'It's been an adventure': Timeline Arcade opens window to retro gaming past

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

On a stormy, cold day in York City, Timeline Arcade's fluorescent rainbow lights and Donkey Kong mural were particularly inviting.

Families traded rain-pattered streets for a boisterous, bouncing gaming environment. Rock music blared on loudspeakers as kids scrambled to get their hands on the hundreds of shiny arcade machines calling their names.

For 11 years, Timeline Arcade has provided a beacon of fun for families in York County.

Its owner, Brandon Spencer, opened the arcade on a whim after growing up playing Donkey Kong, Galaga and Pac-Man in the basement of his New Jersey home.

"It was a dream of mine to have an arcade," he said. "And I never thought it would actually happen."

As a young adult, Spencer's arcade ambitions were a mere pipe dream.

Carolin Schaeffer, right, and Kal Kripke, 6, both of Dallastown, play Pacman Battle Royale at Timeline Arcade in York City, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

He previously managed a pest control company in Maryland — but decided after eight years that he was fed up working for somebody else.

Thus, Spencer switched from squashing real bugs to conquering 8-bit versions behind the retro screens of games like Centipede.

Spencer opened the first version of Timeline Arcade in the Hanover Mall but found little success.

Mike Ent, left, looks on as his daughter Mae Ent, 5, both of Dallastown, celebtrate during a game of Ice Ball at Timeline Arcade in York City, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"We almost filed for bankruptcy because the mall was dying around us," he said.

From its short-lived location at Hanover Mall, the arcade moved to Carlisle Street in downtown Hanover before opening a second location in York City at 54 W. Market St.

Though the Carlisle Street location is now permanently closed, Spencer said he's hoping to reopen the spot in 2023.

Natasha Robinson, front, and Kasheen Porter play The Simpsons at Timeline Arcade in York City, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"I just like seeing people gather again, like in the past, back in the '80s and '90s," Spencer said. "That's what people did before cellphones and living in front of a computer. People just get out and socialize."

As a video game connoisseur, Spencer has spent years fine-tuning his collection of arcade machines.

He's bought machines down south in Florida, on the West Coast and way up north in Canada.

Ryan Burres, right, plays Dynamo Hockey with his father, Matt Burres, both of Etters, at Timeline Arcade in York City, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Since Spencer started the business, his collection has grown from 30 games to more than 360.

"It's been an adventure throughout all these years and it continues to grow every month," he said, adding that Timeline Arcade typically gets two or three new games monthly.

Spencer aims to have something for everyone.

Rows of pinball machines are lined up opposite classic games. In another corner, air hockey and pool tables dominate.

Lori Clark, left, of Dallastown, plays Whac a Mole with her grandson Knox Clark, 6, Timeline Arcade in York City, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

While children clamor around Skee-Ball or Whac-A-Mole, teenagers line up to play Halo: Fireteam Raven and Guitar Hero.

Unlike traditional arcades that operate on quarters or bills stuffed into a machine, Timeline Arcade offers hourly rates in exchange for unlimited plays.

The first hour is $10, with each additional 30 minutes costing $5. An all-day pass is $25.

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Like many local businesses, Timeline Arcade suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I had to close for a long time, and unfortunately that made it so I had to close down Hanover," Spencer said. "It was hard. We had to sell a lot of my games that I didn't want to sell to pay bills. We did get a little bit of a loan, but it wasn't a lot, so it was a challenge."

Even after the arcade reopened, supply shortages on certain machine parts have made maintenance an ongoing hurdle.

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Despite the challenges, seeing a community form through a shared love of video games makes it all worth it for Spencer.

Timeline Arcade additionally hosts birthday parties and ongoing tournaments for games like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.

"We have a lot of regulars from in town to Maryland to West Virginia to Jersey to Philly," he said. "The best part about it is people actually interacting."