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Let the games begin: Retro arcade debuts in South Portland

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Let the games begin: Retro arcade debuts in South Portland

SOUTH PORTLAND — Gamers rejoice: after months of anticipation, the retro-style Portland Arcade will officially open at 22 Cottage Road on Saturday, April 26.

As promised, the boutique arcade features favorites like "Ms. Pac-Man" and "Donkey Kong," as well as a room filled with vintage gaming consoles like Atari 2600, Nintendo and the Commodore 64.

Owners Chris Perks and David Demers said they hope to fill a void left by businesses like Dream Machine and Chuck E. Cheeze.

"There's no place like this," Demers said.

The arcade's grand opening will feature a special word-game event from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. to commemorate the 31st anniversary of correspondence between Soviet President Yuri Andropov and the late peace activist, 10-year-old Maine resident Samantha Smith. Admission to the arcade will be $5 for a minimum of two hours of play, rather than the typical quarters or coins per play.

Referencing current tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine, Perks said it is relevant to remember Smith's message of the power of words, with tournaments of games like "Boggle" and "Wheel of Fortune." Perks and Demers said they hope to hold similar events in the future, too.

The arcade is furnished with game systems and memorabilia from Demers and his family, who collect gaming devices and have ranked in video game competitions internationally. He said he hopes to rotate what they make available in the arcade; he has more than 200 machines and systems in storage.

The former office space above Linscott Real Estate at 22 Cottage Road is broken into categorized rooms filled with like-style games.

The dimly lit "retro room" features comfy chairs and old home game consoles on antique Zenith televisions, with shelves full of games and clunky controllers. A second room holds more physically oriented games, like air hockey and table tennis. A third, the "Du Jour" room, will host modern games and serve as an event space. 

On the outside, the space across from City Hall looks nothing like an arcade. But Perks and Demers think the location in Knightville, with its collection of housing, shops, studios and restaurants, will mesh well with the clientele they hope to attract.

Perks and Demers said birthday parties will be a focal point of their business. They plan to start at $199 for two hours of private gaming for up to 25 people, a rate and experience that they feel could set them apart.

"You don’t have to mix with the public, or have your kid fighting with another kid over tickets," Perks said.

In addition to utilizing their passion for old-school gaming, part of the goal of the Portland Arcade is to create a family-friendly, alcohol-free atmosphere that encourages nonviolence. 

"It's good memories, clean games, and fun with parents playing with kids," Perks said. "At a lot of places ... parents aren’t encouraged to play, they’re on the outside."

Instead, they hope parents can be a part of the fun.

On a soft opening day on Wednesday, South Portland resident Koren Sullivan had her eyes glued to the television screen as she gave advice to her three boys, ranging from ages 7 to 14, playing "Super Mario Bros." on a classic Nintendo system.

She said she had to teach them to use the joysticks, since her boys assumed the game was motion-controlled, like modern Wii or Kinect games. 

"Finally," Sullivan said, "a game I'm better at than they are!"

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or scarignan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.