Owner of Closing Arcade Rewards Patrons with Free Play

Ralph Sehnert says classic arcades will likely "go the way of drive-in movies."

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Family Fun Arcade in Granada Hills has been luring gamers for 39 years, since the legalization of pinball triggered the arcade boom. Owner Ralph Sehnert says Internet-connected home consoles are keeping more gamers home, and offered free play on the arcade's New Year's Eve swan song. Patrick Healy reports from Granada Hills for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on December 31, 2012. (Published Monday, Dec 31, 2012)

    Inside a crowded arcade in the San Fernando Valley, video is flashing, fingers are flying, and Ralph Sehnert is making his rounds on a special day. Nobody ran out of quarters Monday, because this was free play, Sehnert's farewell gift.

    It's more than the end of the old year for loyal gamers who've come to regard the Family Fun Arcade in Granada Hills as their clubhouse. It's the end of an era.

    "We were kind of eclipsed by home consoles and the Internet," Sehnert said.

    Hemmed in by other storefronts in a Granada Hills strip mall on Balboa Boulevard, FFA -- as regulars call it -- has beckoned three generations during its 39 years in business.

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    It dates back to the arcade boom that followed California's 1972 legalization of pinball.

    Shortly after it opened, Sehnert came looking for a job. Within a few months, he took charge of the business. He recalls the wave of new technologies, from Pong to Pacman, and then the suite of Street Fighter games that pitted players, usually young men, head to head in testosterone-fueled competition.

    Among FFA's devotees, Street Fighter held sway for a quarter century. But in recent years, Internet-connected home consoles have been luring away gamers.

    "Unfortunately it's fading because everything is online now," said gamer Lucky Ordono.
    Arcades began closing but Sehnert resisted the tide, even though FFA has not made a profit in years, he said. But with the lease coming up for renewal at the end of January, Sehnert decided it was time.

    "We're probably going to go the way of the drive-in movies and slot car places and things of that
    nature," he said.

    It was Auld Lang Syne time for players enjoying the free games on New Year’s Eve, and the camaraderie they say is lacking when you play an invisible foe over the internet.

    "I'm going to miss meeting new friends here," said Michelle Lasky, a CSUN graduate and devotee of dance-step games.

    "It's been like home," said Kai Sutton, who figures he's been dropping quarters at FFA every Tuesday and Thursday for eight years.

    "It's bittersweet," said Nathan Magill, the head technician who has kept the games running, some of them well more than a decade old. "We enjoy that there are so many people here...but it's our last day. It's tough."

    Sehnert has two other locations, Super Arcade in Walnut, and Japan Arcade in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles. Longtime accomplished Street Fighter player Mike Watson is buying Super Arcade.

    Sehnert plans to keep Japan Arcade, which benefits from tourist traffic and new attractions going into the mall where it is located.

    After 39 years of working seven-day weeks, Sehnert says he's ready to take it a little easier.

    Then in the next breath he confides there is a chance the finances for Family Fun can be made to work before the lease expires. But not wanting to stir false hope, Sehnert adds that this appears to be more difficult than averting the fiscal cliff.

    Game over.

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