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Local Business

A real game changer: When couple's discount store closed, a new opportunity opened up: an arcade bar

When a pair of Mount Morris business owners found themselves with a defunct discount store on their hands, they knew they had to do something different with the building.

That’s when they came up with a new game plan.

Today, Dave and Maggie Johnson are the owners DJ’s Arcade Bar, 12 W. Main St., where people can come in with a pocket full of quarters and leave with a smile – and maybe even a big old stuffed bear.

The bar offers more than just brews and bar food; people can plop down their two bits or more and play any one of several arcade games.

“It’s a new concept to this area,” Dave said. “People nowadays, when they go out,


they do tend to drink less, which there’s nothing wrong with that. This just gives people something to do, a new way to socialize, have some fun. We’re just not your traditional bar. The emphasis is on the fun, not so much on consumption.”

The Johnsons’ journey from store owners to arcade bar owners began about 7 years ago.

“We actually bought the building in 2011 and opened it up as Johnson’s Discount General Store,” Dave said. “And that never really took off. And then when Dollar General came to town, that pretty much put the kibosh on that.”

So there they were with a building without a business. The couple already owned Maggie’s Idle Hour, so they knew a thing or two about running a bar, but they wanted to try a different concept. That’s where their other business helped out. As owners of White Pines Roller Rink, they also knew about arcade games.

“We have a bunch of them out there,” Dave said. “It seems like kind of an easy thing for us to kind of transition into. We just didn’t want to see one more empty building in Mount Morris.”

The building once housed Brass Rail Bar, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine it as a bar again.

DJ’s Arcade Bar opened in early March 2017 and so far it’s been a hit.

“People are here reliving some ’80s games and there’s other people here for the newer stuff,” Dave said. “We do have video slots – video gaming has its own private gaming parlor in the back.”

The bar also offers pool tables and an assortment of arcade games, with prices to play ranging from 25 cents to 50 cents a game. Pool is $1.

Customers also can get a shot at redemption, with games that award tickets based on player’s score. People then redeem them for merchandise big and small – candy, sunglasses, inflatable baseball bats, old-fashioned hand buzzers, and even 6-foot teddy bears.

“People love getting those tickets,” he said. “We had a gentleman in here the other night in his 30s, and he was so excited because he ended up with 1,000 tickets. He was like a kid again.”

Those kids at heart are in good company with the real deal, too. The bar is kid-friendly, with children welcome until 8 p.m.

“Parents definitely like being able to bring their kids in here. It’s something for them to do,” Dave said. “And the parents are playing the games with their children. ... The kids usually win. Kids are experts on all of these games the minute they walk through the door. ... They know how to do it. The adults, not so much.”

The most popular games are the Ice Ball ski-ball machines – but the list goes on. Gamers can shoot some hoops, play darts, football and air hockey or they can hop on simulated motorcycle game.

And then there’s the classics, like pinball.

“Pinball is kind of a big deal,” Dave said. “It’s making a huge comeback nowadays – a resurgence.”

His pride and joy is a KISS pinball machine that was autographed by Ace Frehley of the rock band Kiss. As far as he knows, it’s one of a kind, acquired by a previous owner and purchased by Johnson at an estate sale.

The bar – with a staff of four, in addition to the Johnsons – offers a relaxed atmosphere, with 13 TVs, couches, comfy chairs and music videos.

“Every song is a music video,” Dave said of the musical machines,“and they go all the way back to Elvis videos, not just new stuff.”

But it’s not all fun and games. The bar also offers almost 40 different beers, along with soft drinks and lemonade. Customers can grab some bar food, too, including nachos and soft pretzels.

“The arcade bar concept is one of the fastest growing bar concepts in the country right now,” Dave said. “People are tired of the same old bar scene, looking for something different and we’re it. It’s a lot of fun. People come in here, and it’s a blast.”

D.J.'S ARCADE BAR

Address: 12 W. Main St., Mount Morris

Phone: 815-734-6290

Online: On Facebook

Reservations accepted for corporate events and children’s and adult birthday parties, and arcade games can be purchased.

Hours: 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday; noon to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 11 p.m. Sunday

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