Like many kids born in the ’80s, Jose Ruiz was introduced to video games through the last gasps of the arcade industry. As console and PC gaming all but killed the industry during the mid ’90s, he never lost his passion for joysticks, button pads and pockets full of change.
“I’ve always loved video games, and when I was young, arcade games are what I could afford,” Jose Ruiz said. “When I first met my wife, I told her I always wanted to open an arcade.”
On April 27, he fulfilled that dream by opening Wreck It Ruiz Arcade and Pinball, 1622 Grand Ave.
Located between O’Dwyers Public House and Black Kilt Deli, the video game parlor offers patrons a slew of rare arcade games like “Mister Viking,” “Star Castle” and “Skull & Crossbones” as well as some favorites such as “Mortal Kombat II,” “Ms. Pac-Man” and “The Simpsons.”
Additionally, the Ruizes’ business partner specializes in pinball machines, so the arcade boasts a selection of old and new pinball games. The arcade does not serve alcohol.
The whole venture started with a single arcade game several years ago.
“I was looking at (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and how much that game cost — it was super expensive,” the 35-year-old said. “So, I did some more digging and found a place that built them custom. I pulled the trigger on buying one, but that machine had issues.”
Instead of sending it back to the company, Jose Ruiz decided to fix it himself, and it wasn’t long before his friends took notice of his new hobby.
“I had a friend ask me to build him a custom arcade, and I said, ‘I don’t know,’” he said. “He offered to give me the money to try, so I was upfront and told him I would, but if it didn’t work he was out the money.”
The friend took the risk, and Jose Ruiz discovered he had a knack for repairing the outdated machines. After a time, his collection grew, and he founded Wreck It Ruiz Custom Arcades in Cheyenne.
When his wife, Hayley Ruiz, announced their family would soon be adding an additional player, Jose Ruiz started thinking about how he could share his love for arcade games with the growing family.
“Me being a father is what helped drive me to this business venture,” he said. “My goal is to attract other parents. People my age grew up with this, and we want to pass these memories down to our kids.”
Hayley Ruiz was more of a reader than a gamer growing up, but she said the family aspect of the business motivates her to be as involved in the arcade as possible.
“Just the other day, we had a grandfather bring his grandson in to show him what video games were like when he was kid,” Hayley Ruiz said. “It’s things like that, and seeing all the smiles on people’s faces that really make me feel proud. Plus, we get to do this with (their son, Jose “Blue” Ruiz), and working together as family is really amazing.”
While coins and tokens are common arcade currency, the Ruizes set their games to free play and charge a $7 admission fee for arcade game access, and pinball gamers can play for as little as 25 cents-50 cents per turn.
Because Jose Ruiz runs an arcade repair business as well, he said customers won’t see many of the “Out of Order” signs common in other arcades.
“We have a big collection, so we can just pull the game from the floor and replace it with another right away,” he said. “We also plan to cycle our games in and out every few months, so players don’t get tired of the same old games.”
Wreck It Ruiz isn’t the first arcade to test Laramie’s gaming economy, but Jose Ruiz said he wasn’t daunted by the recent closures of other similar businesses.
“We have our own business model, and we spent years planning this out, so I’m confident we can make this work,” he said. “Plus arcades are resurging thanks to movies like ‘Wreck-It Ralph,’ ‘Rampage’ and ‘Pixels.’”
Wreck It Ruiz is open 2 p.m.-10 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Call 214-9677 for more information.