By Sasha Braithwaite
Photos by Tony Cooper
It is often said that there are not a lot of options for families, and specifically children, to do recreationally in the Panhandle. Of course there are sports, but what is there for children who don’t like or can’t play sports? Maybe that does not have to be their only option now thanks to the newly established arcade, Kids Dominion Family Fun Center.
For owner Joshua Bartley, kids really do have dominion in his arcade, and it was largely born out of a desire to spend more time with his own son. Before his son was born, he was working at the railroad pulling many 24 hour shifts, but once he was born, Bartley wanted to be home every day with him since he was often away in Baltimore for his job. So he started dabbling in a few businesses back home. It was not until he tapped into his own personal interests that he realized that he wanted to start a business that provided entertainment as well as a safe place for kids. And it all started with one claw machine.
“I had a weird addiction to playing claw machines,” Bartley says. Every time Bartley, his fiancée Glenda and their son went to a store with a claw machine, they would spend a while there playing it and trying to win. He liked them so much that he wanted to buy one of his own, so he found someone in DC who had one and he bought it. Soon after, he decided that he wanted to start putting claw machines in stores all over the area, so he started his own vending machine service business In It 2 Win It Amusements. Then Bartley took it even further and made a location where he could put in multiple machines and take the joy he got from the games and help others experience it too.
But Kids Dominion is not simply an arcade. They have a Build- A-Friend room where kids can come in, pick out a toy animal, put in the stuffing, give it a name, and choose its outfit. They have also become a hot spot to host children’s birthday parties and even reserve the entire arcade for three hours so they have free access to everything. They have two birthday packages. Package A includes a small fee per child, with half of it being returned to the child so he or she can play the games. The other half goes toward a slice of pizza and drink.
The arcade even has its own mascot named after Martinsburg, Marty the Bear, who makes an appearance for the birthdays. Requests for appearances by other popular costume characters such as SpongeBob, Buzz Lightyear and Scooby Doo are willingly and happily granted for free. Package B includes all of Package A with the addition of making your own Build- A-Friend.
“We try to go above and beyond for the birthdays,” Bartley says. For the arcade games, instead of using token coins which may go to waste, they all run off of quarters, and the arcade has its own change machine. To keep things always new for customers, they change out the machines regularly for different machines, that way returning customers won’t be restricted to the same games. If a customer wants a particular game that Kids Dominion does not have, they will try to find it and get it in the arcade.
As for prizes, Bartley had noticed that many machines in other places didn’t have prizes that were adequate and worth the money that was being put in to the machine. So he decided to start turning up the jackpot in them and put in prizes that were worth winning like stuffed animals from kids’ shows among many others. Despite the risk factor in such a business move, he ended up doing very well. Their prize counter is also stocked with worthy prizes, and one child even won a Play Station.
“I love this place just because there are people who come in here who may have nothing,” Bartley says. “Some people take things for granted. But then you see a little child who doesn’t have much and they win a SpongeBob and scream and run with excitement.”
Bartley is also trying to make his company community-oriented, and they have been making the efforts to do so. In April they hosted Hero Day where half of the proceeds made that day were split amongst three major groups. Bartley was a volunteer fireman for 15 years, so he donated some of the proceeds to the local fire department as well as the Berkeley County Sheriffs Department. Bartley’s father is a Vietnam veteran, so since the beginning of his business, Kids Dominion has donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.
In addition to charities, they are also in the process of working on an incentive program with a local high school that may potentially benefit any student that has made a dramatic change in behavior or been on the honor roll. It is called “Kids” Dominion, but the name is not a restriction. There are older adults who come in and play the games too, and anyone is welcome at any time. Kids Dominion sells everything in the arcade, so they offer membership cards that allow a customer to save 10 percent on merchandise.
To top it all off, Kids Dominion is adamant about keeping prices low for their customers, because it really is all about the kids. It does not take much to entertain a child, especially when games are involved.
“We keep it low because we want to have fun too and want the kids around here to have fun,” Glenda adds. “People can just come in and spend as much as they want to spend, and there’s no cost to come in our doors like other places. Parents can come spend $5 out of their pockets and still have fun with their kids.”
Bartley hopes to have a larger location in Jefferson County where he grew up. Bartley and his family try to go to Dave and Busters in Baltimore every week to spend the day playing their games. His goal is to one day have a business similar to the restaurant/arcade. He considers the present location to be somewhat of a test trial since it is smaller, yet packs a punch with all of the things customers can do there.
“My favorite part of this business is that with being a parent of a 4 year old, my child is everything to me, and seeing parents with their children playing games and knowing their child is happy–that’s neat that hopefully we could help to bring a little joy to that day,” Bartley says.
The one thing that is most evident is that Bartley truly appreciates and emphasizes the importance of family. He has created a business that not only allows families to have a good time together, but Bartley himself is able to spend quality time with his own son and can take him wherever he goes. He has already achieved his greatest and most important goal.
“Pretty much everything I’ve done has been for my son to pass down to him,” Bartley says.
Kids Dominion Family Fun Center is located on 310 Wilson Street in Martinsburg and is open Wednesday through Sunday. For more information, you can contact them at 304.263.5222.