Popular Arcade Raises $US60,000 To Renovate, Gets Denied By City Council

Popular LA Arcade Raises $US60K To Renovate, Gets Denied By City Council

Super Arcade is one of California's most beloved arcades. It raised more than $US60,000 on Kickstarter last year. Due to rent concerns, it was forced to move locations. When it tried to apply for a permit, however, the city council denied them.

"High quality does not really fit with games called 'street fighter' and 'combat,'" said one city council member.


Increased rent meant the last location was losing money, so last December, Super Arcade founder Mike Watson decided to shut down the existing venue and find somewhere new. Everything seemed to be moving in the right direction — leases signed, equipment secured, insurance finalised. What remained was securing a business permit from Azusa, California.

(That's just north of Los Angeles, by the way.)

"The people at City Hall have been extremely helpful and courteous," wrote Watson in a blog post in early June, "but they have a very specific protocol that has to be followed so we are just a victim of their excessive thoroughness."

Things were looking up, and it seemed like Super Arcade's future was good to go.

Unfortunately, the city council meeting didn't go very well. In fact, Azusa decided to turn down Watson's application to establish an arcade.

The council commended Watson for developing a community, but ultimately decided "it was not the right location for this type of business." They encouraged him to look elsewhere in Azusa.

How come?

"This will contribute to people loitering and people hanging out" said one council member, citing previous incidents in the shopping center where Super Arcade would be located.

"I wouldn't walk in that center at midnight," they continued.

Several council members expressed concern about the owner of the property.

(I'm unable to attribute quotes to specific names due to the low resolution of the video currently available from the recorded meeting. You can view it yourself below.)

Safety and "stigma" reasons were cited regarding the proposed location, though they pointed out Super Arcade did not have any noted incidents at its previous venue.

Watson argued he would be bring a "bright" new business to the supposedly blighted location.

One city council member mentioned they knew a professional player who makes six figures, but it did not seem to move the others.

"From what I know about gamers these days, I don't think it's like what it was before," they said, responding to some of the outdated stereotypes expressed by other city council members.

One of the major concerns? There would be only be one bathroom! However, Watson said he'd be willing to look into building another, should that be a reason for holding up Super Arcade.

It wasn't enough. The votes were cast — it was a no.

Unsurprisingly, Watson is crushed.

"I feel as if my heart was torn out," he told me. "I feel as if the world is very unfair and as someone taking all the right steps to get things done, my efforts fell short due to the fact that the people in charge were very ignorant socially and the outcome was predetermined. The next step is to keep fighting and sending emails to the proper city officials in attempt to overturn this judgement."

When the vote game through, Watson said it was "hard to maintain composure."

"I feel like I have a whole community on my back and I failed for the moment," he said.

As for next steps, Watson intends to attend the next city council meeting on July 15. He encourages fans to show up, as well, and be "positive, well dressed, well mannered, and well spoken people who are genuinely wanting this to succeed."

A petition is going around to try and drum up support, specifically pushing back against the safety concerns cited by the city council.

"The decision stings for us in the fighting game community," reads the petition. "This is a community that transcends racial, geographic, and economic borders. Of course, the council's responsibility is to the City of Azusa. And respectfully, the council didn't live up to that responsibility due to a lack of pertinent information and firsthand experience."

For now, though, Super Arcade remains in limbo.


    Oh no!! People hanging out!! What terrible world have we created!? Think of the children!!

      Well, he was going to rename the arcade the S-E-X-C-A-U-L-D-R-O-N.

    hehe... depends on where it is and the people that frequent it.

    In Melbourne, there use to be a group of arcades on Russell Street. Known as "White House & Red House". Back in the late 80's and early 2000's they were a magnet for drug dealers, gangs and kids that would skip school. I practically grew up there on Street Fighter Alpha and King of Fighters 98. Those were great days, but I can understand why people are concerned.

    In my time I got by just fine and had some of the best times of my life in those places. But now as a parent. I wouldn't want my kids to go there if it was still around. Yeh... i am a hypocrite, but I must admit it was a dangerous place if you didn't know the crowd.

      Fixed - but I must admit it was a dangerous place if you didn't know the games.

        Funny as it is, the place really got ugly sometimes. Especially after 11pm at night.

        Did you go there Awnshegh?

          Nope - Sydney-sider. But Grew up at an arcade that was a lot rougher than I'd care to admit. I was the little kid and I'm sure the only thing that stopped me from getting beat up every day was being good at the games we played. There was a certain kind of ettiquette and community and if you followed the unwritten rules you may get roughed up a little but that is all. Break the rules and you could get hospitalised - or worse - exiled.

            Ohhhh... i completely forgot about all that gamer etiquette stuff. Wow that is really bringing me back now. Things like how people would line their dollars up on the side of the machine for challenging and if you are completely dominating someone(like in Kof98) you would concede the first few rounds to give them more playing time. Still remember some fresh face came in from the burbs one day and would simply obliterate people with no remorse and boast to his friends. He got mugged that very day for his Air Jordans.

              A guy did that out our way. He had his hair set alight while he was still playing.

      I remember that place too well.
      In the early days I played there and ended up dealing there too haha.
      It could be a dangerous place at times but fine during the day usually.

    Sounds about right. Wherever you go city councils are denying permits and upping the rent of 'undesirable' places like arcades or rock/metal clubs. Being a metalhead (not a fan of the term really), I've seen many clubs back home close down or be forced out by councils because they'd rather avoid clashes between rockers and people off their heads on vodka & red bull and pills looking for fights, but hey, people dressed up in nice shirts look better for a city ignoring them throwing up everywhere at the end of the night and getting violent.

    It's sad to see this happen to arcades as well though. The fact that the hobbies of hundreds/thousands of people can be denied because a handful of people in a stuffy office somewhere don't fully understand them (and what they don't understand they're afraid of), it just sets me off (as might be evident)

    In all seriousness, this was a pretty good article! A refreshing change from the copy-paste gif laden soup the kotaku bullpen serves up en masse

    Must be precisely this reason that arcades are dying in the west while Japan are still having massive amount of arcades. Have you seen arcades in Japan? The arcades are bright, huge, full of new machines. They still keep making them as well.

    Loved the lady saying, "I'm thinking about the students... kids walk by there. What's not to say they stop there after school?. They should be going home and doing their homework. Why can't we put something there that's going to be more feasible to the children and the community? A bookstore. I heard people wanted to see a bike-shop. I saw people saying they wanted to see a homework house..."
    Wow... that is laughably bad. Sucking the fun out of everything aren't you miss?
    When I was in school, almost every day afterwards as my friends & I walked home we'd pool $1 each to get hot chips from the nearby fish & chips shop. Why? Well (besides the awesome chips) they had a few arcade machines and we would take it in turns trying to best each other. Was it a money sink? Of course. Was it fun and memory-forging? You'd best believe it.
    This woman saying that there shouldn't be an arcade in an area kids walk past is denying kids the ability to be kids. And a "homework house"? What the fudge?!

    Well a homework house is where you go to buy homework, of course. You know, for those times when your teacher doesn't give you enough or, perish the thought, forgets to set any homework that day. You can hire actors to play the roles of your parents or a tutor to reprimand you, remind you of their goals for your future or tell you about how much tougher the workload was back in their day if you get distracted or try to leave before finishing your homework. They also have a special deal where you can hire a larger, meaner child to threaten you and demand that you do their homework as well as your own.

    Seriously though, a homework house is usually a not-for-profit setup run by volunteers to help kids with their homework. It's a really nice thing to have in a neighbourhood, but it sure as hell isn't going to happen just because some councillor wishes it would happen (which is often the maximum extent to which they will go to in order to achieve their desired goals).

    It is unfortunate that the arcade was denied it's desired location. It seems as though this council is determined not to allow the store to open on any land they have a say in.

    I'm surprised that the Star City Games method of operation hasn't been approached. Consider a multiple floor building for the business. The ground floor is strictly retail of video-games, peripherals and membership cards for the 2nd floor which is an arcade establishment. Owner operates the arcade floor during school hours with limited access, after school hours are full operation. One up stairs operator, one retailer working on ground floor.

    One thing that wasn't mentioned in this article was that Mike had apparently just renovated the previous place, and just after that, the owner decided to put up the rent. Nice!!

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