Hundreds of people shuffled through the Fun Factory on Sunday, Oct. 13, celebrating the end of an era for the Redondo Beach pier — the 47-year-old arcade’s final day.
And amid it all, as usual, was Steve Shoemaker, who first opened the Fun Factory in 1972. But on this day, a crowd surrounded him. His wife, Wendy, pushed Shoemaker around the arcade in his wheelchair as he made deals left and right, fielding offers on video games and random signs — and playing host to a spontaneous auction. He clutched a wad of cash.
“Take a picture” of what you want, Shoemaker said to the crowd, “make me an offer.”
Shoemaker’s funky old arcade-carnival — with its vintage games and iconic Tilt-A-Whirl — has reigned as the heart of entertainment on the Redondo Beach Pier for generations. But Sunday marked the final answer to a three-year question about the Fun Factory’s future. For years, Shoemaker’s Fisherman’s Cove Co. leased a swath of pier property from Redondo Beach; he then subleased a portion of that property to the Fun Factory, which Shoemaker also owns, and the rest to the independently operated Fun Fish Market. But in 2017, Shoemaker accepted a $9 million deal from the city to buy back seven years on the master lease.
The city had plans to redevelop the waterfront, but those plans then fell apart.
So throughout the past year, Shoemaker went back and forth on whether he would fulfill the requirements under the 2017 agreement. Shoemaker first planned to close the Fun Factory in September; then, in August, he said he’d remain open and defy the terms of the agreement he signed with the city — while still wanting the $9 million.
After receiving a lengthy letter from the city, Shoemaker said in September he would close the Fun Factory in January. Then on Friday, Oct. 11, Shoemaker said that Sunday would be the final day.
And so it was.
Folks filled the rows of vintage games on Sunday, feeling a sense of nostalgia.
Veronica and Brian Melcic, for example, were intrigued by an antique fortune-telling machine.
“It’s nostalgic and reminds me when I was younger,” Veronica Melcic said. “This whole arcade reminds me of when I was 12 years old. It’s sad to see it closed.”
Shoemaker, for his part, took notice of the crowds.
“I was overwhelmed,” Shoemaker, 82, said the day after the Fun Factory said goodbye. “It was really exciting. I had people asking me to autograph signs and take their picture with me. I couldn’t believe it.”
For Robert McCann, one of the arcade’s two dozen employees, the closure marked the end of his five years calling the horse races every weekend. McCann served as the announcer for the game — where players roll balls into various holes to make the horses go — and did so as if he were at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.
“Now I have to get a real job,” he joked.
Ashley Catalan and Sandra Rogers, both 28, visited the Fun Factory on Sunday for one last spin on the Tilt-A-Whirl, the arcade’s signature attraction, resembling the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland, where cars spin and circle along a track.
“We are just getting our last ride in,” Rogers said.
“Our last scream in,” Catalan corrected her.
Shoemaker said he had no idea the business he created nearly 50 years ago had such an impact on people’s lives.
“Yesterday made me feel good,” he said. “It was happy and sad. I’m emotionally and physically worn out, but it was a tremendous turnout.”
Shoemaker said the doors will be open next weekend, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, for anyone interested in buying any of the games.
He will then hold a full-scale auction in the first weekend of November, where everything will finally be sold off. As for the fate of the classic Tilt-a-Whirl, Shoemaker said, he’s already had some offers but its final destination is not yet known.
As for the Fun Factory itself, well, as of Sunday, it’s a thing of the past.