Arcadia: America’s Playable Arcade Museum
As the creator and owner of Arcadia, America's Playable Arcade Museum in McLean, Illinois, John Yates has transformed his childhood passion into a thriving and nostalgic haven for gamers of all ages.
John's fascination with video games began at an unexpected place – his local church. A fellow church goer owned a chain of donut stores which had video games in them, and he became mesmerized by the game “Pong”. This early exposure to arcade games left an indelible mark on his life.
Despite his parents' reluctance to give him money for arcade games (they thought it was a waste of money!), John's passion for gaming only intensified. He spent most of his time at arcades socializing with friends, and watching others play, and longing to join in. This early obsession with arcade games eventually laid the foundation for what would eventually become his life’s work.
John's entrepreneurial journey began in third grade when he started his first business selling paper airplanes. Over the years, he ventured into various enterprises, including repairing lawnmowers and eventually managing vending machines. His knack for fixing things and his willingness to take them apart and understand how they worked became a defining characteristic of his personality.
While studying electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, John stumbled upon a pop machine being sold by a sorority and turned it into a profitable venture. He eventually expanded, placing vending machines in dorm rooms and apartment complexes, which marked his entry into the coin-operated industry.
After graduation in 1991, John faced difficulty securing a traditional job in his field, leading him to consider a career in the amusement business. His determination led him to a local banker, Don Sega, who believed in him and provided the necessary capital to kickstart his business.
However, the amusement industry had changed, with the most profitable ventures being in taverns and gambling machines, which wasn’t something John wanted to pursue. This realization led him to various career paths, including becoming a programmer and being involved in some failed startups. Ultimately, John made his way back to McLean, Illinois.
Returning with a fresh perspective, John started renovating a building and inadvertently created the foundation for Arcadia. What began as a for-rent space filled with his favorite video games soon gained in popularity after he eventually shared it on Facebook. The demand grew, prompting John to expand Arcadia across multiple buildings, with a vision to create a family-friendly arcade mecca.
John's motivation for Arcadia goes beyond financial gain. He aims to recreate the nostalgia of a simpler time, where entertainment was innocent and family-friendly. He envisions Arcadia as a place for parents to bond with their children, sharing in the experiences from their youth while creating new memories.
Arcadia houses a mix of classic arcade games, like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, as well as modern titles to cater to different demographics. John's commitment to maintaining the older games, which are far easier to repair than the newer ones, ensures that visitors can keep enjoying these vintage gems for years to come.
What sets Arcadia apart is its approach to gaming – which is a throwback to the times of old-school arcades. Players use quarters (most games are still .25 cents!) which creates a sense of investment and engagement that John believes enhances the gaming experience. The arcade has also brought economic benefits to McLean by attracting visitors from neighboring states.
John Yates's journey from a childhood passion for arcade games to creating Arcadia, a playable arcade museum, is a testament to his entrepreneurial spirit, dedication, and the desire to create a place where families can connect and make lasting memories. His story serves as an inspiration to those who follow their passions and turn them into thriving ventures that benefit not only themselves but also their communities.