Last year was a long battle over Free Play Arcade’s plans to open its fourth location in Denton.
The arcade chain opened a fourth branch in a small space on West Hickory Street in 2018. Things got complicated when the pandemic forced them to close, leading to a dispute with the owner who translated the two parties to court in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was the hardest thing of my professional career,” says Corey Hyden, owner of Free Play Arcade. “I think that’s why we were so keen to come back to Denton.”
After an undisclosed settlement and months of research and renovation, Free Play Arcade is back in Denton in an even better place than anyone could have imagined, even with a global virus that could foul the works at any time.
This time, Free Play took a much larger location on West Hickory Street in Denton’s downtown plaza, and it softly inaugurated its fourth and most ambitious Dallas-Fort Worth arcade concept in the former Abbey Inn building.
“This building was vacant, and we talked about leasing and we couldn’t figure out a good way to make it work to get all the square footage in a way that made sense,” Hyden says. “So we thought you know what? Let’s just race to try and buy it.
The massive space houses three floors of arcade games, a large kitchen, and an expanded bar area that now allows them to sell cocktails.
“It was a big restaurant that served a ton of food,” Hyden says. “So now we are able to produce a ton of food at our Denton location. So we’ve pretty much broken every food record we’ve ever had.
The local required a major renovation to make it a usable space. The exterior needed some work, but that wasn’t really an issue compared to the interior. Hyden said nearly every inch of wood had been rotted or gutted by leaks or the elements.
“The scene had been rotten,” Hyden says. “There were probably entire ecosystems living in there.”
Renovating a massive space during a pandemic presented even more challenges than those that already come with opening a new business.
“Every time we try to tackle a task, it takes a lot longer than it used to,” Hyden says. “The place started to take shape, and we realized we were in a dream situation to be there in Denton Square. It’s incredible. It’s a really fun line as an arcade. There’s a lot of really cheesy stuff there with Denton nightlife type stuff.
“It looked like it was going to be a real addition instead. It felt like we should have been there all along and the pandemic took us there.
The larger space allows more games to be on the floor, but Hyden says they focus on quality over quantity, as they are with all of their locations. He says Denton’s arcade space can hold between 125 and 145 games, but they want to use the extra space to bring in larger games like Skee-Ball and basketball cabinets and provide more headroom. maneuver for large arcade cabinets such as The killer queen, a three-on-three multi-objective platformer that has built a competitive gaming league across the Free Play Channel and other arcade brands.
“It’s so ridiculously big,” says Free Play Community Liaison Chris Delp. “I enter and I see The killer queen just there. Then you go down and meander around the corner and around another corner and the whole way is lined with games. It’s crazy.”
Delp says much of the company’s success came from the Denton community, who patiently waited for Free Play to open an arcade closer to home. He says he kept in touch with the local staff members who stayed and ensured they were engaged in the interim with the dedicated customers who filled their first Denton space.
“They were sort of nomads jumping from event to event,” Delp says. “A lot of the success I’ve had post-pandemic has to do with Denton players supporting my events and building communities in Fort Worth and Richardson. I owe a lot to these players, so when I see that Denton Arcade is the best arcade, it makes me smile.