#KeepArcadesAlive: Good, Clean Fun at YESTERcades of Westfield!
Ok kids…it’s time to get out of your quarantine video game bunker at home and head out to a fun and safe retro gaming center – YESTERcades of Westfield at 151 East Broad Street! Owner Ken Kalada wants everyone to know that they are indeed OPEN and ready for gamers to enjoy a safe and squeaky-clean video game experience!
YESTERcades actually reopened on July 2 with 25% capacity, above and beyond sanitizing procedures, and temperature checks at the door! While this local arcade has ALWAYS prided itself on keeping the facility clean at all times, Ken has made sure that all of his locations are adhering to strict COVID-19 sterilizing procedures. Gamers of all ages can once again return to this beloved local arcade in Westfield, NJ and enjoy the “Golden Age” gaming experience with 130 arcade games, six flat screen TVs, rear-projection TV with modern and classic game consoles, pinball machines, air hockey, and pool tables (I see that an Xbox Series X/S is coming soon!)
I definitely wanted to interview Mr. Kalada and help spread the word that YESTERcades is open, how COVID-19 sanitation standards are being met, and how you can feel rest-assured that your experience will be safe & fun!
Before we get started, please tell me a little bit about yourself – where you grew up, where you live now, and what you love about your community…
I grew up in Lincroft, NJ and ironically now live not even ½ miles from my childhood home. I guess being a business owner has always been in my blood. Growing up, my father owned an independent pharmacy in Sea Bright, and I worked with him from age 11 until he sold in 2004. Working beside him in that environment taught me the importance of customer service and how to put a lot of your own issues aside once you come to work. One of the things I love about my community is that there is something always to do. We are fortunate enough to live in close proximately to the Jersey Shore, NYC, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and even Ski Country. My local community in Lincroft has always been extremely friendly and welcoming. I could not ask for a better place to grow up in!
When did the first YESTERcades open?
I opened YESTERcades of Red Bank in October of 2011, YESTERcades of Somerville in May of 2014, and YESTERcades of Westfield in April of 2018.
What fascinates you about the retro gaming world and why did you want to open up YESTERcades gaming centers?
To be honest, it was something I had always wanted to do as a child. Arcades fascinated me as a child and, up until I opened my first location, they had mostly disappeared. I felt that people would enjoy them as much as I did for the sheer nostalgic factor. I thought that the arcade would bring people back to a simpler time in their lives when they didn’t have so many daily responsibilities.
What has been your most favorite experience about bringing kids and adults together to play video games? What about this business do you enjoy the most?
My most favorite experience would be the pure enjoyment that people get when they come in to play. We can generally tell when someone is having a crummy day or something is bogging them down. To see their mood do a complete turnaround by the time they leave never gets old. It’s also very enjoyable to see a mother or father play their favorite video games from their childhood. Their own child may have never seen it before and is usually amazed at how good their parents can play after all these years! Then we see them move over to one of our newer consoles. Now it’s the child’s turn to show the parents their new game! It’s great to see this interaction unfold.
The world is a different place right now – where people are afraid to “touch” things that other people have touched. How has COVID affected your video arcade business?
Like many businesses, we were shut down completely for nearly four months. Bills still had to be paid, rents to landlords were due, health insurance bills for the staff continued, etc. It has been extremely difficult to keep on top of everything when absolutely no money came in the door for that long. Summer is also our busiest season. With re-opening on July 2nd, we were met with absolutely abysmal numbers.
While we attribute some of that to the general fear people have in the age of coronavirus, we feel that people just simply don’t know we are open. It will be a long road ahead to build back what we once had. We feel that with the operating procedures we have in place, we can gain the public’s trust. YESTERcades not only provides you with a safe, clean, and fun experience – we go above and beyond the normal call of duty that exceeds even the most discerning customer.
I read through the COVID guidelines that you have on entering YESTERcades at the present time. A few more questions…Exactly how many children & adults are allowed in YESTERcades at one time?
Currently we are operating at 25% of our legal capacity- it’s in the 30-40 range. We haven’t been coming anywhere close to hitting our 25% capacity since a lot of people aren’t even aware that we are open yet.
I’m assuming that number includes both players and guardians watching?
Yes. Our 25% capacity covers both players and guardians. Right now, we aren’t allowing spectators gratis for this reason. Operating at 25% makes it difficult to keep our doors open. Allowing spectators free-of-charge as well just would make it near impossible to stay afloat during this difficult time. Customers have been very understanding of this temporary policy.
Did you change anything about the setup of the room/video games to ensure 6ft social distancing?
All of our TV stations were far enough apart before COVID-19, so we were good there. As far as our physical arcades – it really hasn’t been a problem since we opened. If it comes up though, we would politely remind our patrons of the 6-foot social distance practice.
Are there any games that are “closed” due to the fact that social distancing would be difficult?
We have been fortunate enough where we haven’t had to take anything out of service. We have a handful of driving games in my Westfield location that are wiped down frequently to ensure that they are safe for anyone who plays them.
Since a player has to physically touch the video games…how often are you wiping down the games after a person has played it?
We are wiping down our screens and panels minimally twice per hour with rubbing alcohol to ensure that they are as clean and as sanitary as they can be in order to keep our patrons safe.
Do you recommend hand sanitizing before each game use?
We don’t require hand sanitizing before each game use, but we ask that everyone entering the building uses hand sanitizer on the way in. Additionally, when they are exiting, we also encourage gamers to sanitize. Hand sanitizer is available on both sides of our counters, as well as various points throughout the arcade. Each TV station also has its own bottle as well.
Did you have to add employees to make sure that the games are constantly being wiped down, temps are taken, and areas cleaned?
We haven’t really needed extra staff as the business has not been there yet. Most people still don’t realize we are open. It is something that myself and each manager is carefully monitoring. We will add more staff as needed to ensure that our strict cleaning procedures are adhered to.
No matter what…parents are going to be apprehensive about sending their child to a place where “touching” is unavoidable. What is the one thing you would like to tell the customers to hopefully change their minds about the YESTERcades experience?
YESTERcades prides itself with providing every customer with a clean and safe family-friendly environment. We understand the apprehension. Our commitment that every one of the YESTERcades facilities is continuously sanitized and is safer than one could ever expect.
If anyone has any sort of questions or concerns, we are happy talk with them to make them feel at ease. A few that have visited since we re-opened have also left reviews on Google or Yelp regarding our cleaning practices. We urge anyone with hesitation to read the reviews and give us a chance to prove to them that a spotless and sanitary arcade can exist in the age of Coronavirus!
What is the one reason why gamers would want to visit YESTERcades and the retro gaming experience versus playing games at home? What does your center add to the experience during the pandemic that people can’t get in their basements playing with friends?
Yestercades provides an avenue of entertainment that simply cannot be replicated at home. From being with your friends or family and playing on a physical arcade cabinet – we offer a unique experience that would be nearly impossible to recreate at home.
Our couches offer a multitude of gaming systems from the original Atari 2600 to today’s Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. We pride ourselves with an extensive library. It would be cost-prohibitive to grow such a collection at home. There is something about playing in a physical arcade with music playing and lights overhead. In addition, different game sounds in the background that make it magical for any gamer.
Let’s say a customer just doesn’t feel comfortable coming to YESTERcades during normal business hours – can they book the room for their “quarantine group”?
We haven’t had any requests yet, but it is something we are open to doing. We anticipate this becoming more of a thing as more people realize that we are open. If they are apprehensive, booking a private venture would certainly help ease their trepidation about our operation.
Hours of Operation: (Catering to the Gaming Night Owls!)
Bringing Back the BYO!
Friday-Sunday after 9pm! Patrons must have a valid ID, Beer/Wine only, must be seated at a table/couch, Mask wearing while not consuming. Schedule your work outing, quarantine groupie night out, etc!