Super Arcade is one of California’s most beloved arcades. It raised more than $60,000 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 finalized. 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.
“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what I know about gamers these days, I don’t think it’s like what it was before,” they said, responding to some of the outdated stereotypes expressed by other city council members.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.