Did you ever visit Aladdin's Castle at the Mesa Mall in Grand Junction? Thursday, September 12 is National Video Games Day. Let's celebrate with a look back at this GJ fixture.

Are you familiar with Aladdin's Castle? It wasn't just a local thing. According to thefullwiki.org:

The shopping-mall arcade chain that became Aladdin’s Castle began as American Amusements, Incorporated, in the early 1970s. It was purchased and renamed Aladdin’s Castle by Bally Manufacturing Corporation in 1974. Over the next several years, the number of store locations grew from 20 in 1974, to 221 in 1980, to 360 when the chain was spun off in 1989.[1]

In the early 1980's you pretty much had four ways to go about playing a video game. You could:

  • Play "Pong" on your living room TV
  • If you were one of the fortunate few, you had your very own Atari
  • Play "Yars' Revenge" on the demo machine at the LaBelle's store west of the mall until such time as the clerks got sick of looking at you and threw you out
  • Visit Aladdin's Castle at Mesa Mall

In Grand Junction, you could find Aladdin's Castle in the "Cafe Court" portion of the Mesa Mall. When it first opened you would find games like Asteroids, Pac Man, Ms. Pac Man, and various pinball machines. As time went by, and as video games became more elaborate, you'd find machines such as Star Wars and Dragon's Lair. Looking back, the average wait time to get to play Dragon's Lair was probably an hour or more.

Here's what we used to do: You go to a machine and exchange your quarters or dollars for these gold "Aladdin's Castle" tokens. If there's a machine you really like, Dargon's Lair for example, you place your tokens in a row at the top of the machine. Showing the tokens was something of a pitiful primal "chest thumping" display warning everyone the machine was yours until such time as you ran out of tokens.

Check out that hairdo at 3:56. Right on!

Eventually, I got old, discovered girls, or more likely, got a job and discovered the value of a dollar, and stopped going to Aladdin's Castle. Blowing through quarters was easy back when it was mom and dad's money. When I reached the point where I had to start earning it for myself.... forget it. That stuff (money) is too hard to come by.

Looking back to the mid-1980's, a time when Mesa Mall was jumping, I would be willing to bet that square foot for square foot, Aladdin's Castle probably generated more revenue than any other business in the mall.

Okay, so what became of Aladdin's Castle? Thefullwiki.org states:

Namco Limited purchased Aladdin's Castle, Inc, in 1993, merging it with Namco Operations to create Namco Cybertainment (NCI), becoming the largest arcade operator in the world.

The Aladdin's Castle at Mesa Mall eventually packed up and moved on down the road. I don't get to the mall often, but I think nowadays the old Aladdin's Castle location is a store that sells bras or something like that.

If you're old enough to remember Aladdin's Castle, please take a moment to celebrate National Video Games Day. It really was a fun hang out. If I could have back half the money I spent in the place, well..... I wouldn't be rich, but I could probably buy new tires for the car.