Game on: Retro arcade coming to South Portland's Knightville neighborhood
SOUTH PORTLAND — His family was crowned the "First Family of Classic Arcade Gaming," and now the heir apparent is coming to Knightville.
That's where arcade aficionado David Demers will open Portland Arcade with his former high school teacher, Chris Perks, as the business manager.
The arcade is tentatively scheduled to open the beginning of January in a rather unusual location: the second floor of City Councilor Melissa Linscott's real estate office at 22 Cottage Road.
Perks and Demers secured a five-year lease earlier this fall at the white office building, which sits across from the South Portland City Hall and post office, next to the Hannaford Bros. Mill Creek supermarket.
The pair said they aim to fill a gap left by arcades like Chuck E. Cheese's and the Dream Machine, which both closed at the Maine Mall in the last decade.
But more importantly, Perks said, they hope to continue the revitalization of Knightville and compliment surrounding businesses like the new Otto Pizza restaurant up the street.
Perks, who lives in Portland, said the arcade will be lined with classic games like "Ms. Pac Man," "Centipede," "Donkey Kong," some obscure titles, a few pinball games, and other electro-mechanical games like bubble hockey.
There will also be a room dedicated to old gaming consoles, like the Nintendo Entertainment System and Atari 2600.
In addition, Perks said there will be an outdoor "gaming garden" during the summer in the building's adjacent lots, with Foosball and other table-top games.
"We're not selling tokens because it's open play," Perks said. "You buy like a movie ticket, and it's good for two hours. Everything is unlimited: just play, play, play."
But he said that's not what the arcade is actually selling.
"What we're really selling is happiness," Perks said.
While it was Perks' idea to start the arcade, it was Demers' passion for gaming and his family's large collection of arcade cabinets that made everything possible.
Perks met Demers when he was a student at Noble High School in North Berwick, where Perks taught science and English.
The former teacher said when his 5-year-old son said the Portland area needed a new arcade, he remembered that Demers had quite the hobby and quite the stash of arcade games.
Demers, who lives in Lebanon, said he began playing arcade games in middle school with two of his uncles, who would take him to the Funspot Family Fun Center in Laconia, N.H, the largest arcade in the world, according to Guinness World Records.
Over time, he and other family members became skilled at various games, which allowed them to gain clout with high-score champions like Billy Mitchell, one of the protagonists in the 2007 documentary film, "The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters."
"We've all had world records on games," Demers said.
In June 2007, Walter Day, the founder of the Twin Galaxies video game world records organization, crowned Demers' family as the "First Family of Classic Arcade Gaming," at Funspot.
Arcades have generally dropped in popularity over the past two decades as home video game consoles caught traction worldwide.
But Perks believes Portland Arcade will catch on because people his age and their families will be attracted to the nostalgia of the old games and the "good throwback, retro style."
"Regardless of whether or not we can make a lot of money on it," he said, "it's important to us to save these things. This is sort of our museum."