“Pac-Man,” “Donkey Kong,” “Frogger” – if you miss taking a stack of quarters to the arcade to play those games, you might want to check out Z82 Retrocade in Sherwood. You won’t even need the quarters.
Owner Daniel Solis offers 70 of those old-school games, with more in a warehouse waiting to be restored. Visitors pay a $7.50 entrance fee plus tax to get in the door, and then it’s all-you-can-play.
“We’re selling time, transporting yourself through time to a time when people actually cared about these games,” he said.
Solis, 45, thought when he opened the arcade that the primary clientele would be people his age. It turned out to be young people. Nostalgia, he said, just gets some people in the door.
“If the game was actually really great to you, you love it, you’ll come back and play it and make new memories, and that’s what we’re finding is happening,” he said. “After the nostalgia wears off, people come back to play the games.”
Michelle Heckman is one of his regulars – in fact, practically a volunteer employee. The arcade was a regular date night destination for herself and her husband before the military shipped him to Okinawa without her.
“If it wasn’t for Z82, I’d be going crazy,” she said. “I really would. Z82, Daniel is family. We call the regulars here, we call them ‘the indigenous’ because we’re habit-dwelling. And there’s a big group of us that we all lean on each other for support in our daily lives.”
The doors were opened June 22, 2013, but the dream began much earlier. Sollis began collecting the machines 21 years ago, buying duplicates of machines for spare parts. The total investment so far is about $100,000. He learned technical skills on his own and by working a series of jobs for a cabinet maker, for IK Electric, and then for an arcade.
Those technical skills are critical because these 1980s games aren’t made any more, and parts are expensive. “The Simpsons” game had been standing in two feet of water before it was purchased, so the bottom had to be completely rebuilt. Last Friday, the “Asteroids,” “Missile Command” and “Popeye” games all needed quick, minor repairs.
“Every job I’ve had was moving me toward this,” he said.
Solis said business has been “good and bad” – affected by taxes, the weather, and sporting events. There are challenges associated with opening the arcade in a strip mall at 4051 E. Kiehl Avenue in Sherwood, Arkansas, rather than in a more populated area. On the other hand, he said the arcade is a unique destination for central Arkansas. Determined to make it a family-friendly, he doesn’t sell alcohol. Instead, he offers birthday parties and video game competitions. Describing himself as “a jack of all trades and master of none” of the games, he’ll offer coaching and strategy tips.
“If the place didn’t make any money, I would take everything, go to a warehouse, make sure it was safe for kids, and do donations, open up, because it’s not about the money,” he said. “It really isn’t.”