Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time capsule of fun for sale

Playland owners to pass the torch

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WINNIPEG BEACH -- The illusion behind the arcade, Playland, the longest-running business in Winnipeg Beach, is that time can actually stand still.

So the arcade walls are plastered with iconic posters, everything from a psychedelic Bob Dylan to a Ghostbusters movie poster, from K.C. and the Sunshine Band to cheesecake posters of TV stars from the 1970s such as Adrienne Barbeau, the daughter in Maude. "Some people come in here just to look at the posters," said Tony Pimentel, who, along with wife, Rochelle Hykawy, owns Playland.

And for a quarter -- "This is still a 'quarter' operation," said Pimentel -- you can play pinball and video games, although they make up a small portion of the 70 games in Playland. Most are automated carnival-type games, some dating back 50 years, such as shooting basketballs, bowling or a memory game. You don't get replays, you get coupons to purchase candy or prizes.

"We try to keep it the same as it's been," said Pimentel.

Except things change. Playland is now for sale. It's been up for sale since last fall. Asking price: $352,500. That's a lot of quarters.

It's hard for the couple to part with. After all, they met at Playland. Rochelle was working there. "Tony came in one day and played a video game, and I saw he was one of these people that needs to jump around when they play a game," she recalled.

He made small talk and kept coming back. "I thought, wow, he really likes games." Then she grew suspicious. "I wasn't sure whether he was coming to play or just coming to say hi, if you know what I mean," she said, laughing.

They've been together 16 years. They bought Playland a year later. "I always make the joke that my wife came with the building," Tony said.

What's changed for the couple is family have grown older and are no longer available to help out. The couple also want to spend more time with family. Lake businesses are pretty intensive. Playland's operating hours are from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. in summer.

Also, Rochelle has little time to help out anymore. When TV show Falcon Beach was shot in Winnipeg Beach for three years, frequently using Playland as a backdrop, Rochelle parlayed her work at Playland into a job as a production assistant and eventually full membership in the Directors Guild. Most recently, she was production assistant on the movies Goon and Beethoven Saves Christmas.

Playland first opened 65 years ago. A family named London were the original owners. Then Daniel and Annette Butler took over. They would partner with Gabe Novelli and Rocko Rosati, the latter the former owner of the Topo Gigio Restaurant in Winnipeg, in a company called Northwest Amusements.

Those were still days when every shopping mall had a section set aside for an arcade. But the arcades would vanish, replaced by home video game consoles and computer gaming. Novelli was the last partner involved when Pimentel and Hykawy bought Playland 15 years ago.

Playland has survived in part because kids don't have those same electronic gaming centres at the cottage. But Playland has also survived because it appeals to people's memories of their childhoods, as much as it does to a new generation of kids.

Here, long-playing records hang from the ceiling, attached by fishing line, part of its retro decor. One wall is just vinyl LPs and LP covers set in an alternating, checkerboard pattern. Also fixed to the ceiling, but more securely, is an electric "Please feed the machines" sign. People are always photographing the place.

Pimentel can't guarantee whoever buys it will continue operating Playland. He hopes so but it's on prime real estate on the boardwalk, overlooking the park and Lake Winnipeg.

However, he sees "redemption" games such as those at Playland making a comeback. Business should also get a boost from a 120-site provincial campground that opened last August in Winnipeg Beach. None are trailer sites, so there will be new customers every week, he said. Pimentel, who is also Winnipeg Beach's mayor, said he's willing to work for a season with whoever purchases it.

Despite being for sale, Playland will still open the May long weekend, as usual. "I could never close this," Pimentel said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2012 B1

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