MENOMONEE FALLS - For Gar Nelson of Milwaukee having a pinball machine at home was a revolutionary idea.
"One of the guys I worked with was telling me he had a pinball machine at home, and I kind of looked at him and said, ‘wait, you can do that?’ and it just really clicked with me," said Nelson, who recently opened an arcade in the North Hills Plaza shopping center in Menomonee Falls.
With a background in electrical engineering, Nelson's newfound hobby turned out to be a perfect match.
Nelson, who works in information technology for We Energies, had the skills to understand the inner workings of the games.
His collection started with two or three machines that were initially broken.
"I started playing with them and got them working, which is a great sense of accomplishment for me," Nelson said. "I really found something I enjoy doing. This lets me play with things I’m really interested in.”
The collection grew to more than 25 arcade games in his basement, then eventually, took over his two-car garage.
"Once the garage was full, my wife told me I wasn’t going to be allowed to buy any more games," Nelson said. "She said that I would have to start getting rid of things and my reaction was pretty much, ‘haha, wanna bet?' "
Instead of downsizing his collection, Nelson decided to turn his arcade-game fandom into a family business.
For two years, Nelson and his family searched for the perfect location, focusing on Bay View and other areas on the south side of Milwaukee, Brookfield, and eventually, he set his sights on Menomonee Falls.
"We wanted something where the local village government was going to be good to work with, and they’ve been fantastic with us answering our questions and helping to get us through the process," Nelson said. "When we saw the building here, it was everything we needed."
Open in Falls
The Garcade, N85 W15920 Appleton Ave., opened its doors on Saturday, July 1, in the North Hills Plaza shopping center, with more than 50 arcade games, four pinball machines and an air hockey table.
Nelson plans to continue adding games to the Garcade. He eventually wants to have 200.
The games are all on free play mode. Gamers pay $15 for a wristband that grants them all day play; no change is necessary.
“The closest locations that have anything like what we’re doing would either be in Madison or Chicago," Nelson said. "We really have a niche here in southeastern Wisconsin. It was a need that just hadn’t been filled.”
For Nelson, bringing families together in Menomonee Falls is key to his business.
"We think this is a good, safe environment for kids and families," Nelson said. "Everyone has been really wonderful and respectful in this area. We’ve had a really positive take on this and we hope to be another positive influence in the area with businesses like Su Casa and the bowling alley.
"We can all come together to give Menomonee Falls a nice little area where you can walk around from place to place and really enjoy a nice day.”