do things but out-of-state management/owners didn’t care or fully understand what needed to be done to keep the place interesting. I would drop by every now and then in the years afterwards and every time it just got sadder and sadder – the carpet was thrashed and had duct tape to patch it; a huge section of dead arcade games sat there collecting dust; the games didn’t appear to be cleaned very often; they would sometimes add a few games but it was rare, certainly not an annual event. Customers can tell when you aren’t even trying.
When I opened my arcade just a block or two away from them in 2008 (I can see their facility from the right point in the parking lot of the mall here), their general manager came in and was badly wanting the Blazing Angels I had but he wasn’t allowed to buy it. I had people telling me that my arcade was better than theirs despite having zero redemption and maybe a sixth of the size. It wasn’t just the arcade though – the laser tag arena never changed and the packs always had issues; they were pretty much the last place in Salt Lake with a miniature golf course but they never bothered to update it in any way, just letting it become more run down as the years passed on. They tried specials and some promotions which seemed to work a little bit but it wasn’t enough.
Then came more competition. There was myself although I have no way of knowing exactly how much I might have peeled away from them – they still had size and even with all the busted games, many more than I have. Other FEC type places have opened in the valley and have been doing pretty well and then came the big competitor – a popular local movie theater chain opened up an IMAX at the mall where I am at, a facility with all of the latest technological ideas (D-BOX, Dolby Atmos, Private rental rooms, HFR 3D, a full restaurant menu you could take into the theater, etc., etc.) That is what caused me to move from my second location as presently part of their kitchen is where my arcade used to be at. When I heard the announcement I knew that was the beginning of the end for HC although they somehow managed to hold on for two years. It probably didn’t help that in nearby Salt Lake City a Gameworks just opened and they have ‘all the fixings’ as far as a game offerings go.
Overall even though they were competitors, it is sad to see them go. Maybe its just nostalgia on my part for a job that I had as a teenager and what gave me some professional experience with the arcade. Sadder though to have watched the slow motion death spiral over the years. RIP Hollywood Connection