Neon Retro Arcade raises $16,000 while being closed amid the coronavirus pandemic

Photo courtesy of Neon Retro Arcade
Neon Retro Arcade owners Mark and Mia Guenther opened their first arcade in Pasadena in 2015. The Guenthers preserved and restored games from their personal collection and made them accessible for others to enjoy.

Samantha Bravo, Assistant Campus Editor

Mark Guenther said they felt like they reached the stride of a successful business right before they had to close. Neon Retro Arcade, just down the street from CSUN on Reseda Boulevard, is a place where students spent Friday nights, held fundraisers and now-married couples went for first dates at.

“Anytime you open a new location, starting in a new area, you’re kind of building up an audience and a community and getting the word out,” Mark Guenther said. “We felt like we’re really in a good position and we had to grow into a spot and of course, having to shut down has been definitely challenging.”

Over the years, owners of Neon Retro Arcade, Mark and Mia Guenther, preserved and restored games from their personal collection and made them accessible to be enjoyed by all ages.

At Neon Retro Arcade, customers are able to purchase admission by the hour. The store offers arcade games such as Alien vs. Predator, Crazy Kong, Defender, Dungeons & Dragons, Kung-Fu Master, Ms. Pac-Man, and pinball machines such as The Munsters, High Roller Casino, The Getaway and Stranger Things.

Like many entertainment businesses, Neon Retro Arcade’s Pasadena and Northridge locations closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After exhausting their personal funds and an extended uncertainty about reopening, the Guenthers decided to create a GoFundMe and ask their community for help.

Ten hours after the page was created, over 240 donors helped them reach their goal of $10,000; as of Wednesday night, the campaign has received nearly $17,000.

“This is the kind of situation that as a small business owner, you plan for a lot of things, but this is just one of those things that I think nobody has planned for,” Mia Guenther said. “Just having such a sudden shut down, like we kind of had been tracking the situation for a couple of weeks and kind of knew it was coming, but everyone’s trying to figure out when it’s going to happen and from one day to the next, your business is closed and you don’t have a reopening date, it’s pretty stressful.”

Mark Guenther said the months of lost sales caused financial strain and that they had to make decisions after the “Safer at Home” orders were issued. In the past few months, they applied for government relief loans, sold games from their vault, negotiated partial rent forgiveness for one property and used a significant amount of business profits and personal savings.

“It’s kind of weird to think back a few months ago, we thought it would just be a couple of weeks — maybe a month. And then it just kept getting longer and longer and longer and for businesses like ours, we’re really small. We have two small arcade locations, but we got lumped in the group that includes bowling alleys and movie theaters and it just didn’t make sense to us that they’re including us in these groups with really big venues,” Mia Guenther said.

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Hello Neon Retro Fam, We wish we were writing to you today with a date when the energy in our arcades would be buzzing again. Unfortunately, that is not the case. ?? Our our arcades have been forced to shut down for nearly 3.5 months. With COVID-19 rates going up, LA County has announced that our mandatory closure will be extended indefinitely. The financial strain caused by 3.5 months of lost sales compounded with high fixed expenses is not unique to us by any means, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. In the past few months we have taken many steps to keep our business alive -Applied for government relief loans (thanks so much for all the debt, Uncle Sam) -Sold many of the games in our vault -Established an online shop -Negotiated partial rent deferral for one property we occupy (we’re still on the hook to pay the full amount owed, we just get to kick the problem down the road a bit) -Used up a significant portion of our business reserves and personal savings Despite all of our efforts, the above steps have only made a small dent to mitigate a huge problem. All of this is to say that we tried so, so hard to do this on our own, but with the news of an extended mandated closure, we *really* need your help. We fully understand that there are many worthier fundraisers that you can donate to, but we hope that there are some of you out there who see the value in preserving weird little businesses like ours. We are beyond thankful to the communities that have embraced us and who have supported our dream for the past 5+ years. If you can find it in your ability to make a small contribution to help our dream survive this pandemic, we would be forever grateful. (link in bio) ??? Mark & Mia

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While the Guenthers were waiting to reopen, they’ve had time to focus on their new strategies and were prepared to open the first week of July. They made adjustments, such as rearranging some consoles and sanitizing the space; they were going to require all guests to wear masks while inside the arcade.

“People are really only there for an hour and they go. It’s pretty similar to a restaurant except safer because they don’t have to take their mask off at any point,” Mia Guenther said. “So there were definitely steps we took to get ready.”

Mia Guenther said she noticed a lot of the general public is still afraid to come out and be around people.

“It’s really unfortunate that we aren’t able to open but even those who are able to open, are really struggling. I think it’s really important for people to pick small businesses over the big box stores that don’t give back to the community,” Mia Guenther said.

The Guenthers said it was amazing to see the amount of support from the community and the personal stories on why people are supporting Neon Retro Arcade.

“We fully understand that there are many worthier fundraisers that you can donate to, but we hope that there are some out there who see the value in preserving weird little niche businesses like ours,” the post says.

The funds raised will help make up for revenue lost during the spring and summer months, which would have been their busiest time of the year for them, according to the arcade’s Instagram post.

“People have said, ‘I’m so sorry all I have is $5 to give,’ but to us that $5 might as well be $5 million,” Mia Guenther said. “It meant so much to us to know that to others, this is a dream worth fighting for, and that we’re not going to give up and we’re going to keep pushing forward even through these are hard times. It just means so much to us because it takes the weight off of our shoulders for a little bit longer and so we’re really grateful.”

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-Update Regarding Our GoFundMe- Fam, thank you SO much for all your support and generosity! Yesterday, we exceeded our initial goal within *9 hours* of asking for your help ? and words can't express how overwhelmed with gratitude we are today. ?? Your contributions and the personal stories you shared with us about the arcade have brought happy tears to our eyes. They also showed us that despite the current difficulties, Neon Retro Arcade is worth waking up each day and fighting for. We have always felt that in our hearts, but to see that you feel the same is even more meaningful.   Thanks to our incredible community, the financial stress of being closed in July has been eased significantly. As contributions continue to come in, all funds raised beyond our initial $10K goal, will be reserved for August rent and beyond. Given the uncertainty of when we'll be able to reopen, every dollar truly eases the crushing and stressful weight of this unprecedented time. Gofundme Link -> (link in bio) For those who have inquired about purchasing arcade merchandise, our online store is here -> Our deepest thanks and gratitude to you all! Stay safe & healthy, Mark & Mia

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