The Story of Yetee Station
By Jacob Chase
Today is the grand opening of Yetee Station, our very own physical arcade located in the heart of Downtown Aurora, Illinois. Filled to the brim with games galore, walking through a portal to a bygone era has never been easier! Revitalized for the modern era, Yetee Station is a bonafide state-of-the-art physical location where you can go and revisit your childhood all over again! Born out of love and passion for all things gaming, this is an extremely proud moment for all of us here at The Yetee, and we couldn’t be more excited to finally unleash this embodiment of nostalgia upon the world!
Joining me on the blog this week is Yetee co-founder and arcade aficionado Mike Mancuso as well as Manager of Managements at Yetee Station Jason Hedlund to give us all a little sneak peek at the story behind this project, what the arcade has to offer, and maybe even a little bit of what’s to come... Let’s get into it, shall we?
Jacob: What was the main motivation or inspiration for starting up an arcade in the first place?
Mike: A visit to an arcade was always a red-letter day, and the idea of being able to curate my own arcade is amazing. It wasn’t until I started collecting a few arcade games, I realized that this was something that I wanted to do.
Jason: Definitely, we were inspired by the community and the culture around what used to be such a revolutionary industry in the 80s and 90s. Chicagoland was home to many of the corporations that started the trend: Taito, Midway, and Williams to name a few. We want to capture the nostalgia of what once was, and also cater to what still is a huge passionate community and just have a cool place for people to hang out, discover fun things they may have missed, and share with people on how things used to be.
Jacob: What has it been like setting up the new location for the arcade?
Mike: The process of opening this arcade has not been easy. We had a partner pull out and leave us in a bad place. Then we had trouble finding the right spot. Then the right spot was not available. Then we had ideas that were too awesome for conventional building techniques. It wasn’t until two strong men joined the team and really got things moving. Joel Frieders helped with the bureaucrats and their evil forms and procedures. Jeremy Jensen with the power of two Thors ripped the building apart, before reconstructing it in the image of a great temple of gaming.
Jacob: I see this location is much bigger, what was the need for the new place/expansion?
Jason: We referred to the smaller location as Yetee Station Beta, as it was never our intention to give people the impression as this was the best we had to offer. We opened the smaller location to give the community a taste of what we had to offer, and honestly to clear out some space in our main warehouse as we were getting a bit overloaded with games. We did the best with what we were given in the time and hoped it left a lasting impression on those who could make it out, but our ultimate goal has always been the larger location.
Jacob: There's all kinds of awesome freshly painted art adorning the walls here at Yetee Station. It was all done by local artists, yeah?
Mike: My friend Joel managed to get the amazing @Stuk.One to paint a massive mural in our alleyway. I was also able to bring @burger_babie to paint an amazing mural inside the arcade. I really wanted the arcade to be a bright fun welcoming place for everyone. I think we did a good job, you should come and check it out.
Jacob: What are your top five cabinets at the arcade?
- Space Harrier
- TMNT: Turtles in Time
- Deadpool Pinball
- Street Fighter 2
- Ms. Pac Man
Jason: Oh man, that’s always a tough question for me. If I had to choose today I would have to say Galaga 88, Star Wars Trilogy, Donkey Kong 3, Tapper, and Turtles in Time.
Jacob: How did you go about curating the sorts of games you'd populate the arcade with? Was there a list of must-haves, or did the collection just start happening organically?
Mike: Well, it started with me only getting games that were on my “list”. But at one point, I was planning on a 7-10,000 square foot arcade so I started buying up what I would call “filler” games. We now have more awesome games than we can fit, so we had to choose. Some got cut because they are huge (DDR)(Taiko no Tatsujin), and some because they didn’t resonate with the arcade customers (Gauntlet 2)(Theatrhythm Final Fantasy). These games will make an appearance as we swap out games.
Jason: At first, it was kinda like walking into a candy store as a kid, we wanted everything and anything we could get our hands-on. If the price was good, and the game somewhat interesting, we grabbed it. Now, that mentality works at first, but we started to amass quite the collection of games, so we’ve been a bit more choosy as to what we’ve been deciding to go after nowadays. Between Mike and I, we are definitely biased on some of the titles we wanted, but the community speaks also to what they’d like to see in the arcade and we’re trying our best to get some of those must-haves even to this date.
Jacob: Is there a particular cabinet that's eluded your grasp, is there a white whale you're dying to add to the collection?
Mike: Space Harrier was that game. It is stupid expensive and doesn’t pop up too often. I made Jason go out of his way home from Pax East to pick it up from someone off KLOV. I really want an old pinball called “300”. It is a bowling game, not terribly fun, but my grandparents had one in their basement and I would play it all the time. Probably a big reason I love pinball so much.
Jason: There are so many great titles still out there looking for us to find, but I would love to get a Tron at some point. It’s one of those games that I think still holds up today as far as playability, and very much a household name when it comes to the arcade industry.
Jacob: If you could only play one arcade game for the rest of time what would it be and why?
Mike: I would probably go with Ms. Pac. It is a fun game that ramps up difficulty, but the player does have a chance to improve with strats and skill.
Jason: Tapper hands down. It’s like that comfort food you always go back to even though you should be exploring some more tasty options. It has a great blend of toughness, goofiness, and playability. The game mechanics are so simple, as all you do is pour beer and you pick up empty mugs. The uniqueness behind the controls and the design of the cabinet always allured me and drove my passion and interests for the games that came out before my time.
Jacob: Do y’all have any high scores you're particularly proud of?
Mike: I wish. I am not a high-score player, but we did have a good competition going on Tapper. I would work a shift and get a high score, then Jason would get a high score, then Bobby. It got over 115,000 and I couldn’t keep up. That is the real reason we closed for a year.
Jason: I would say I'm a pretty rounded player, I’m not terribly good at just any one game, I hold a couple of top 5 scores on aurcade.com. With that said though, I can play a mean game of Tempest, Tapper, or most Namco light gun games.
Jacob: Radical! So I assume some of these games have taken a beating over the years? What sort of maintenance goes into preserving these pieces of gaming history for future generations?
Jason: A little bit of everything, to be honest. Your critical components are your monitor, your power supply, controls, and your PCB. I also will do woodwork, rewiring, painting, and new artwork. Almost every single game that goes into the arcade I will open up and fix something at some point, but I am a big stickler for original hardware and have made it a goal to save and fix as many CRTs as I can in the process. With technology that is 20-30 years old on average, it's quite astounding to think that some of these games have never needed any or little maintenance since they were released, but I’m always thinking of preventative maintenance and hoping to keep these things running as long as I can.
Jacob: Now that the arcade is up and running, what's next on the horizon for Yetee Station?
Mike: I really want to enjoy the arcade. It has been such a journey to get here, I really just want to hang out at the front counter and watch everyone enjoy what we created.
Jason: We have curated so many ideas in our absence, and the awesome part of the Yetee is we work with so many creative people that the possibilities are quite endless, but for now, we really want to establish who we are at Yetee Station and show the community what we are trying to do. But down the line, we would love to possibly expand our reach a bit more, get a little bit more space, maybe open up a barcade? We will see what the future holds for us.
Jacob: So, now that we’ve got this new schnazzy place, what's to become of the old Yetee Station Beta spot?
Mike: There is some business called Superjumbo opening up. I don’t know much about it, but it looks shady.
Sounds pretty shady to me as well…
Located down at 11 N Broadway in Downtown Aurora, Yetee Station is going to be open for all ages Thursday through Sunday! Day passes are only $15 a pop so, if you are in the area or feel like taking a road trip down memory lane in a retro-infused arcade run by a giant tee printing cryptid, we’d love to have you come visit!
I want to give a huge thanks to both Mike and Jason for taking the time out of their busy schedule to sit down and have a little chat with me about this awesome project! If you’d like to stay up to date on all things Yetee Station swing by the various social media pages we’ve set up for the arcade as well as the official web store filled with rad tees and digital day passes that’ll keep you gaming all day long!