South Carolina Family Arcade Succeeds with a Legacy of Fun
by Melody Cherchian
Close your eyes and imagine a place where you can indulge in summer fun and an ocean view. A place with crisp air and a cool breeze. Now open your eyes and you’ll find yourself at Fun Plaza.
An open-air arcade first built in 1938, Fun Plaza Family Fun Center is located on Myrtle Beach, S.C. — a prime location with the second fastest-growing population in the country for the third year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Managed by Jimmy Waldorf, who’s celebrating his 58th birthday this month, the business has been in the family for three generations. It started with Jimmy’s grandfather, Johnny Burroughs, followed by Jimmy’s father, Red Waldorf. And now at the helm of the arcade stands Jimmy himself.
The property was first purchased by A.E. Jackson, originally from North Carolina, in hopes of building a duckpin bowling alley right on the beach in 1938. Ten years later, Jackson tore the whole thing down, rebuilding after time had worn down the initial wood structure. This time, he partnered with Johnny Burroughs who ran the bingo parlor while Jackson ran the snack bar and bowling alley.
Now, more than eight decades since it was first built, Fun Plaza, which sits on almost one acre of land with the beach boardwalk on one side and the downtown strip on the other, includes a snack bar, gift shop, ice cream shop and booths (these are spaces rented to different tenants selling treats, caricatures, sunglasses and such). But most of the space in Fun Plaza’s 25,000 sq. ft. is taken up by its two-story arcade. Inside, there are 38 vintage Williams Baseball games dating back to 1957 among the location’s 200 games, which include cranes, Skee-Ball and videos. Jimmy owns most of the games himself, with the exception of 10 video games that are on a revenue share. And as you’d expect, he likes to feature amusements for his guests that can’t be played at home or on a phone.
“I have the latest and greatest,” Jimmy said, boasting of a good track record of deciding what to buy. “I have a knack for picking games. I just look at it and know if it’s going to be popular.”
To better his odds at picking the winners, he gets help from manufacturer friends and distributors. Jimmy said Legacy Coin-Operated Distributors in Myrtle Beach, S.C., has been a big help reviewing new games on the market. Some of those performing best for Fun Plaza include Halo: Fireteam Raven, classics like Mario Kart and ticket ring cranes. Jimmy said he never believed in ticket cranes until his sales rep at Player One Amusement Group basically “forced” one on him.
“I told them the only way I would try it is if you drop it off at my front door,” Jimmy said. “Next thing I know, there it was. And in three weeks’ time, the ticket crane paid for itself. I believe in it now!”
First come the games, then come the prizes. Jimmy has the gift shop stocked with merchandise that ranges anywhere from five to 100,000 tickets. Visitors can find spinner tops, spider rings, slime, superballs, nautical items, glass paperweights and higher-end items like an Xbox One. But even with all the fancy gifts to redeem, he reports candy is still the top prize year after year. Jimmy drives to the local Sam’s Club regularly to buy cartloads of candy, filling the entire bed of his pickup truck with sweet treats.
Fun Plaza employs four to five full-time employees during the off-peak season, and almost 10 by the time summer comes around, including long-time night manager Richard Payne. He’s worked at the arcade since he was 16 when Jimmy and he were high school classmates. But Jimmy still operates much like a one-man band. He buys all the products, including the games and prizes, and manages the day-to-day tasks of running the arcade.
And he sure knows the business inside and out. Jimmy started sweeping the arcade floors at the age of 8, graduated to the Putt-Putt course at 9, and eventually made it to the snack bar at age 11. But it wasn’t until he was 13 that he realized he really had a knack for fixing the machines and tending to mechanical repairs. He loved it so much, in 1979 he went to college to study electrical engineering. He’s been repairing the machines ever since. A real Mr. Fix-It-All, Jimmy has painted the building, replaced LED lighting, and replaced worn down wood and busted concreted. The building is in A-1 condition, without much remodeling, thanks to him.
Fun Plaza operates as a true arcade. There is no admission fee and 80 percent of the revenue comes from the arcade’s games. The other 20 percent comes the snack bar and the booths that are rented out year-round.
And while the location is full of nostalgia, Jimmy has embraced not only new games, but also new technology. Just this February, Jimmy decided to switch Fun Plaza from quarters to a card system. Except for a few vintage baseball games, everything has gone cashless with Intercard. (Readers might recall the Aug. 2 news item in Instant RePlay from Intercard about how the 80-year-old location retained its historic charm while ushering in modern-day, cashless technology.)
“I thought I would never change,” Jimmy said. “But after looking at how it would take me three hours throughout the day just to fill the machines with tickets, I thought it was time to try it out.”
Fun Plaza has steadily been growing year over year for the last 10 years, with an increase of four to five percent each year. Earlier this year, Jimmy saw an increase of over 20 percent and reported more recently to Intercard that the summer season was up 30-40 percent. One of the main changes at Fun Plaza that have contributed to that is the new card system. It has helped boost revenue more than anything else, Jimmy said, making him think he should’ve transitioned sooner. “It’s more efficient and now visitors can use credit cards to refill their credits. Half of the arcade’s revenue is off credit cards now,” he said. Another big change Jimmy made was back in November 2018 when he had air conditioning installed throughout the arcade. He thinks that’s also added to his summer earnings increase.
“Our main season really starts from the time school gets out to August,” Jimmy said. “We call it ‘the hundred days.’ But this year, Easter week was the biggest week of all time, so you just never know.”
At Fun Plaza, it’s all about family, from those in the community that they cater to, to his own family and the over 80 years they’ve been in the business, starting with his grandfather. For that reason, Jimmy calls Fun Plaza a family obligation and wants to keep it going for his father now.
They’ve worked together at Fun Plaza almost every day until his father needed hip surgery about five years ago. Red, now in his early 80s, decided to slow down a little on the day-to-day and focus on community relations for the arcade instead.
Jimmy’s favorite part of managing Fun Plaza has been seeing everything come together. After choosing the games in the winter and buying the merchandise, seeing how it turns out in spring and summer makes the hard work worth it. But admittedly, he would love to take some time off himself and enjoy life a bit.
“If you asked me 20 years ago, I would’ve said no amount of money would be enough to buy the business from me,” Jimmy said. “But I haven’t taken many vacations. I’d love to go out to the Redwood Forest, Yellowstone, and travel a bit.”
But even if someone came around with an offer big enough, Jimmy acknowledges he would still be a part of the Fun Plaza picture. He wants to see the business do better and strive for more every year just as it has since 1938.