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Gaming arcade returns to Gresham

Sixth Wunderland location fulfills founder's dying wishes
by: Jim Clark Jeni McIntoch, second from left, brought her children Jamie, 4, and Aleah, 7, from their home in Selah, Wash., to the Wunderland arcade in Gresham for an afternoon of arcade games on Monday, March 28.

Before John McKee died one year ago, he made it clear to his family and business associates he wanted a new Wunderland Cinema and Nickel Games center to open in the Portland area.

That new location of the regional chain McKee and his wife, Carmelita, built over the past 25 years landed in Gresham.

'He battled cancer for several years,' said Scott Brown, operations manager for Electric Council's Wunderland, of his former boss. 'His last wish was to put in this location.'

The newest Wunderland center - complete with more than 100 nickel arcade games and a 115-seat movie theater - opened at the tail end of 2010 at 140 N.W. Burnside Road in the Gresham Square Shopping Center.

At its peak, the Portland-based Wunderland enterprise boasted 20 locations, including game centers and theaters in Newport and Eugene. A previous Gresham location even flourished for a spell in the Oregon Trail Shopping Center about 10 years ago.

The rise of home video gaming options - from Atari and Intellivision to Xbox and the Nintendo Wii - gradually siphoned off children and teens who once flooded American arcades after school and on weekends.

The appeal and variety of Wunderland's hands-on attractions, however, can still pack 'em in.

The buzzing arcade features classics such as simulated racing cars, air hockey and games that supply tickets when you win in addition to state-of-the-art interactive video games.

'Most of our locations have around 80 percent of redemption games and maybe 20 percent video games,' said co-Operations Manager Keith Putnam. 'It's geared toward larger games.'

Brown said the approximately 7,000-square-foot Gresham location seems to have captured the imagination of local families.

'We're doing well,' he said. 'People get value for their money.'

Admission fee for the gaming area is $2.75 for adults and $2.25 for children younger than 11. Children 5 and younger are admitted free.

Movie admission is $2.75 for adults and $2.25 for children (those 3 and younger are free) in the surround-sound, stadium-seating theater, which focuses on recently popular family friendly films in their second run.

'Yogi Bear,' 'The Green Hornet,' Disney's 'Tron Legacy' and 'Tangled' were recently featured at the Gresham cinema.

'We'll generally stick to movies that have done the most business in first-run theaters,' Putnam said. 'Our customer base primarily is younger kids with families.'

All the gaming machines operate, on average, with five nickels, he noted. Customers can exchange their bills and coins for the quantity of nickels they desire.

'It's up to the customer, up to whatever you want to spend,' Putnam said. 'There is no loitering, so if you are not actively playing games, we would ask you to leave.'

Putnam said McKee had a business background in theaters, and had opened several across Oregon before he married Carmelita. The couple opened a Wunderland in Beaverton and a Gateway location at 10306 N.E. Halsey St. before the operation blossomed to more than 20 locations.

'(Carmelita) wanted to make sure we carried on' with John's wishes, 'and got this last store opened.'

The newest Wunderland employs 14 part- and full-time workers. The place comes to life most vividly after school is dismissed during weekdays and of course on weekends.

'Roughly 4 to 8 in the evenings' is the peak time, Putnam said. 'Our busiest day overall is Saturday' when the place is often packed 'from opening to close.

'So far it's been working out very well.'

Game time

What: Wunderland Cinema and Nickel Games, featuring more than 100 arcade and prize-redemption games and 115-seat stadium-style theater

Where: 140 N.W. Burnside Road, Gresham Square Shopping Center

Admission: $2.75 adults, $2.25 for children younger than 11 and seniors

Hours: noon to midnight, Sunday through Friday; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday

Call: 503-328-8496

Website: wunderlandgames.com