Downtown Lexington gains its first arcade

Lexington’s newest entertainment option offers a community spot to play retro and modern games


Sydney Brun-Ozuna, ‘24L, plays Eighteen Wheeler American Pro Trucker at Tommy’s Arcade. She visited the arcade for the first time to compete in a Smash Bros. tournament. Photo by Shauna Muckle, ’24.

Shauna Muckle

Amid scores of restaurants and retail stores in downtown Lexington, one new business stands out: Tommy’s Arcade. 

The arcade, which opened October 2021, gives customers a chance to unwind with classic games like Pac-Man, Centipede, Street Fighter and three pinball machines. More modern options include Guitar Hero and a Nintendo Switch console.

Additional modern machines should be arriving in the next couple weeks, owner Tommy Stuart said. Those machines, known as Taito Vewlix, will bring popular Japanese arcade games to the current mix.

Given the unconventional nature of his business, some have approached the arcade with curiosity, Stuart said.

“I get a lot of people coming in and saying, ‘so why an arcade?’ Did you ever go into a restaurant and say to a chef, ‘so why food?’” Stuart said. “I enjoy it and I very much like sharing that enjoyment with others.”

Stuart said he knows arcades are going out of style in America as console and smartphone games become increasingly sophisticated. 

But he said he thinks there’s something unique about in-person gaming environments like arcades. He wanted to create that kind of space for the rest of the community. 

“There’s a different feeling playing together in-person than there is just sitting either on your phone or by yourself in front of the Xbox on the TV,” he said. “I would like to see people engage with their neighbors or even just have a family fun night. Those were some of my fondest memories [as a kid].”

The arcade is open six days a week, with most business happening on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Stuart said. So far, people of all ages have stopped by, from young kids to a man celebrating his 88th birthday by playing Neo Geo golf at the arcade.

“That’s what I want,” Stuart said. “I want everyone to feel like they can come here and have some fun. Kids, seniors, everywhere in between.”

Tommy’s hosted its first Super Smash Bros. tournament Saturday, Jan. 29. There were 13 entrants who competed against one another in a bracket-style tournament, with five iterations of the popular Nintendo game available for play.

Sydney Brun-Ozuna, ’24L, said she was excited to have a space to meet fellow Smash Bros. players.

“I was just walking by when I saw the sign outside and I thought, ‘Finally, someone’s hosting a Super Smash Bros. tournament,’” she said. “I was just thinking about how they needed to have one [in Lexington].”

Stuart said he hopes tournaments and other monthly programming will become the norm in the future, along with cross-promotions with other businesses.

For Stuart, a former fifth grade teacher, opening the arcade has been a longtime dream. After moving to Lexington with his family in 2018 and working a few odd jobs, he started saving up for an arcade in March 2020, just before the pandemic hit. 

The pandemic altered some of his initial plans, Stuart said. But he decided to move forward with the project.

“I eventually said, ‘You know what? Now’s the time,’” he said. “People wanted to get back out.”

In order to get a sense of what local residents might want out of an arcade, Stuart promoted a market research survey in March 2021. Respondents filled out a Google Form describing the games they’d like to see.

“I know what I would want out of an arcade, but what I would want isn’t necessarily what everybody else wants,” Stuart said. “It’s just figuring out what will get people to come out and play and spend time with each other and have fun?”

Stuart scoured various online retailers and bought used and new machines from his wishlist over the course of a few months. He said he plans to change out a machine or two every six to ten months. 

The arcade is Stuart’s first business. Complying with regulations and filling out paperwork have been some of the challenging parts, he said.

The arcade’s opening was delayed by two months due to a few unexpected renovations. For example, a building inspector told Stuart he’d need to build a larger bathroom.

Despite a few snags, Stuart said he’s found apparent success in keeping customers happy. Since opening, Tommy’s has garnered consistent five-star reviews on Google and Facebook.

“I think that means I’m doing something right,” Stuart said. “I want to keep on doing something right.”

Stuart said he often asks customers about their experience as they’re headed out the door. 

Marshall LeMert, an advisor at Virginia Military Institute who attended the Smash Bros. tournament, said Stuart’s hospitality stuck out to him. 

“He wants to get to know you and talk to you about your day and hear about why you like video games so much,” LeMert said. “He gets you in the mood to just mess around and have a good time.”