Game on? Hadley arcades not ready to reopen despite state OK 

  • Jim Smith, left, and David Breen, who are co-owners of PiNZ at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley, stand in the arcade section of the entertainment venue, Thursday, Sept. 10. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • An arcade game in PiNZ at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley reminds players to maintain social distance of at least 6 feet. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ax-throwing gallery at PiNZ in the Hampshire Mall in Hadley, Thursday, Sept. 10. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • PiNZ at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley, Thursday, Sept. 10. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Plastic sheets separate arcade games at PiNZ in the Hampshire Mall in Hadley, Thursday, Sept. 10. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/11/2020 2:21:45 PM

HADLEY — Indoor and outdoor arcades can reopen in the near future based on an executive order announced Thursday by Gov. Charlie Baker, but two sites in Hadley are unlikely to welcome players anytime soon.

PiNZ Bowl at the Hampshire Mall will remain closed for at least another month, while The Quarters on Railroad Street will continue to focus on curbside meals and drinks.

“It was great news to hear yesterday, when we got the pre-announcement, and even better news today when the governor made it official,” David Breen, who owns five PiNZ locations, including three in Massachusetts, said last week.

Still, Breen said that until other entertainment venues are back up and running at the mall — in particular Cinemark movie theaters and the Interskate 91 rink — he would find it difficult to resume operations.

“We need the theaters to be open, we need Interskate 91 to be open, we need more traffic right now,” Breen said. “It’s just not enough to be sustainable.”

The governor’s decision to allow arcades to go back into business caught the owners off guard at The Quarters, which reopened for contactless curbside pickup and delivery of food and cocktails last month.

“To say we’re surprised by the announcement would be an understatement,” said George Myers, general manager and co-owner of the business, which has more than 20 vintage arcade games. “All previous guidance had been that we would not be able to open until phase four, which likely meant next year.”

Myers said the problem is that the business made longer-term decisions that would need to be reworked before reopening could be considered for any in-person indoor activities. Management would only do so if staff, patrons and the larger community can be assured reopening would be safe, he said.

“We are chiefly concerned with providing a safe environment for our staff and customers and will have to evaluate if there is even a responsible way to reopen, which may include private parties, increased ventilation and other modifications to the space,” Myers said.

Breen wasn’t surprised by Baker’s decision, observing that he believes it was based on both active and threatened lawsuits, including one he planned to file. The argument was that arcades were not being treated equitably with casinos, which have been able to open with slot machines and keno machines that pose just as much risk as arcade games. 

In a post to the PiNZ Hadley Facebook page, Breen described Baker as trying to “micro-manage the crisis by adopting arbitrary standards” and said that “picking winners and losers based on potential tax revenue to the state is hugely unfair to small business.”

Still, Breen can’t see the Hampshire Mall site opening right away. The most comparable location in the state is in Kingston, also at a mall, but it has an exterior entrance, which the Hadley arcade lacks. The Kingston location, Breen said, struggled while only staying open for a few weeks this summer, couldn’t cover payroll and was losing money “hand over fist.” Only the Milford location in Massachusetts, which has 20 bowling lanes and is a standalone site with a restaurant, has reopened successfully.  

Breen said his company has seen a $7 million drop in revenue and has also had to cope with significant expenses including mortgages, utilities and insurance.

“I’m hoping with a bit more time, COVID cases will continue to drop, and people will be willing to go back indoors,” Breen said.

Challenges stores indoors

Since opening, PiNZ has become an anchor in the food court and for the mall, which has added entertainment and food to the traditional shopping landscape.

Lynn Gray, general manager at Hampshire Mall, said many of the tenants in the main building, including Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, PetSmart, JCPenney and Joann Fabrics, as well as the Trader Joe’s in the parking lot, have been able to safely reopen and offer customers amenities including curbside pickup and enhanced delivery options. Arizona Pizza has an outdoor dining patio that has been joined by another outdoor location for other restaurants at the mall.

But although Gray has been encouraged by an increase in customer traffic through the mall building, she acknowledges that challenges remain for stores inside, such as Faces, Bath & Body Works, Hannoush Jewelers and X-9 Games, and that some businesses have been lost permanently, such as Autobahn Indoor Speedway.

Cinemark, though it could reopen, has opted to stay closed due to restrictions on concession sales, while Interskate 91 and Laser Blast may not be allowed to reopen until a vaccine is available.

Gray said she agrees arcades should be given the choice to reopen.

“It’s imperative that the businesses like arcades and food court seating not permitted to reopen be treated fairly and equitably alongside their peers who have already been allowed to open safely and responsibly,” Gray said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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