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Free Play Arcade Freezes Plans for Pinball Bar, Announces Fourth Location for Fort Worth

Pac-Man gears up for another run through an endless series of mazes at Free Play Arcade in Richardson.EXPAND
Pac-Man gears up for another run through an endless series of mazes at Free Play Arcade in Richardson.
Hannah Ridings

Free Play Arcade, the local retro arcade chain, will build a fourth location near downtown Fort Worth and halt plans to open a pinball arcade in the Oak Cliff neighborhood.

Corey Hayden, owner and founder of the chain, which opened its first location in Richardson in 2015, says the Fort Worth arcade will be in the Near Southside district just outside Fort Worth's downtown area. The chain has three arcades, in Richardson, Arlington and Denton.

The decision to build their fourth location in Fort Worth was an easy one, Hayden says.

"We've found pretty good success at our locations so far, and we're happy with them," he says. "We were looking at places we haven't served properly,  and Fort Worth is a big one."

The Fort Worth arcade will move into the former building of the Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge that closed in 2017, a 55,000-square-foot space with a 3,000-square-foot patio. The arcade chain plans to put 100 arcade machines and at least 15 pinball machines in the new space.

Hayden expects the Fort Worth arcade to open in "six-ish months to nine months," because they won't need much renovating to get the space ready for business.

The news may be good for Fort Worth retro-gaming fans, but those near Oak Cliff got some bad news. Free Play first announced plans to open a pinball-only arcade and bar somewhere along Jefferson Boulevard just over a year ago, but the arcade chain wasn't able to make a deal with developers and decided to put the plans on hold.

Hayden says the landlord had a conflict just as Free Play was able to obtain a lease and a variance from the city to begin the permitting process.

"We were really excited about getting into that area," Hayden says. "The landlord had a conflict he couldn't figure out. One of the owners also owned a small share of a brewery, and under Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission rules, that's prohibited. You can't own a producer and also own a space to rent out to bars."

Hayden says they tried to find another space along Jefferson but couldn't find one that met their price and needs.

"I still think it's a great idea, and I hope to be able to bring it to DFW, but we've been spending more time in Fort Worth, and we thought, wow, this is really great," Hayden says. "We have to make sure we have as many of these as possible as well."

Since the chain's founding, the retro-arcade industry has exploded, with competing locations and chains from locally owned spaces like Bishop Cidercade in Dallas, as well as national chains like Dave & Buster's and Main Event having settled into space in DFW.

Hayden says the new location and focus on its expansion plans will help them stay competitive in a growing entertainment sector.

"When we launched in 2015, everyone thought it was a terrible idea, and we were the first to combine a retro arcade with food and alcohol, and now that it works, we've seen similar businesses opening in DFW and elsewhere," Hayden says. "We believe it takes a lot more resources to do it right, and we've had so many copycats, and some kind of think it's easy. We want to spread as much as we can and use as many resources as we can, but we want to do it right.

"It's more than just throwing 100 games on the floor and seeing what happens. It's curating and managing these machines with some of the best technical people in the country." 

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