Virginia Wong Supports Arnie’s Place

Virginia Wong

Virginia Wong has enjoyed a wonderful career in fashion.

Today she manages digital strategy and local emerging markets for Louis Vuitton Americas. She also spent 5 years on the advisory strategy team for L Brands’ CEO.

Growing up though, she felt surrounded by social pressures. Even her main hobby — tennis — was competitive.

She found solace at Arnie’s Place. The video game arcade — it’s Ulta today, next to Balducci’s — offered a “true, pressure-free escape.” Virginia roamed the vast space without supervision or worry. The lights and noises were “transporting.” Everyone was having a great time playing games; there was little social friction.

Arnie’s Place, 1984.

She was more into Skee-Ball, Ms. Pac-Man and the claw machine than true video games, but it was a fantastic time anyway. She finds it hard to imagine kids having a similar experience today.

Later, whenever she returned to Connecticut, she decompressed by driving around. She’d go to the beach, get a hot dog at Rawley’s, cruise past the Athena Diner. Those rituals felt “right.”

Every time Viriginia drove by what was then Anthropologie, she thought of Arnie’s.

When she did that recently, she remembered Arnie Kaye’s fight against “the power.” Parents worried that a video arcade would somehow corrupt their kids. Politicians followed their lead.

Arnie Kaye, in 1994.

During his battle to open, Arnie hired someone to dress as Pac-Man, and hand out money to anyone wearing an “I support Arnie’s Place” t-shirt.

A popular pro-Arnie’s bumper sticker.

Virginia wanted to memorialize it. And she still had an Arnie’s Place t-shirt, with cut-off sleeves.

She decided to make a couple of new ones. A friend who is head of graphics for American Eagle helped her get the design right — including the back with a very ’80s-style design, and Arnie’s iconic “token” logo on the front.

Screen printed on Gildan heavy cotton in small batches, they’re available through Virginia’s Instagram and Etsy accounts. She’s branded those pages “Class Trip,” a tribute to the significant backdrops of her youth.

As anyone who grew up at Arnie’s Place in its heyday knows: It was quite a trip!

20 responses to “Virginia Wong Supports Arnie’s Place

  1. Jeff Jacobs

    Virginia sounds like a truly creative individual! Based on the article, I assume that she is not the webmaster of http://www.arniesplacearcade.com (for great memories of Arnie’s) and that she doesn’t have similar feelings about Fuddrucker’s (next door to Arnie’s).

    • Virginia Wong

      Hi! No, that is Peter Caylor – I stumbled across that site + that OG tee shirt (which is actually someone else’s, not mine) and my project started from there. 🙂

  2. Don Willmott

    Great nostalgia. Those were the days! I remember writing editorials about the Arnie’s Place controversy for Inklings. When I finally went there I was underwhelmed and felt like I would rather spend my meager pocket money seeing movies at Fine Arts!

  3. Jack Backiel

    I remember Arnie paid his taxes with thousands and thousands of pennies, and chained himself to the stairs, I think, at City Hall. He was a master of outrageous publicity.

  4. I moved to Westport in 1983, in the middle of the brouhaha with Town Hall. Arnie tried to have the first Selectman, Bill Seiden, recalled and threatened to have the Hell’s Angels ride into town. The Hell’s Angels were insulted and objected.

    He ran the cleanest establishments you can imagine. He had smoke detectors in the bathrooms. In addition to serving delicious treats, his ice cream emporium was spotless. One late evening, I saw him polishing the chrome on the chairs.

    He certainly was a colorful character, probably only outdone by the present occupant of the White House.

    • Jack Backiel

      To potentially house the Hells Angels, Arnie bought an old house on the corner of Old Rd. and a small dead end street maybe 350 feet before Old Rd. meets the Post Rd. The house was behind the car dealership. I can’t remember the name of that very small street. Help me out here. The house was maybe blue or gray.

  5. Just to clarify, I was not the CEO of LBrands, I was in strategy + trend on the Chairman/CEO’s advising team for 5 years

  6. Patrick Laffaye

    Arnie’s Place was very special to me when looking back at my teenage years. At the time, I had no idea the total investment in terms of significant expense and commitment that Arnie Kaye had made for the local kids and community. After walking into literally hundreds of video game arcades all over the world, Arnie’s by far was the most elegantly decorated and one of the best maintained arcades I have ever witnessed. Look at the photos… his place looks like a Las Vegas casino!! Brass ceilings, exceptional lighting, separate game enclosures, and plush velvet carpeting!! Did I say carpeting??

    Also in the 80s, one other thing I did not realize, is that later in life I would become a professional gamer and end up in the Guinness Book of Records!! The first video game on the left is the very same Frogger machine I had played many times at Arnie’s, which was fundamental in achieving all of my WR goals. In spite of all the drama surrounding this man, I wish Arnie were still alive so I could personally thank him for his generosity and giving kids an outlet through his awesome arcade.

  7. I still find the tokens around the house every now and then!

  8. Norman Greenberger

    You’re 100% correct!

    ,And the FOOD at his restaurant!!!

    Oy vey, it took us back to our days in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx!! Fun, comradry and laughs!!

    Fantastic experience, a true legend for all who weren’t afraid of their own shadows!!

    Norm Greenberger

    • Virginia Wong

      “a true legend for all who weren’t afraid of their own shadows!!” Love it!

  9. joshua stein

    I have one of the original Arnie’s place pinball machines still!

    • Virginia Wong

      Joshua! That is amazing. Do you have IG? Could you dm us or tag a photo of it to @classtrip_ Would love to post it.

  10. Wendy Cusick

    I remember the articles in the newspaper.
    The discussions with the kids in school.
    We all wondered why Westport government at the time put up such a fuss….

  11. As a member of the Westport P&Z at the time of the conflagration over “Arnie’s Place” I can attest to the fact that Arnie Kaye was treat worse, more unfairly and with fewer facts going into the deliberation of his applications than any other applicant then or since…we were awful to him and, as did the folks in “The Music Man”, we feared the unknown and acted like morons…I wish I had Arnie and his creative ideas to deal with today. Sorry, Arnie, I was an ass hole.

  12. Jennie G Pickering

    chaining oneself to the town hall is the ultimate statement

  13. Mark Bachmann

    My two oldest sons were Coleytown students during Arnie’s heyday. I spent an inordinate amount of time with them in that place and was way too old to be having so much fun playing Donkey Kong, Pac-man, Space Invaders, etc. I never met Arnie personally, but I had a friend who knew him and really loved the guy.

    Obviously not everyone around felt that way because he was essentially run out of town. I miss the quirky energy he brought to Westport and feel it’s exactly what we need more of today if we’re to combat the sterility threatening our home town ambience.

    On a side note, I received a phone call last year from a stranger looking for an Arnie’s token as a keepsake. Even though thousands of them had slipped through my fingers back in the day, I had not a single one left to offer him. He called me back a month later to inform me he had found one selling at a premium on Ebay among the collectible coins!