Area arcade options advancing to the next level
Rochester’s geek flag will fly at full mast this summer, as three businesses up their game in an attempt to capture a growing number of dollars in the nostalgia entertainment industry.
Changes started last month, when the Machine Shed, a retro video game arcade, took over the entire building at 11 Second Street Northeast. Owner James Aakre spent the last few weeks moving a satellite operation out of the Apache Mall and doubling the number of playable games on his floor.
NerdinOut, a toy, comic, and game shop, is closed until June 8, when it will host a grand opening of its new location at 1802 Second Street Southwest. The owners, Jake Scharpen and Brad Vigesaa, are not just adding space to their retail operation — later this summer they will open a tactical laser tag venue next door.
The newest, most mysterious arrival on the city’s nostalgia scene is Rochester Games and Arcade, 27 Ninth Street Southeast. Located in a one-time pawn shop building, the business will feature a constant rotation of classic and modern video games, ax throwing, and ice cream. They specialize in parties for adults, kids, even business groups.
“Clean and high-end” are the words owner Jason Shiffer uses when describing Rochester Games and Arcade. It will be the fifth opened by his group; the first opened in Grimes, Iowa.
The operation has generated some buzz in local circles, but its presence online is hard to find and there is no set opening date. According to Shiffer, that was not part of the plan.
“We want to open up yesterday. The whole place is built,” he said in a recent interview. “There are literally 70 games in there, everything, the throw axe arenas are built, all the concession stands, everything is built. It’s ready to open within five days once I get building occupancy.”
People have called, asking to schedule a party, but he’s had to turn them down. Realistically, Shiffer hopes to open later this summer. For now, the website for his first operation, in Iowa, gives a sense of what to expect.
NerdinOut is waiting for permits, too. Their retail space is set to open Saturday, but the second half of the building, where their brand-new tactical laser tag operation will run, has a few more hurdles to clear.
That laser tag arena, according to the owners, is more like stepping into a real-life first-person shooter video game than a traditional laser tag match. With realistic weapons, a more complicated playing style, and a longer play time, they are hoping to attract as many adults as they do youths.
Vigesaa’s faith in the game’s realism is so strong that he has even floated the idea of letting local law enforcement train in the space, in addition to birthday parties and business outings.
Laser tag aside, NerdinOut’s new location is a huge leap in space and visibility. According to Scharpen, NerdinOut’s name has spread via word of mouth and on social media. The addition of street visibility will, they hope, bring more random shoppers in.
“It’s kind of like the Marvel movies, I like to say. There’s phase one, phase two, phase three. That store was phase one,” said Vigesaa. “It was so small we didn’t have room for much of anything. This new store is going to be more for the community.”
That includes room for Magic games, comic reading, customer lounging, and even a room for podcasting.
At Machine Shed, the expansion has been two years in the works.
Taking over the whole building was his plan from day one, but he had to wait out another tenant’s contract. While he waited, he opened a satellite arcade in the Apache Mall. He wanted to see if that was still a viable location for one. “Turns out it is, just not my arcade,” he said.
(D&R Star is taking over that location with an operation more geared toward claw-grab and ticket games.)
In the process of taking over the whole building, he’s doubled the number of playable arcade machines on the floor. There are now roughly 70 games, and a separate space for virtual reality.
“I just keep buying games and I just keep buying them. But I think that’s the way you’ve got to do it,” said Aakre.
His worst fear is being accused of always having the same games. Because he spends so much time there, Aakre says he is able to monitor which games are popular and which are taking up valuable space on the floor. In that process, he weeds out games that don’t play, sell them, and buy new games that will be played. Donkey Kong went unplayed, as did Centipede.
On the other hand, Mortal Kombat 2 is so popular he has two, same with Street Fighter 2. “If you don’t have Street FIghter 2, you’re not an arcade. That’s the truth,” Aakre told me.
His future plans include a computer lab of early machines. The second floor of Machine Shed, he says, is filled with Mac Classics, Commodore 64s, SP400s, and a 95-pound Compaq briefcase computer with a nine-inch amber screen.
Owning and operating a business in a niche market in a smaller city is no easy task. So why persist?
“This is still a passion project for me,” said Aakare. “It’s the feel, it’s the nostalgia, it’s the smell. It’s all those things.”
Age-wise, his usual customers are someone in their 30 to 40 year-olds with a child in tow. Otherwise he’s got some teenage regulars. Watching one generation teach another one is what keeps these owners coming back.
“We want to be more than just a toy, comic book store. We want to be a resource for the city. We want to be a resource for kids to be able to come somewhere and learn, or parents to even learn what their kids like about all this stuff,” said Vigesaa.
Bryan Lund covers politics and culture for Med City Beat.
Cover photo: NerdinOut owners Jake Scharpen and Brad Vigesaa