WALLA WALLA — A little less than two weeks after a new video game arcade opened on Main Street, owners received their own version of an “out of order” issue from the community’s permitting code compliance agency.
Arcade-ia, downtown Walla Walla’s new gaming spot at 527 E. Main St., was temporarily closed after an inspection turned up what officials said were numerous code violations Thursday.
The permitting agency is the Walla Walla Joint Community Development Agency. But Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa and Joint Community Development Director Tom Glover said Friday they hope to grant a temporary occupation permit that will give operators a timeline to address the issues without disruption to the business after one important issue is addressed: electrical concerns.
Building official Dave Collette said the games are powered through extension cords plugged into socket strips — a system that is both a fire and tripping hazard. The electrical codes are developed through Washington state Labor & Industries, officials said.
The closure came as a shock to owners of Arcade-ia. Andrew Largent, who opened the business with his wife, Lauri, and partner Rob Rosendahl, on April 26, said he had been told he had completed his requirements for opening prior to the big day.
He said he believed he had followed proper procedures. In a Facebook message posted on the business’s page and shared by more than 100 followers, operators encouraged citizens to show their support for the business to the city of Walla Walla.
“Somehow,” the post said, “we can’t help but feel like this is intentional ....”
Interviewed Friday, Largent was skeptical of the violations. He said he had contacted the agency to get the ball rolling on the business, but had heard only that he would be contacted by a representative. That didn’t happen until a week after the opening.
“Basically they should have been in contact immediately,” Largent lamented. “They didn’t bother to contact us.”
He said he believed the move to be an act of prejudice based on the nature and target audience of the business.
“It’s discrimination against the youth of our town,” he said. “I just don’t think that’s fair. I worked so hard to do this and put so much time and effort. I’m still kind of in disbelief.”
Not so, said officials, who add they empathize with the frustration of the bureaucracy and adamantly deny discrimination.
“It’s an exciting venture,” Collette said. “I think the town needs something like this. There’s not enough in town for kids to do.”
Glover and Shawa echoed Collette. “I hope that a week from today this is history,” Glover said.
In addition to the electrical setup, Collette said the other main issues he noted during his inspection were inadequate restroom facilities and exit doorways. The latter was being fixed Friday afternoon. But the restrooms are a separate issue.
Arcade-ia’s opening in a former storefront known for flooring and home design essentially changed the use of the building from “retail” or “merchant” to “assembly.” The difference in code between those is big, he said.
Assembly spaces designed to attract crowds are required to supply public restrooms. Retail businesses are not, though they must supply a restroom for employees. In this case, the property has just one restroom with one toilet.
Collette used the Gesa Power House Theatre as an example. The first year it was open it had no public restrooms in the building. However, it supplied portable toilets outside the building.
Collette emphasized that people planning to open a business in a new space in the city should always meet with officials before signing a lease to ensure the space is suitable for the type of business.
“If the switch was retail to retail, restaurant to restaurant or office to office this would be easy,” he said. “But when you go from mercantile or retail to assembly, you can’t get much (more difficult) unless you decide to open a fireworks manufacturing plant.
Largent didn’t so much choose the building as it chose him. Owned by a family member, he has said he was able to get a better deal on the property for startup rather than investing in another space.
Collette said he believes some of the confusion with the permitting agency may have occurred because the business application was filed only a few days after the office re-opened with a new software system changeover. While training was taking place with permit technicians, other employees filled in at the front desk. They likely didn’t know the procedures, he acknowledged.
“I can understand there was probably a lesser qualified person at the counter when (Arcade-ia operators) came in,” he said. “It was kind of the perfect storm, as far as that goes.”
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.