Fans of Go Play give arcade second life

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BELMAR — Todd DeMott, a Belmar native had dreamed of running his own arcade.

In January, when the former owners of Go Play Retro Arcade on Main Street handed him the keys, everything looking to be falling into place. After renovating the arcade and adding new games, he was looking forward to a successful first year.

But then, the coronavirus hit.

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Now friends have started an online fundraiser to help Mr. DeMott to keep the arcade going through the crisis.

A friend of his, Risa Halprin-Nardone, set up a Go Fund Me page, https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-go-play-retro-arcade, an online fundraising platform, to help the arcade make it through the pandemic.

Started on July 13, the page has raised nearly $2,000 that will go toward “keeping the lights on.”

“I am completely humbled. I don’t believe it,” Mr. DeMott said. “She just wanted to give it a try and do anything she could to help.”

He estimates that since closing due to the virus, he has lost around $30,000 to $40,000.

“It’s just trying to recoup even a fraction of what we lost. The arcade is busiest in the summertime and we are losing,” he said.

After taking over the arcade in January, he reopened on Feb. 7 after adding more games and changing the atmosphere of the establishment. Three weeks later, he had to close down due to the virus.

“It’s just crazy timing,” Mr. DeMott said. “We had about three weeks of revenue and then COVID hit. I brought the place open for three weeks and then closed for four months.”

The arcade is a free play arcade, with patrons paying $10 an hour to play as many games as they want. There is a mix of retro arcade games such as NFL Blitz, Asteroids and Donkey Kong, along with new video game consoles.

Like many other local businesses, he applied for a loan from the Small Business Administration as part of its coronavirus relief package. While many small businesses were not able to get loans because of the volume of applicants, Mr. DeMott was not able to for another reason.

“I got denied everything because the government said I did not own the business long enough so I am not eligible for any help,” he said. “I think that puts me in a worse spot because I just bought the business and put a bunch of money up front.”

It is not all bad news for Mr. DeMott and the arcade industry. On July 2, the governor pressed the start button, allowing arcades to reopen at 25 percent capacity.

On opening indoor recreation activities like arcades, Gov. Phil Murphy said “the only reason we are comfortable making these announcements this week is because social distancing and everything else you’re doing, folks, is actually working. Social distancing is the only thing that has allowed us to crush the curve — I would add face coverings to that — over the past three months.”

While the arcade is his passion, Mr. DeMott’s full-time job is installing cashless-payment systems at arcades. Some of his customers include Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, as well as arcades in Seaside Heights and Wildwood.

Since the arcade reopened on July 2, things have “gotten better” but a lot of birthday parties, class trips and camp trips have been canceled.

Even though the arcade is open, Mr. DeMott has had to stay away. Earlier this year, he and his wife had their first baby, and his brother has been working at the arcade in his stead.

“I can’t risk getting COVID and bringing it home to a newborn. There is not enough research on it,” he said. “This pandemic just threw a wrench in everything I do.”

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