Petter closes his last Manx arcade
Industry veteran Arnold Petter has shut down his last arcade in Douglas on the Isle of Man. At the height of his career around 30 years ago, Arnold owned 11 arcades in the town and his father and two uncles were also involved in the business.
But a decline in visitor numbers – at one point accounting for about 80 per cent of customers – together with a lack of government support meant that his last remaining arcade, Leisure Inn, in Strand Street, has now been sold.
Arnold, 77, started helping his father George at his amusement arcade, Funland Limited, in Strand Street, Douglas, at the age of 12 in the summers working as a ‘general dogsbody’. Two uncles on his mother’s side – Boyer and Max Myers – had an amusement park at White City, at Onchan Head.
When asked if he had been inspired by his family’s achievements, said: ‘Yes. My uncle had quite a big amusement arcade in Haymarket, London before the Second World War. And my father had two places in Manchester, one in Oxford Street and one in Deansgate.
‘In the war days, my parents operated an amusement arcade in Blackpool, coming backwards and forwards to see my brother and I in the Isle of Man.’ From them, he said he had learned the value of money, business instinct, ‘and I like to think street-wise’.
Arnold blames the declining tourist industry for the decline of business to his arcades. He said: ‘I go back to when there were visitors here. And now there are no visitors here. It’s heart-breaking to see it, the decline of the so-called tourist trade.’
Out of all his amusement arcades, Leisure Inn was Arnold’s favourite: ‘It was my baby. We knocked it down and rebuilt it to our specification.’ He said he felt sad about its closure: ‘I didn’t want to do it. But looking at the business and the takings it was the right thing to do financially.’
The percentage of visitors making up the customers had dropped from more than 80 per cent to 5 per cent ‘if we were lucky’.
He said his father had been proved right when he had said: ‘You can make a good living in the in the Isle of Man but you can’t make a lot of money because it’s too small a population to work with.’
In 1984 a gaming commission was formed to govern the industry. Formerly it had been monitored by the police. Arnold said the board hadn’t stopped a proliferation in machines, creating a lot of competition.
‘We have seen the decline of a healthy business,’ he said.‘Initially we thought with the gaming board we would get some support but there was no support.
‘They were more interested in the casino and eGaming, that’s where the bigger money was. We were only small fry.’
Legislation prevented Arnold from being able to sell the machines at Leisure Inn to anyone without a licence to operate them – and meant that while he was able to sell about 70 to off-island operators he was forced to destroy about 40 machines so that they were beyond use.He said: ‘One machine was worth £15,000 and I had to put a hammer through it. It was very sad.’
The building was sold for £2,000,000 to Kane Ltd, Tynwald Mills, St John’s. An application to demolish the building and build a retail store, to be opened as Topshop, is being considered by government planners.
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