Back to the classics: Local arcade store feels national demand for nostalgia

November 25, 2017 GMT

McALLEN — The sound of more than 40 classic arcade machines fills the main floor of The Flux as customers are transported to an era when video games and toys required more than a swipe and a tap to be enjoyed.

The shop — which feels more like a museum of vintage toys, games and other niche items than your run-of-the-mill trade-in retailer — embraces the nostalgic aesthetic of that era.

Complete with bright neon lights, classic toys like Gizmo from the Gremlins films, Simpsons’ collector items, pre-year-2000 gaming consoles, and the most diverse and robust arcade machine collection, The Flux’s look captures the childhood charm of a time when all that was needed to have fun was a pocketful of quarters.

The shop’s owners, who named it after the fictional flux capacitor from the seminal 1980s classic, “Back to the Future,” expect an increase in traffic this holiday season as a national trend embracing the memories of the 80s and 90s is evident in popular culture — perhaps more notably in the success of Netflix’s retro thriller, Stranger Things.

Rafael Torres, one of a trio of owners, said the recent release of a pair of popular vintage gaming consoles has also contributed to higher demand for the original consoles at the store. The Nintendo and Super Nintendo Classic consoles have already sold out in retail stores nationwide following an October release, which was preceded by plenty of fanfare.

Torres, 32, said people expecting to play their old cartridge-based games on the newly released classic consoles were disappointed upon realizing that they only played the pre-loaded offerings. This, Torres said, led to some demand for the original consoles. “We do get (the classics) in as trade-ins because (people) don’t realize that you can’t use the original cassettes on it,” Torres said. “They bring (the consoles) to trade in for an original one — to show the kids how to play the games you can’t get on the classic.”

Torres, who has amassed a collection of more than 2,000 video games from every conceivable console imaginable, began collecting, trading and repairing video games nearly a decade ago out of his own garage.

He said the store’s concept of combining their respective collections came from co-owner Christopher Rodriguez. Rodriguez, 36, said the most frequent customers are people his age, people in their 30s who now have families of their own and are trying to pass on their childhood memories to their kids.

“It’s really cool because you do see a lot of dads coming in, saying, ‘Hey, this is what I played with,’ or saying ‘these toys are better than what they’re making now.’ We are seeing dads (buying) the older stuff,” Rodriguez said.

The McAllen native said since they’ve opened their doors they’ve listened to the feedback from customers about items they’d like to see in the shop.

“We’ve gotten requests for more wrestling stuff, horror items and turtles,” Rodriguez said.

Customers looking for specific items can also make orders at the store. One such customer who had requested Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles products recently purchased a lot of action figures worth more than $2,000, Rodriguez said.

“I was happy. (It) was a big sale but the wall is going to be empty” Rodriguez said with a chuckle. “It was a good, bad thing — it was a good problem to have.”

Rodriguez said they’ve incorporated the use of social media to draw more eyeballs. Using Facebook Live events, Rodriguez said the store now holds “Manic Mondays” where buyers can bid on items and place them on hold via the store’s Facebook account.

“There are a lot of customers who are busy that can’t come out to buy stuff, so we’re doing flash sales on Mondays,” Rodriguez said. “It’s crazy because the people who come in, they’re just happy they can literally watch and purchase at home.”

But if the idea of owning these games and toys doesn’t strike you, maybe the lure of infinite attempts at beating your favorite arcade machine will. For a flat fee of $5, nostalgic gamers can step behind a curtain that separates the main store’s floor from the more than 40 classic arcade machines that the shop’s third owner, Jay Aguinaga, has made a profession out of collecting for the better part of a decade.

The Rio Grande City native, who has purchased and repaired all of the machines inside the store, said his obsession for the classics dates back to his days as a youth, playing games at the local Pizza Hut, where he enjoyed games like X-Men, No Fear and Silent Scope.

Aguinaga recounted the story of the first machine he ever owned, the 1996 classic racer arcade game, San Francisco Rush. He said he had located the owner of a late-90s arcade racing game that he fondly remembers playing at the local Pizza Hut as a teen. Aguinaga said he was in the process of purchasing the machine but the owner sold it before he had the money to get it. Thinking it wasn’t meant to be, Aguinaga moved on, only to have his brother surprise him that very Christmas with the game.

The 29-year-old co-owner said he still gets a kick from seeing customers’ reactions to the old gaming systems, which he said allows for an atmosphere that’s not too common these days.

“It’s a fun thing to do — (kids) don’t do this anymore. They’re online by themselves with some headphones (on),” Aguinaga said. “Here you get to interact with people — joke around. It’s fun, we try to keep it fun, and the fact that you don’t have to pay for every game that you’re playing, it helps out. You get to stay longer and have fun with your friends.”