Mounting expenses are getting harder to pay after four months of closure due to COVID-19, said owner Jeremy Yagoda.
Under normal circumstances, Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum on Orchard Lake Road is open 365 days a year.
They’ve closed only a handful of times in the last few years: once for former owner Marvin Yagoda’s funeral in 2017, for four days of cleaning in 2018 and for a few scattered power outages, according to Marvin’s son Jeremy Yagoda, the current “Ringmaster, Grand Poobah & Self-Designated Adult In-Charge” at Marvelous Marvin’s (yes, that’s his official title).
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit Michigan in March, Marvelous Marvin’s closed its doors – and they haven’t yet been able to reopen.
As an arcade, Marvelous Marvin’s won’t be allowed to resume business until Michigan hits Phase 5 of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s reopening plan. Yagoda said some of his competitors have reopened, and they haven’t been told to shut down again yet. But Yagoda doesn’t want to risk opening up without proper safety precautions. He’d feel horrible if someone got sick at Marvelous Marvin’s, he said.
“I feel kind of silly, like that little kid waiting for permission to do something trivial, but at the same time, I think that we do have to respect the government’s decision in this,” Yagoda said.
Marvelous Marvin’s opened in 1980 in Tally Hall shopping mall. It began as a hobby for Marvin Yagoda, whose day job was operating a drug store in Detroit – his game collection had outgrown his house. Jeremy Yagoda, Marvin’s only child, took over day-to-day operations about 10 years ago.
“I’m a big kid, I get to play every day, I get to see toys and make people happy,” he said. “It’s a good life.”
Now, after four months of closure and no idea of when Marvin’s will be able to open again, Yagoda is beginning to worry about how long he can continue to pay the bills, which amount to several thousand dollars a month. He doesn’t have plans to close the arcade, but he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep up with expenses.
“It’s definitely tough because the bills keep coming,” he said. “The insurance, the rent, the electricity, the maintenance. Even though most of the games are off, I have to make sure the heating and cooling is running perfect because it affects the games and how they last.”
Friends and customers have suggested Yagoda open a GoFundMe to help keep Marvelous Marvin’s afloat. He said he’s still thinking about it, but he feels wrong asking people to donate to him when there are so many other worthy causes out there.
“It just doesn’t feel right asking for help to keep a business to survive when there’s people who are literally starving because of this, and even before this – people who really need help to live every day, not to keep their business open,” he said.
Yagoda’s father gave a lot of money to the Jewish National Fund and other charities in and around Detroit, and “it feels weird when you’re of the tradition to be the giver to try to ask for something,” Yagoda said.
Summers at Marvelous Marvin’s are usually one of the busiest times of the year – summer camps, youth groups and out-of-town visitors crowd into the arcade. Grandparents and parents come with children to show them the games they played in their own childhoods, Yagoda said.
“I miss seeing the smiles, laughs and the one or two complaints you get a month,” he said.
Yagoda still goes into Marvelous Marvin’s frequently to check up on everything and brainstorm new ideas for when he can eventually reopen, sometimes bringing his own seven-year-old son. He misses the noise of a crowded arcade, though, and occasionally he’ll turn on all the machines to hear those sounds again.
His visitors miss the arcade, too. When Yagoda is in there working with the lights on, he said people will sometimes come and bang on the doors, asking to be let in for a few games. He wishes he could let them in, but he doesn’t want to set that precedent right now.
In the meantime, Yagoda is working with a designer to sell Marvelous Marvin’s t-shirts and hoodies on their website, and he’s trying to stay positive. Ironically, he said, he’d just purchased some new games for the arcade on the same day he had to close their doors for COVID-19. He can’t wait until people can come to play them.
“I’m not telling anybody what they are because, again, you’ve got to build excitement,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get to show it to people someday!”