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Pinball wizard

Posted April 15, 2015 in Grimes

Governor’s District in Grimes — the old downtown area of town — is home to a new business aiming to be a place for people of all ages to gather and have fun: The Old School Pinball and Arcade.

Jason Shiffer, whose family has been in Grimes for generations, says he wanted to bring something downtown so that kids and adults and families could hang out together. The arcade features more than 50 pinball and arcade classics ready to be enjoyed.

Jason Shiffer hopes The Old School Pinball and Arcade can be a fun place for families to congregate. Photo by Todd Rullestad.

Jason Shiffer hopes The Old School Pinball and Arcade can be a fun place for families to congregate.
Photo by Todd Rullestad.

A growing collection

Shiffer grew up in Grimes. In fact, the arcade is located next door to the Mustang Grill, which used to be the city’s post office. Shiffer’s grandfather was the postmaster, and his grandmother was the clerk. His grandfather also owned the hardware store across the street, and Ewing Street in that area is named after his great-grandfather, the first doctor in Grimes.

“It’s a big family heritage thing for me,” Shiffer says. “I grew up at the post office and going to the library here, where the Grill is now, when I was a kid, so both buildings are a history of my childhood. I want to bring back life to downtown like when I was a kid.”

So why an arcade? Shiffer says he’s been interested in arcade games since he was a kid. He acquired his first pinball machine at his uncle’s workplace. It was damaged and supposed to be totaled, but his uncle decided instead to try to salvage it, so they fixed it up.

He still owns that pinball machine. Now, his collection is vast with more than 100 machines. About 30 of them are still at his home, and the rest are now at the arcade. Patrons can enjoy games like Big Buck Hunter, Burgertime, Centipede, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Galaga, Madden Football, Millipede, Missile Command, Ms. Pac-Man, Operation Wolf, Pole Position, Space Invaders, Sprint 2, Tekken 3, Turbo, Vortek V3 and much more.

Patrons can enjoy classic arcade games like Donkey Kong. Photo by Todd Rullestad.

Patrons can enjoy classic arcade games like Donkey Kong.
Photo by Todd Rullestad.

But Shiffer is quick to point out that while he has some old school machines, they have been meticulously maintained, and he also has newer ones. These aren’t your dirty, run-down, run-of-the mill machines you’ll see in small arcades in the back room of an old pizza place. These are state-of-the art machines that can run up to $10,000 a piece.

“I want to introduce pinball to people who have never really played it and understood it,” he says. “It is a light show and total experience; it’s not just ‘bang bang bang’ with the paddles; it’s a lot more than they ever thought it was.”


Opening the arcade

Shiffer says with his love of arcade games and his desire to open a family-friendly business in Governor’s District, the arcade was a no brainer. Some of his best childhood memories were going out for pizza and hitting the arcade. He wants to bring that sense of nostalgia back for people.

“People come in, and they all go back to 10 years old, and they’re like kids,” he says. “ ‘Oh my God, I haven’t seen this forever,’ like the original Donkey Kong. Arcades are coming back hot and strong.”

But it’s not just adults that are excited — it’s kids too, many of whom probably have never been to an arcade or played the old-school games.

“Arcades have been gone long enough that kids under 20 don’t even remember them,” Shiffer says “They’re seeing them like we saw them as a child for the first time. I’m appealing to kids under 20, and it’s magic all over again to put it in a big box instead of on their phones.”

Shiffer wants to appeal to everyone — parents and kids, young and old. He sees the arcade as somewhere that kids can ride their bikes to while parents hang out. In fact, he intends to tie the arcade and the Mustang Grill together and add some outdoor seating between the two so adults can hang out outside while their kids are playing. In Shiffer’s plan, it would truly be a place for everyone to congregate.

To that end, Shiffer has the arcade’s business model set up differently. Patrons can come in and play all they want for one fee, rather than a dozens and dozens of quarters.

Shiffer has his collection of machines set on open play, so you can play all day for one price. Photo by Todd Rullestad.

Shiffer has his collection of machines set on open play, so you can play all day for one price.
Photo by Todd Rullestad.

“It’s affordable play,” he says. “Kids can ride their bikes up and play, run off and play outside, and come back again in the evening. It gives people a place to go and a place to hang out in a family friendly environment.”

In an effort to continue the family-friendly focus, this arcade doesn’t sell alcohol (though patrons can visit the Grill next door for drinks) — it features an old fashioned ice cream soda fountain, like the ones in the 1930s.

Shiffer researched syrups and found what he claims is the best — the ones made with real sugar and pure ingredients, like they had “way back when.” He invested in phosphate and can make real sodas like our grandparents used to drink.

“I had one guy tell me, ‘Eh, it’s a chocolate shake like any other chocolate shake,’ ” Shiffer says. “I told him to just try it, and he ended up buying three of of them during the course of his time here that day.”


Governor’s District’s future

People who are interested in growing Grimes and seeing the Governor’s District grow are excited to see a business like the arcade come to town.

“The arcade is a wonderful thing, not only for Grimes, but for the Des Moines metro,” says Grimes Chamber and Economic Development director Brian Buethe. “While it is indeed an arcade, the collection of high quality/old school games and pinball machines the owners have assembled cannot be rivaled anywhere in central Iowa. To them, it is more than a business, it is a passion.”

Customers now have yet another fun and affordable destination in the Grimes market. Pair this new businesses such as SkyZone, Climb Iowa, MB2 Raceway, and more, and Grimes is quickly becoming relevant from a destination tourism standpoint.

Buethe says that, specific to the Governors District, it helps to maintain the momentum of improvements to the area. It is an effort that is well underway and will continue to improve, one business at a time, one new development at a time, one municipal project at a time, he says.

The city has invested a large sum of money in the complete reconstruction of South Main Street, and it hopes to set aside funds for future improvements to the area.

Though nothing is set in stone yet, plenty of ideas have been put forth for the area, including the addition of a promenade (a fancy bike trail with public benches, landscaping, and possibly lighting) where the railroad tracks used to run; redevelopment of areas to gain new residential and business space; a complete overhaul of Waterworks Park; and improved walkability and parking features.

Buethe says these ideas take time, funding and willing participants in order to accomplish.

“We have made so much progress to date, but there is still so much to do,” he says. “Slowly but surely the Governors District will become more of an attractive, historic, inviting and exciting destination. We’d like to think that Governor James W. Grimes is nodding in approval every time something good happens in this area of our community.”

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