When Shea Mathis of Fayetteville’s Arkadia Retrocade announced he would be reopening his business earlier this month after being closed since March because of the pandemic, several people expressed reluctance to return to the retro arcade in the comments of his announcement post.
At the time, as Mathis tells it, he had decided to reopen after realizing he was down to his last $20 of credit on his maxed-out card. In other words, he didn’t have much of a choice.
Local resident Jessica Watkins wasn’t aware of Mathis’ financial situation, but saw those comments from those who loved the arcade but were afraid to return, and decided to see if she could help.
“Arkadia announced they were reopening with a Facebook post,” Watkins told us in an interview last week. “From this post, several customers mentioned they weren’t ready to venture back into the arcade yet, but still wanted to support the business. These comments started growing, but there wasn’t a reply as to how they could directly help so I grabbed the reins. I think Sheas Mathis’ humble nature left him unable to accept what was being offered via that comment section on his own.”
Watkins set up a Facebook fundraiser for Mathis with a modest goal of raising $500 to help out with the reopening.
Within minutes, that goal had been exceeded, as the Fayetteville community overwhelmingly began pitching in to help the beloved local place.
Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer Staff
“I originally set the goal of the fundraiser for $500,” she said. “Our community blew past this in less than an hour so I raised it to 1k, then 2k, then 5k, and finally 8k and still the overall total came to $11,456 before Facebook fees.”
Watkins had been a benefactor of Mathis’ kindness in the past but otherwise didn’t know him well, she said. She decided to try and return some of that kindness to the locally-owned business.
“When I first went to the arcade I was carrying a lumpy, homespun, Pinterest fail of a Pacman cake and Shea opened the door for me and remarked how homemade cakes were ‘the coolest,'” Watkins recalled. “I stood up a little straighter afterwards. Complimenting a person’s cake is huge. It’s a culmination of all these small Shea acts of kindness and of course the fun and nostalgia of Arkadia itself that makes for magic. Local, affordable, welcoming- magic.”
Watkins said she believes that that kind of kindness from Mathis himself, along with Fayetteville’s general proclivity for wanting to support local business, led to the overwhelming support for the fundraiser.
“Several single parents messaged me with their donations to say that Shea never turned them away if they were short at the door or their birthday parties may have been undercharged intentionally,” Watkins said. “One man mentioned that Shea asked his daughter if this was her first time at the arcade and when she shyly nodded yes he threw his hands up and said, ‘This round’s on me!’ Fayetteville equivalent of Willy Wonka in a way, guarding the doorway to a small place of wonder.”
Courtesy, Jessica Watkins
The arcade officially reopened on Aug. 12 with a few restrictions for safety and social distancing. As far as how things have gone with the reopening, it’s so far, so good.
“Reopening has been super surreal but in a good way and has been steady but low key,” Mathis said. “Hopefully things will continue to pick up once word gets out that we have reopened and as well that we have the new wing of the arcade up and running.”
Watkins informed Mathis of the results of the fundraiser via text, and he was thrilled. A bit confused at first, but thrilled.
“I was so tired, was on about two hours sleep and all my brain power was focused on opening, I literally didn’t understand what was going on with the fundraiser until later in the day when friends and customers filled me in,” Mathis said. “It freaked me out at first cuz I just genuinely had no idea what was going on. But obviously once it was clear what Jessica, and everyone contributing and/or sharing, were doing, it blew my mind.
“What a super super rad supportive community we have always enjoyed here, and I don’t just mean in NWA, I mean more broadly those who visit from out of town, out of state and of course the folks who have never been or might never be able to but who still heard about and contributed to Jessicas fundraiser. Not even the hot-garbage-fire hellworld that is 2020 can quell the generosity and sincerity of this community coming together to protect and uplift it’s favorite noisy little time machine and I am here for it. Like literally, I’m only here for this.”
Watkins was able to deliver the check to Mathis earlier this week after receiving the final payout from Facebook.
“He’s been floored,” she said. “Thrown off I think by the response of the community and if I had to put my finger on it, it’s probably because he’s been the one that’s been the giver so long. Tables have turned on him in the kindest of ways. He’s mentioned how great the timing was and to know this makes me happy I took a leap and put this together.
“It’s nervewracking to worry if you’re overstepping your bounds for a minute, but this all came together beautifully. I’m so proud we live where we do and hopefully this can keep Donkey Kong jumping, space invaders blasted, Mario forever searching for a princess in another castle, and Shea smiling in the entrance to it all.”
Mathis said that if all goes well, he hopes to have a larger grand reopening event later this year, with a goal to celebrate sometime around their 8th anniversary coming up in November.
Arkadia Retrocade is located at 1478 N. College Avenue in Evelyn Hills Shopping Center. The hours are Tuesday – Thursday from 2:30-10:30 p.m., on Friday from 2:30 p.m. until midnight, Saturday from noon to midnight, and Sunday from noon until 6 p.m.
Admission is still $5, and you can still play all you want for that price.