ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The End of the Good Times (Part 1) —

If you lived in the Boston area in the last 10 or 15 years, you likely knew about a place called the Good Time Emporium. You probably called it “Good Times” instead, or “Good Time” if you had been there recently and the name stuck. A lot of people came but didn’t go by again for a while. It was that kind of place – located in a particularly blown out industrialized shopping area of Somerville, near a mall that epitomized the concept of the “dead mall”, this combination bar and nightclub and arcade and pool hall and laser tag arena and whatever-else-could-be-fit-in was what the modern era calls a “Fun Center”.

Good Times was definitely the biggest arcade of its type left in the area; I can’t think of any that are left. People sometimes inform me of arcades they think are around, and I have to tell them when these places closed, and ask them when they last set foot there. Usually they quote a decade or more at me. So Good Time it was, and Good Time it had to be.

The area it lived in was in every way a dump – endless flat and cracking asphalt parking lot, too big for the empty mall it supported (although I’m sure a generation of Somerville teenagers learned to drive there), a run of empty storefronts, and all the charm of a back alley. Strangely, though, it is ideally situated for commercial property: right off the highway, linked to several large towns within a mile or less, and even somewhat near public transportation. I can’t speculate why the mall died, but the other businesses in there did OK, after a fashion. It just all had the pall of decay and despair about it.

For many years, the furniture chain Ikea wanted to buy this property. Many years, likely something in the realm of a decade. The community would have none of it and even as they sweetened the deal with offers to build a park, offer first pick of jobs to locals and so on, the permission wouldn’t come. Ikea ended up building a store 30 miles south of Boston in a town called Canton that welcomed them with open arms, but Ikea obviously still jonesed for this space in Somerville, because in 2008 they successfully got permission to go there. The spot they got included the building with Good Time.

Good Time was told they’d get a few months to get out, but in the middle of the summer the word came down: get out by the end of the Month. They announced they were ending their run and current location, and wished everyone well. Here’s the goodbye message:

” It is with regret that we must issue this notice regarding the closure of Good Time Emporium. Our building will soon be replaced with a furniture store. Although we had anticipated remaining in business for several more months, our landlord, Federal Realty Investment Trust, has just informed us that we need to vacate the building by June 30, 2008.

Management and staff of Good Time Emporium would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude for your patronage over the past seventeen years. It has been our pleasure to serve the people of Somerville and surrounding communities. And, we are proud to have been able to support numerous groups who have benefited from our presence in the city.

To the many customers who hold unused redemption tickets and tokens, we urge you to visit our facility to redeem them as soon as possible.

I made it a point to visit the place a couple days before closure. If you didn’t know they were closing, there was no indication of it anywhere. The vast space, full of bars and pool tables and videogames and whatever else were as loud and weird and brash as anything else. I played a bunch of games and did what I always do with this sort of place: wander around soaking it in.

A few other people visited Good Time at the same general time I did and put video they shot up on Youtube. I am not linking to them because the shots are universally awful.

I kept an eye on the place in the news; the story came down that they were moving down to Brockton, a horrible little town south of the aforementioned Ikea in Canton. The plan, it was indicated, was to get a loan and put together a truly state of the art entertainment place, where everything would be top notch. Brockton citizens were against it, but this would mostly be because of two main reasons: they’re stupid, and gang violence.

Good Time Emporium had its share of rumbles in the parking lot, and the occasional fatal stabbing and shooting, but for all the crazy times associated with the place (and which locals are quick to cite), the ratio of people-moving-through to problems and crime was actually rather good.

Good Time faded away from my knowledge, and I awaited a new location. It turned out I would visit the new location, but not in the way I’d hoped.

Due to various factors, the banks offering loans to Good Time rescinded and decided not to offer any loans. Good Times was forced to go on the chopping block.

The auction was held on November 8, 2008, and I must credit my friend and cohort Rob O’Hara for mentioning to me that an auction was happening. The liquidation was held by SuperAuctions, an auction house dedicated to selling of entertainment centers, and give them credit, they sure know how to whip up a flyer:

(Here’s the flyer in 5 meg PDF glory, if this sort of thing interests you.) To glance at this flyer, you get a sense of a wonderland of toys and mystery cascading upon your head, as you grab for amazing things a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You can be forgiven for assuming this is the case, if you’ve never been to an auction before.

With almost no exceptions, an auction is someone’s failure. Failure to sell things properly, failure to account for emergencies, failure to arrange safety when safety is needed. Therefore, you can understand if one might arrive at a warehouse full of machines and items related to ‘fun” and feel you’re burrowing inside someone’s dying skull. I know I did.

In case you’re now curious what a room full of broken dreams looks like, let me skip out of sequence and show you some photos I took:

On Friday, I walked through the place and it basically looked like this (with the machines on, so you could test them) and with nothing wrapped in plastic (the plastic wrap is for shipping, so you don’t scuff the side art). There were a handful of folks walking through, a couple people playing the games, and others studying the various lots of material to decide what they wanted to bid on on Saturday.

In Auctions, everything gets separated into lots. In an ideal world, each lot is a unit that one would want to bid on. The world is not ideal, however, and some lots are a bunch of stuff containing only one thing you want, or a lot might be half of what you need, with another lot being the other half. Therefore, you set yourself up for some interesting situations when auction day comes.

Generally, a lot was a single vending machine, or a single arcade game, with games that could network all put together as separate but sequentially numbered lots – so you might have 5 lots, all of them a single skee-ball machine. Other times, things got a little messier. In the case of the workbenches used to repair the video games, the auction firm basically wrapped each bench in plastic wrap and made it a lot. This means that all the tools, strippings, screws, containers, boxes, unopened gum and loose wires on a single table became a “lot”. You can imagine how variant the lots’ values could be, and why it paid to go to preview and look at things closely.

I could separate things into Stuff I Must Have, Stuff I Would Like To Have, Stuff I Don’t Want, and Stuff I want to Have Simply Because It Would Be So Goddamn Ludicrous. If you’re wondering what that last group consists of, I’m thinking of the entire go-kart track they had for sale, or the honest-to-goodness spinning carnival ride. Or the bowling alley! All of these, if I had won an auction for them, would have caused great carnage to my life. A video game or two, I could absorb – a functioning 50’x50′ shooting gallery, not so much.

In fact, there turned out to be nothing in the “Stuff I Must Have” area; there really was nothing I really needed that required me to go through this process to acquire them. I might like to have a new chair or two, but at auction? How about I just stop at the Ikea on the way home if it was that critical. Same for deep fat fryers, soda fountains, tool sets, cash registers and video projectors. Nice to have, but did I want a high-traffic entertainment center’s hand-me-downs?

I wrote down some stuff, however, just because it might be neat, and went home, ready to be there early for the auction on Saturday.

I got there basically on time, and the auction was late – it was supposed to start around 10am, and started around 11.

It had a pretty good turnout, with a least 100 people milling about, probably more. Other excellent descriptions of the day abound. Here is mine.

The SuperAuctions people do vending/entertainment auctions. They obviously don’t do other auctions all that much. For what they know how to do, they do well… at least on the front end.

Up on a ladder, the auctioneer welcomes you to this event. He yells about how awesome this is. People are up early on a Saturday. They are tired. He starts offering deals to people. First, they start throwing out shirts. People raise their hands, they’re now interacting. The auctioneer then goes “who wants a hundred dollars?”. People yell. What they offer is to anyone who is registered for the auction, an automatic $100 discount on a bid. People scream. Someone gets it. He tells them there’ll be more. The audience is now milling about, talking. Multiple auction staff are around – a couple guys on ladders, some walking the floor hurriedly. One old coot filled me with fear as the day went on – easily in his sixties, he would jump up on tables, point at people, pace around like a caged tiger, get in the face of someone who had bid and was now not bidding back as the numbers came back at them. I was sure this guy was going to die. It made the dreary parts of the auction less dreary.

Of course, dreary was not the order of the first couple hours of the auction – this was when the prestige stuff was going out the door. HDTV video games. sit downs. Massive “Deal or No Deal” conglomerates with a massive screen and six stations to play on. Shiny driving games, a year or two old. This was when money was to be made. The audience, delighted to be there, was full of families, college students, and then a core of old timers.

You didn’t notice them at first; I sure didn’t. But the old-timers, looking like the type of folks who might show to a cookout or who might be waiting in line to get some food at the local amusement park instead of riding the rides, were the secret army. One big hint to the newbies should have been when the auctioneers referred to them by name.

These guys were prepared. Some had rented tractor trailers. Some had flown from places like Kansas, Texas, Tennessee to come to this auction. Many had a bankroll of tens of thousands of dollars. They were ready for action, an action that cost some of the tourists their goals.

An auction is a fast-moving calling out of numbers and prices – the language is intended to lull you into bidding, into throwing down your stake as fast as you can, to get ahead of the other guys, and then feel you’re being left behind and have to race ahead. The numbers they call out are maximums, numbers not yet bid but which you might go for. Here’s how it might go:

I got a video game here, ladies and gentlemen, made 2006, this is a guaranteed moneymaker in your location, you put this right it’s an automatic thousand a week or so I heard. This place cares about its equipment, you can be sure it works now who wants to bid I say ten thousand ten thousand we got ten thousand now its five we got five and five and now we’re at a thousand I SEE A THOUSAND WE’RE AT A THOUSAND NOW FIFTEEN HUNDRED FIFTEEN HUNDRED WE’RE AT FIFTEEN NOW TWELVE FIFTY? I SEE A TWELVE FIFTY TWELVE FIFTY NOW THIRTEEN NOW FOURTEEN NOW FOURTEEN YES FIFTEEN ARE YOU GOING FOR SIXTEEN SIXTEEN SIXTEEN WE GOT ONE LAST CHANCE HERE SIXTEEN SIXTEEN FIFTEEN IT IS SOLD FIFTEEN HUNDRED

That may all happen in the space of a minute. Better keep up, skippy.

Continued in the next entry.

Categorised as: Uncategorized

Comments are disabled on this post

One Comment

  1. Kevin says:

    MA is definitely lacking in terms of arcades – did you hear about the nixed plan for a new one in Downtown Crossing? Regretful. – but New England is doing alright.

    Some friends and I drove around for a few days last summer looking at arcades we hadn’t visited in years. Many seemed to be chugging along just fine.

    RIP Good Times!