Seems like we get an email like this about once a month:
“I am writing first of all to thank you for the best arcade I have been to since ever. But also because I would like to start something similar in my own town. I am hoping you’d be able to maybe answer a few questions about how to get started and what kinds of things to avoid.”
Thanks for the kind words! We don’t want to discourage you, because the world could definitely use more classic arcades, but…if it was an easy thing to open a classic arcade like Ground Kontrol, then don’t you think every decent-sized town would have one?
GK has been in business almost 10 years now, and for the first 6, we struggled to break even. At first, it was run full-time by the owners, because there wasn’t money for employees. Business came slowly, mostly by word-of-mouth. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe we almost didn’t make it. Luckily, we could afford to be patient through the lean years.
The biggest challenge has always been keeping the games running. Ground Kontrol is, if you think about it, a hands-on museum. We have games up to 35 years old, and they were designed to last only a few years! Repairs can be challenging, and parts nearly impossible to find. Luckily, 2 of the owners are electrical engineers, and the other 2 are software guys that know something about hardware, so there’s very little we can’t handle. And we finally were able to afford to hire a full-time repair tech a few months ago (hard to believe it took so long). Still, keeping 90 or so games running is a logistical nightmare, as you can imagine.
We’re lucky in that we’ve had nearly 10 years to build up a pretty decent collection of games. It seems to be getting harder to find classic games in good condition. The cheap ones got snapped up years ago, and eBay makes people think they deserve collectible prices regardless of condition. And speaking of eBay, fuel prices make the cost of shipping games prohibitive. So, you’re probably limited to what you can find in your local market via Craigslist, unless you’re willing to pay premium prices.
In conclusion, running an classic arcade is more a labor of love than a way to make money. But Kevin Flynn has long been one of our idols, and there’s nothing better than living your dreams. All in all, Ground Kontrol has been worth the hard work.
If we haven’t discouraged you, then we’d like to wish you the best of luck in your venture! Just don’t open a classic arcade in Portland – this town is barely big enough for one!