GREENVILLE — Flashing lights, ringing bells, rolling balls.
In the 1970s, the spectacle of kids in bell-bottom jeans repeatedly popping quarters into pinball machines was a familiar sight.
Then, in the 1980s, youngsters began blowing their allowances on addictive video games like Pac-Man, Asteroids and Donkey Kong.
The golden age of the arcade, however, came to a close by the end of that decade, with the large, upright pinball and video games largely replaced by small home gaming consoles produced by companies such as Atari, Nintendo and Sega.
Today, Doug Barger, owner of the recently opened “Doug’s Arcade” on Broadway Avenue in Greenville, hopes to “turn back the clock,” so to speak.
Entering the arcade may be a near time-travel experience for many who grew up “back in the day.”
“This is a unique concept,” he said. “We wanted to do something different, something family friendly, so everyone, young and old, can play.”
The concept is not only unique, it’s simple. Those wishing to play will pay a fee ranging from $5 to $7 (depending on day and time), and receive a wristband for entrance. From that point on, every game in the arcade is free to play — no quarters or tokens required — for a 3- or 4-hour block of playtime.
It’s quickly evident that Barger is passionate about what he does. Each game in his arcade has a story, and he’s more than happy to tell that story.
“This one here,” he says, motioning to a “Nip-It” pinball machine, “This is just like the one seen in episodes of ‘Happy Days.’ You would sometimes see the Fonz thump on it.”
In addition to “businessman,” it would also be fair to call Barger a “Pinball Doctor,” as he repairs and restores the arcade machines not only for himself, but for others.
“It’s very labor intensive,” he says, noting that repairing arcade games is much more pleasing than his former profession as a television repairman.
“Not one customer having their TV repaired was happy, either coming in or going out,” he said. “With pinball? Everyone is happy to have their machine fixed.”
Pinball, while the predominant attraction, is not the only amusement featured at Doug’s Arcade, however.
One of his current projects is refurbishing a two-seat racing game called “OutRunners.”
The arcade also includes a skeeball game and mechanical shooting gallery games, among others. In all, customers will have the opportunity to play 28 games, and Barger says he would like to add more.
While game-playing consumers in the 1980s found it much easier to play in the comfort of their own homes, Barger believes the classic arcade still has a place in today’s society.
“I want people to get the feel of what an arcade used to be,” he remarks. “Kids today don’t know the joys of this. There’s no real physical interaction with home video consoles. There’s stuff here you can’t do at home on a Play Station or XBox, but I think things like this are coming back now.”
“What’s happened is that home video games are too commonplace,” he adds. “This will give people the opportunity to go out on the town, do something fun.”
Barger is undeterred by the prospect of failure.
“I know most new businesses fail, but I have a good feeling this will do well,” he said. “Sure, I want to make money, but to do it in a way that will allow people to have fun at a reasonable price.”
“I wanted to live my dream, to bring fun back into people’s lives. It’s important to have fun in your life, without breaking your back over the cost.”
He described a satisfying experience soon after the business first opened its doors.
“Last week, the people that left here left with smiles on their faces,” he said. “I’ve never seen such happy people.”
Doug’s Arcade is open on afternoons and evenings, Thursday through Sunday. Game session hours and costs vary. Private parties can also be booked. For more information, contact Barger by email at [email protected] or call 937-564-0179.