A Charlottesville arcade that doubles as a hands-on museum of generation-spanning pinball and video games opens to the public in a new location Friday on the Downtown Mall. Decades Arcade, which has previously operated in two other local places, reopens on two levels at 418 E. Main St.
“It’s in a great spot,” longtime customer Carrie McGowan told The Daily Progress. “I think it’s going to totally boost the business.”
Decades Arcade is the brainchild of a University of Virginia eye surgeon named Paul Yates. The 55-year-old Yates began his collection after he won a contest when he was a teenager that gave him the use of a pinball machine for a week.
“I never had any grand ambitions to open an arcade,” said Yates. “It’s just that I collected a lot of machines.”
Eventually, the collection expanded to video games including such classics as Pong, Frogger, Galaga, Asteroids and Pac Man.
“I grew up playing these games,” said Yates, “and I actually enjoy fixing these things more than I enjoy playing them.”
Besides fixing human eyeballs, Yates is an electrical engineer who confesses a particular interest in repairing 1980s game consoles whose innards often mixed digital and analog components including cathode ray tubes, those heavy backbones of the era’s televisions.
“We like to have a lot of old-school games, so that parents can show them to the kids,” said Yates. “We also like to have a lot of games that you can’t simulate on a PS5.”
That means basketball, Skee-ball, several sit-down driving games and an air hockey table.
“We restore them, we bring them in here, and we let people play something that they’re not going to find anywhere because the last time it was out in the world being played on a routine basis was 1968,” said Yates. “It’s all about trying to give a unique experience.”
The nearly 40 pinball machines date back to a 1957 model with wooden side rails, and they’re curated with little signs on top giving some history. Yates intends eventually to extend the curation to his approximately 80 video games.
In contrast to the days when a user would flick a quarter into a machine, Decades Arcade is an all-you-can-play buffet, where $12 buys unlimited play for two hours and $17 lets one play all day. For now, it’s open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
One advantage of the new location, Yates said, is climate control. Half of the facility is located in the building’s basement, a stark contrast to its former home in a corrugated metal warehouse-like building that couldn’t keep up with the multitude of heat-spewing machines.
“They would get so hot that the monitors would blow,” Yates recalled.
Loyal customer McGowan said that she and her 10-year-old son were fond of their proximity to the most recent location, in Kathy’s Shopping Center on Carlton Road, but she approves of the new setup downtown.
“They’ve done a great job organizing the games,” said McGowan. “It’s going to open their games to a whole new group of people.”