For many of us, growing up with a nearby arcade was a treat.
Upon walking into the dimly-lit carpeted room, a din of electronic sounds, ranging from muffled explosions to falsetto grunts of Japanese characters fighting one another filled our ears. The synthetic dinging of collected points and familiar click-clacking of primary-colored buttons reminded you to get your quarters ready for the next game. High scores rolled up and down monitors and FBI warnings about “winners not doing drugs” interrupted title screens. It was almost always a few degrees warmer in there, and usually the smell of a pizza place reminded you that a food court was nearby.
And then, one by one, arcades started pulling down security grilles over their entrances. That childhood experience was lost for a bit as arcade popularity dwindled in the face of home entertainment systems. But in 2009, Jesse Baker and his best friend decided to open their own arcade, known now as Arcade Legacy, and restored the familiar feeling of childhood to myself and others.
After eight years, it has expanded and now features two locations - one in the Cincinnati Mall and one in Northside. We asked Jesse a series of questions all about it and photographed the Mall location...
Cincinnati Refined: What’s the brief history of Arcade Legacy?
Jesse Baker: The idea for AL was started in 2004 when my life long best friend and I decided we wanted to eventually start our own business. This was the one thing we could agree on as we had a mutual love for arcades growing up. After five years of collecting games, we were able to open the first spot in 2009. After the first year, my friend decided he'd rather be in the business of restoring and selling arcades, so I took it over as sole owner. I expanded the original location a couple times and then opened Bar Edition in late 2015. Getting set to open another new location in 2017, hopefully!
CR: What inspired you to create Arcade Legacy?
JB: Arcades were a big part of my life growing up. I went to Forest Fair Mall (where my arcade is now), Pfennies, Doc Holliday's, Malibu Grand Prix, and anywhere else I could to play games. I had never really considered opening an arcade as a viable business as they were pretty much dead at the time we had the idea. We just went for it anyway.
CR: What’s offered at the arcade?
JB: You get to play everything we offer for either $5 for an hour or $10 for an unlimited day pass.
The offerings include
- Nearly 70 arcade and pinball machines
- Console stations ranging from Atari 2600 to the current generation
- Thousands of playable games for those consoles
- Giant projection screens for newer titles
- A ping pong table
- A media store where we sell video games and consoles, movies, game guides, action figures, board games, and whatever else we think people will buy.
CR: What’s your goal with your business?
JB: My long-term goal is to be able to expand and open in other parts of the country. Our new upcoming location is planned for Kentucky, so that's the first step outside of Ohio.
CR: What’s your favorite part about the arcade?
JB: Personally, I am a pinball guy. I've also been teaching myself repair over the years and enjoy being able to bring the games back to life myself. It's a great feeling to see a game light up again and put it back out on the floor for people to play.
CR: What’s an odd fact about the arcade many might not realize?
JB: It almost ended after the first year. It was a really rough start and it seemed like there really wasn't a place for an arcade in 2009. After my partner decided to leave, I had to make a quick decision. I decided I wouldn't give up. I implemented the media store and started doing live music shows at my new location. That was enough to start making it profitable, and we've grown so much since then.
CR: What’s the rarest, most valuable cabinet you have in the arcade? And what’s its story?
JB: Not including pinball machines (because they are substantially more expensive), I would say the rarest and most valuable at the moment is Paperboy. It's currently under repair, though. I bought it from a collector in Columbus a few years ago before the barcade boom made the value of games skyrocket. It's one of those games that can't really be replicated on the home consoles because the arcade machine has actual bike handles to control your player. It's a very highly sought after game right now.
Arcade Legacy has two locations. We photographed the Cincinnati Mall at 662 Cincinnati Mills Dr. Cincinnati, OH 45240. The Northside Bar Edition is located at 3929 Spring Grove Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45223.