A remarkable set of photographs to share with you this week.
Time-Out Amusement Centers were a chain of arcades located in malls across America back in the day. As the brainchild of entrepreneur Tico Bonomo, they were striking-looking places, notable by their bold colours and ‘Tunnel’-like appearance – a pastiche of what the arcade scene represented at the time, designed to lure the public inside.
Bonomo was no stranger to success. He had just sold his family interest in the ‘Turkish Taffy’ candy bar range – a hugely popular confectionary product – to a large manufacturer. The Time-Out Amusement Center business was funded from the proceeds of the sale.
So in 1970, the first Time-Out was opened to the public in Northway Mall in Colonie, New York. To Bonomo’s surprise, it was incredibly successful. Punters flocked to the arcade and played its electro-mechanical machines relentlessly. But then came Pong and the start of the video game craze, which peaked during the Golden Age between 1979 and 1984. The vision came good – whilst no-one could have predicted the incredible success of video arcade games, the Time-Out idea was perfectly placed to exploit this new craze.
Each arcade ran with the same theme – tunnels and bright colours, but all were unique in design. Presumably to fit the space where they were located:
By 1977, there were 24 Time-Out Arcades located mainly to the east of the USA, and the figure continued to grow massively, buoyed by the arrival of Space Invaders and the resulting raging demand to play video games. Couple this with the massive growth in consumer spending during that time (which led to more and more shopping malls being built), the company behind Time-Out was perfectly placed to generate income by opening new arcades. With each new Mall that sprung up, you could guarantee that an arcade would be located there, and it was likely to be a Time-Out.
Collectors of a certain age will remember these arcades – Bonomo’s idea of locating what he called Family Amusement Centers in shopping malls was a new enterprise, and one he thought would work well. Unsurprisingly, it was a genius move; shoppers could leave their kids to play the machines while they shopped elsewhere in the mall, or indeed, use the promise of a visit to Time-Out as a bribe for good behaviour on an otherwise dull shopping trip!
Passing footfall was not a problem, and locating an arcade in a place where consumers would have money and be in a spending mindset, of course made perfect sense.
Time-Out was the first of its kind, but the model was soon copied as ‘me-too’ arcades sprung up in similar locations, following the same business model. These included the Space Port, Time Zone, Station Break, Malibu Grand Prix and Aladdin’s Castle chains – all of whom cashed in handsomely on the huge surge of the arcade wave of the late 70s and 80s. Indeed, it was not unusual for more than one arcade to be located within the same mall – such was the demand from consumers to get in on the video craze.
The more hardcore arcade-nuts amongst you may have seen these pictures floating around before – the story behind them is a little sketchy, but in short it is believed that someone spotted them in a dumpster, and realising their significance, managed to rescue them just in the nick of time.
The captures you see here are of the original slides that were found, projected onto a wall and then photographed. Some of the images were shown in the movie Chasing Ghosts, and collector Peter Hirschberg shared them on his now-defunct website in the early 2000s. Peter has been kind enough to allow me to host the pictures here, to give them a new home, and to get the images seen by a wider audience.
This group of photos showcases some great shots of Golden Age video games in situ:
With the crash of 1984, came the consolidation of the arcade industry. Time-Out survived a patchwork of take-overs and mergers, and struggled through the rest of the 80s and early nineties serving up redemption based games to the public. This short YouTube video gives a little history of Time-Out and is worth a watch:
I must thank Peter Hirschberg for his permission to host these images, and also Jim Miller who found the orignal slides in a dumpster way back when. I’ve tried hard to track Jim down, but he seems to have disappeared from the scene and the web altogether. There are many more pictures in the set apparently. Jim, if you’re reading this, please do get in touch.
Scroll to the foot of the page for the full gallery of images, there’s over 70 to see. Click on the thumbnails for the full-size photos.
So that’s it for this week – thank you for visiting Arcade Blogger. Do subscribe to the blog below, and share this article using your social media channels – I appreciate it!
See you next week.