ToquiNotes: Recalling a Bridgeport Business from Years Ago Proving to be One that was Truly Electric

By Jeff Toquinto on January 06, 2018 from ToquiNotes via Connect-Bridgeport.com

For years, it sat tucked away in the corner of the old Holiday Shopping Plaza that is today known as Gabe’s Plaza. And, no, it’s not El Rincon.
 
This business is no longer in business. In fact, much of what it offered is a thing of the past as it previously stood with some exceptions, including one I’ll talk about later in this blog. 
 
Although I’m not sure of the date it opened and not exactly sure when it closed, I know it was an oasis of fun for myself and probably hundreds – if not thousands – of people in Bridgeport, Harrison County and beyond. It was “The Electric Playground.”
 
Not everything was electric. There were plenty of pool tables as a staple, but there was air hockey and pinball machines and, of course, some of the earliest video games that were on the market. In the 1980s, a trip to Holiday Plaza (pre-high school) meant begging mom and/or dad to let me go to the Electric Playground and blow a few quarters.
 
This was the place where I first played Space Invaders and Asteroids. It was one of the first places I played air hockey. I was hooked immediately and if shopping at Heck's or Krogers in the plaza or stopping for a bite of Pizza next door, I had to stop in.
 
Oh what memories. And I’m not the only one with them.
 
Kelly Rolstad was a regular there. In fact, she said attended despite some concerns from mom.
 
“I mostly remember going there for the pool. Pool was like a forbidden thing in my world with my mother, so I was so excited to have a place to go play pool,” said Rolstad. “I was also a master of Ms. Pac-Man back in the day and I can remember going there and winning a Ms. Pac-Man championship. I won a big stuffed bear because I got and kept the high score for the entire weekend.
 
“Despite what my mom thought about it, it really was a fun place that some friends and I would go hang out - kind of like actual X-Box live, only up close and in person,” Rolstad continued. “Kids these days have no idea what they missed out on.”
 
I have to agree. Part of the allure was walking into the game room back in the day and seeing all the lights and the electric noises. Prior to that, the experience was a game of Pong at a machine in the hallway of the Middletown Mall; I’m thinking in the mid-1970s.
 
To go from that to the full arcade experience was amazing. Again, I wasn’t alone.
 
“My mother would take my brother and I (Rob) to The Electric Playground,” said Jason Stallman. “I remember playing Spy Hunter and Pole Position. I guess I liked the car games.
 
“You walked into that place as a kid and it was overwhelming. It put a value on having a quarter,” Stallman continued. “At that age, at that time, you weren’t used to seeing all this electronic stuff in one place. If you were lucky, the only experience you had outside of an arcade was having an Atari.”
 
The Electric Playground wasn’t the only place in town. Downtown Clarksburg had “Head Games” and the North View sections – my stomping grounds – had two places. Bill’s Game Room, which was right next to Smitty’s and owned by the late Bill Radcliff (sp), and The Roost. The Roost was conveniently located beside North View Park and owned by my friend Bob Ehrlich, who I frequently talk to via the magic of Facebook.
 
I was so into video games that it provided me with my 15 minutes of fame; I believe back in 1983 when I was a freshman at North View Junior High. One day at Bill’s Game Room, I plunked a quarter into the game “Defender” and played for 11 and a half hours with a score of nearly 11 million.
 
The game never beat me. At about 4 a.m. in the morning, with a tired father watching and still about 20 people around, I decided my need to go to the bathroom was greater than my need to keep playing so I stopped.
 
Beyond the fact that I actually was mentioned in the newspaper (with quotes I might add from an interview I never gave) and was ranked and listed as No. 3 in the world in a gaming magazine (can’t find it and no idea how they found out), was that I had instant arcade credibility. At any of the places that had games, I would end up talking about it for hours.
 
For the most part, the arcade phase was a fad. But arcades still exist, or game rooms as some still like to call them that aren’t just part of a restaurant chain. In fact, one of the originals has been in place for nearly 35 years right here in Bridgeport.
 
The Gold Mine at the Meadowbrook Mall opened in 1983 and according to Property Manager Marcello Lalama it is one of the original businesses of the Bridgeport retail hub. It was originally located near the Food Court entrance and he said at one point, believed to be in the early 1990s, changed their name to Tilt.
 
For those thinking it’s no longer there, it’s still there at the mall just not the same location. In 2010, Tilt moved to the far end of the mall near the Elder-Beerman Home Store close to Cinemark.
 
While it features many new “arcade” offering that allow participants to earn tickets to get prizes, there are still video games in place. There’s still an air hockey table. And to show just how far technology has come, there is one giant game that features a few dozen of the games you can choose from on one machine.
 
Of course, you can get the same amount of technology on a single cartridge – or whatever they’re called today – for your home gaming station. Although I did the home gaming for a while, it wasn’t quite the same. I think Rolstad was right, if you never got a chance to see that arcade for the first time – whether it was The Electric Playground, The Gold Mine or any other – kids don’t know what they missed out on.
 
I miss the old Electric Playground. Although I don’t have any of my quarters from that time period, I still have the memories. Those I can always hold onto.
 
Editor's Note: Although not shown on the business sign, this 1987 Holiday Plaza sign - now Gabe's Plaza - was from the era when The Electric Playground was in business. Second photo, from the 1983 Ki-Cu-Wa Bridgeport High School yearbook shows ChrisChiodo playing Ms. Pac-Man. Bottom two photos are of the current "Tilt" arcade at the Meadowbrook Mall showing some of the games and vibrant coloros.


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