THE WEDGE — Thirty years after the golden age of video arcades, Sage and Annie Spirtos hope to bring Space Invaders and Donkey Kong back into your life.
The husband and wife business partners are aiming to open Rusty Quarters arcade in early December in the commercial property in between Jackson’s and Bryant Lake Bowl at 818 W. Lake St.
Believe it or not, in 1982, arcades actually generated more revenue than Hollywood films and pop music combined. But those halcyon days came to an end as play-at-home gaming consoles gained popularity. Today, notions of whiling away afternoons with pocketfulls of quarters in dimly lit arcades are mostly figments in the imaginations of Reagan-era high school graduates.
Sage Spirtos said he envisions that folks interested in dropping laundry-loads of quarters for their gaming pleasure will by and large have grown up with Pac-Man and the Mario Bros. For that reason, to begin with, Rusty Quarters’ 21-cabinet game list will almost exclusively feature arcade classics straight from the ’80s.
But, Sage added, today’s young gamers probably don’t realize what they’ve been missing while holed up in their parents’ basements playing XBox 360 and Nintendo Wii. He said he hopes Rusty Quarters will become an all-ages hangout appealing to both nostalgia and younger gamers looking for a different type of challenge in a setting featuring actual flesh-and-blood camaraderie.
Arcades are about “encouraging your friends to show up,” Sage said. “Instead of staying home and playing Modern Warfare with your headset on, it’s about playing with people where you live and the social interaction.”
Spirtos said he peruses eBay and
Craigslist everyday for deals on used arcade cabinets. Since the supply of arcade cabinets is now far greater than demand, cabinets that may have sold for thousands of dollars 30 years ago can now be snapped up for as little as a couple hundred bucks.
As might be expected, many arrive looking the worse for wear. Sage fixes some of the broken-down games himself, installing new buttons and working over mangled-looking marquees to get the cabinets looking and playing as close to new as possible.
In addition to the aforementioned titles, Rusty Quarters’ initial game list includes Asteroids, Frogger, Rampage, Track & Field and many others. Sage said he anticipates the list will evolve as he learns more about patrons’ preferences.
Due to space constraints, the Spirtoses don’t have plans to add pinball or other large-cabinet games, but otherwise Rusty Quarters’ game list will only be limited by the imagination of regulars and the availability of cabinets on the Internet.
“If I can get it through the door I’ll get try and get it in here,” Sage said.
Rusty Quarters is actually the third independent business the Spirtoses have owned and operated out of 818 Lake in the last year.
Sage and Annie opened Double Danger Comics in 2010. With post-holiday sales slow, the Spirtos reinvented Double Danger as Puff n’ Stuff Gifts and Novelties last winter. But after a strong start, by summer sales had again slowed and Sage and Annie began thinking about a non-retail business model.
“People would come in, look around and say ‘we can’t wait to do our holiday shopping here,’ not realizing that if they didn’t spend their $5 then we weren’t going to make it until Christmas,” Annie said. “And even if we have a wonderful holiday and did really great sales, we figured that come January we’d be dead in the water and just trying to make it until spring.”
Sage and Annie had Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. cabinets stashed in the basement of their home. Toward the end of Puff n’ Stuff’s run, the couple decided to move the games into their retail store for the enjoyment of patrons who had a quarter or two to spare.
The games were a surprising hit. Soon, the Spirtoses would arrive in the mornings and find gamers waiting outside Puff n’ Stuff for their Donkey Kong fix before the store even opened.
“At the end of the month, we’d look at it and say ‘wow, we’re making a lot of money’” from the video games, Sage said.
“It got to the point where we were doing better with the games per day than with regular sales,” he added, and the idea culminating in Rusty Quarters was born.
Reach Aaron Rupar at [email protected] On Twitter at @atruparJournals.
Rusty Quarters will be open noon–10 p.m., Monday through Thursday; noon–11 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m.–11 p.m., Saturdays; and 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sundays.
Snacks and sodas are served, but no booze. Five dollar unlimited play specials are available weekday afternoons.
For more information, check out Rusty Quarters’ website at rqarcade.com.