Nickel!

Passing by the corner of Euclid and Foothill in Upland the other day, I noticed a for-lease sign at Nickel! Nickel!, the video game arcade in the shopping center on the southwest corner, by Coco’s.

In fact, the real-estate sign covered half the sign, rendering it merely: Nickel!

A peek into the empty storefront proved that, yes, the arcade is gone. It was part of a chain of 1980s-style arcades, with 1980s games. As I understand it, you paid an entry fee and from that point, all the games cost a nickel, or maybe three or four nickels, but still cheaper than modern pinball or arcade games. With Upland gone, the nearest location I’m aware of is Covina.

This is tough news. I thought the 1980s were making a comeback.

Anyone have any Upland Nickel! Nickel! memories or lore to share? How long was the place there? What games did you like? I seem to recall hearing that a world record was set there on some game or another.

* UPDATE: An ex-employee posted a detailed history of Nickel’s decline and fall in the comments section. He calls the place “a dynasty that was founded upon a radical idea that a kid could go into an arcade and play outdated games with change his Mom gave him for cleaning his room or found triumphantly under a couch cushion.”

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  • Ramona Fredericks

    I know squat about the history of the place, but I know that my grandson will be sorry to see it go.

    We used Nickel! Nickel! as a sort of carrot before the horse. If his grades in elementary school and jr. high were up to snuff, we took him and his sister to Nickel! Nickel! as a reward. It worked like a charm.

    Now that he’s in high school, sophistication and time restraints meant we had to come up with another threat/bribe.

    It’s hard to believe that he is now old enough to add “remember when . . .” to his vocabulary.

    Ramona

  • Teri Siaz

    I once fell asleep on the Pong table at Buffalo Inn for about 3 hours during the 1982 New Years party.

    Does that count?

    [Well, no. But thanks for dropping by. -- DA]

  • Dominick

    I worked at Nickel Nickel from Spring to late Summer 2006, when we eventually shut down.

    When the place first opened I was in 4th grade so it must have been around the year 1999/2000. It was a really neat place for a kid because all of the games ran on nickels with a small entrance fee.

    As I got older and the games became boring (it didn’t really have top-notch new games like you would find at Gameworks down south at the Mills) the real attraction was the free play games in the back; essentially old classic arcade games like Centipede, Mario Bros, Boxing, etc. Nickel Nickel eventually gained a local base of gamers who would come in regularly, and even some older gamers who heard about the classic games.

    Around late 2005, early 2006 the original owners sold it to the final owners (names withheld) and some major changes took place because of it.

    First of all, they abolished the nickel system for an entry-fee free, (try saying that 5 times fast) to a more traditional system of 25-cent tokens. As you can imagine, this was pretty radical and managed to alienate a large portion of the customer base that the arcade had built since it opened up.

    In defense of the newly reinstated system though, there was a deal so that if you bought a certain number of tokens it became buy one get one free, and without the entry fee it worked out to be almost the same as with the nickel system. However, when you explain this to customers you find out that making people think only makes them angrier, and filled with an intense desire to shoot you up in a game like “House of the Dead.”

    My best friend was the manager when I worked there and we both hated the state the arcade was in — abandoned, slow, and lacking the atmosphere that it used to have. We decided to do something about this, and set about forging a New Era in the Nickel Nickel arcade.

    At times when the place was nearly dead, me and my friend would have competitions in the Basketball free-throw shot game and invited curious customers to try and beat us and win tokens. This was great fun and we made friends who would come back frequently just for this purpose.

    One of my favorite memories of this is of a middle-aged man named Ramon. This is the only guy who would give me and the manager a run for our money in Basketball; by this time we were experts, sinking 40-50 shots in a minute. Whenever he came in it was an event with the aura of an informal contest as people would gather around and watch the spectacle.

    Most of the time we were using the tokens we could just grab from the counter as we would play for quite some time. Ramon would then buy us dinner at the Juan Pollo in the same shopping center in retribution. We didn’t really mind because he had his 3 kids in there spending loads of cash on the ticket games (by the way, they’re NOT worth it if you were wondering).

    Another favorite memory of mine was the local employees at the then Sav-ons, now CVS. When it was particularly dead and we were on our breaks, we would buy some of those cheap Arizona iced teas (most likely given to us at a “discount,” I never looked at the receipts but I know drinks shouldn’t cost 30 cents) and shoot some pool on the new tables we just got in.

    Despite the new friends and determination on the part of me and my friend, Summer 2006 was a horrible time business-wise for Nickel Nickel. I remember getting sent home early because we had no customers in over an hour.

    In a succession of brilliantly planned business maneuvers, the owners decided to take out the legendary free-play games in the back (where’d you get that business degree, Chaffey?) because there was no longer an entry fee. They were pushed in the back storage room where they did nothing but rot and get played occasionally at closing time late nights when we were sick of mopping.

    By September, we got the inevitable news that the place was shutting down, which didn’t really surprise any of us but was still hard news to bear.

    The logical thing to do was to have a few late-night parties in the children’s party room which led to some of the older employees frantically trying to rid the place of the stench of hookah smoke in time for opening, a hilarious sight.

    The hardest part of it all was telling the familiar faces that the place was closing its doors forever. When it finally did, it was the end of an era. A dynasty that was founded upon a radical idea that a kid could go into an arcade and play outdated games with change his Mom gave him for cleaning his room or found triumphantly under a couch cushion; a refuge from the blistering Summer heat proudly displayed in triple digits LCD numbers on the bank sign just north of the store like some sort of twisted contest Satan would hold in his den; a place where an underground economy based on basketball free throws and fetid chicken from Juan Pollo flourished…and in its place an empty building where 90 db+ sounds stopped assaulting the walls for good.

    It was fun while it lasted.

    As for the dumb decisions being made by the administration, I have my theories as to why they were done, but I don’t think it would be too fair to post them here because it’s just speculation. I’m thinking about driving down there to see the sign now and maybe propose leasing it for a nickel. What a deal!

    [Thanks, Dominick, for that recap. Drop by again when you can stay longer! Just kidding. Your comments fill in the blanks about a business beloved by Upland youngsters, and I appreciate your sharing what you know. -- DA]

  • ann

    I remember before my knees gave out that moms “put” their kids there so they could work out at Curves …

    That was a while ago.

  • Curious in Claremont

    Thanks, Dominick and DA, for including the lengthy comment. It was worth the read.

  • Randall Volm

    Dear Dominick,

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t living in this area during the Nickel, Nickel tenure. I had married and moved out of the area in 1986 to Covina.

    It wasn’t til late 2006 early 2007 that I moved back to Upland and divorced. So, in retrospect, I apologize. I wished I would’ve heard of this place at the time, I would’ve loved to come in and play most of the games.

    I had mentioned in another thread here, “Things That Aren’t Here Anymore,” about growing up in Upland and going to “James Games” across the street from the high school. That was over 25 years ago. Although time has slipped away, the memories will last a lifetime.