OLD ORCHARD BEACH — A technical glitch with a new card system that replaces coins and tickets caused the Palace Playland Arcade to delay its long-awaited reopening Wednesday by nearly an hour.

Joseph Varaklis, 14, of Warrenton, Virginia, plays an arcade game at Palace Playland on Wednesday while recording it for his YouTube channel. Buy this Photo

So when the yellow corrugated metal doors finally rolled up 2 minutes before 11 a.m. to reveal flashing lights, pulsating calliope music and row upon row of inviting diversions, 3-year-old Stephen O’Loughlin squealed with delight and skipped inside with his father in tow.

“He was so excited,” said his dad, 36-year-old Scott Chytracek of Chicago. “As soon as that door opened, he ran in here screaming, ‘Yay!'”

Stephen and his dad, who had whiled away the time since 10 a.m. in a brick plaza near the Old Orchard Beach Pier, settled into adjacent seats for Space Invaders Frenzy. For a fourth straight summer, the family is vacationing with relatives at a nearby beach house.

“We come down here every year,” Chytracek said. “We wanted to do the rides, but the rides aren’t open.”

A few rides may open this weekend, according to Playland President Paul Golder, who said he planned to proceed cautiously amid new guidelines aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus. Amusement parks, bowling alleys, movie theaters and entertainment venues were among businesses that saw restrictions lifted Wednesday, albeit with occupancy limits of 50 people in enclosed spaces.

Stage 3 of the reopening plan put forth by Gov. Janet Mills also targeted July 1 for the reopening of overnight summer camps, spas and close-contact personal service providers, as long as the businesses comply with a checklist of state-mandated safety precautions.

Maureen Roy, a massage therapist for 20 years who practices out of a Monument Square building in downtown Portland, welcomed clients Wednesday for the first time since March 15. She spaced them apart by at least an hour in order to disinfect the room, swap out sheets and change her clothes.

Daniel Reynolds of Old Orchard Beach wipes down an arcade game at Palace Playland after it was used on Wednesday, reopening day. Buy this Photo

“It’s been wonderful,” Roy said during a break before receiving her third client. “They were so happy that I was open again.”

Roy said even before the pandemic took hold, she would limit the number of daily clients in order to be able to give them 100 percent of her physical strength. Although both she and her clients are required to wear masks, she draws the line at donning gloves.

“I couldn’t imagine massaging someone with gloves on,” she said. “I just try to be really clean and careful with everyone who comes in.”

Aquaboggan Water Park in Saco pushed back its reopening date until Thursday, not because it needed more time to prepare, but because the weather Wednesday morning was damp and cool.

“Past experience tells us people make up their mind in the morning,” owner Wesley Hurst said. “It’s a day thing. People don’t come here for an hour.”

Whether businesses that rely on the summer tourist trade can remain viable under the current safety guidelines remains to be seen. For Hurst, the next two months will be telling.

Hunter Cichon of South Portland wipes down surfaces at Palace Playland on Wednesday before the opening of the arcade. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“We never really get busy until after the Fourth (of July),” he said. “Normally, kids are just getting out of school at the end of June.”

Aquaboggan closes on Labor Day, but Hurst said business slows precipitously the week before that. The open-air park has added sanitizing stations and now requires masks to be worn inside snack bars and bathrooms, but not on the slides or in the wave pool.

“We’ve done anything that we can think of that the CDC might think was a good idea,” Hurst said. “Everything here is chlorinated and there’s so much room.”

Back in Old Orchard Beach, Sarah Luna of Ellsworth celebrated her 36th birthday with a visit to the arcade along with her daughter and stepson from their campground in Berwick. She didn’t mind being one of only 19 customers shortly before noon.

“It’s kind of nice, being a Mainer and actually being able to enjoy it,” she said. “Although the kids are sad about the rides (not operating).”

Lori Varaklis, 48, grew up in South Portland but now lives in northern Virginia. She watched her 16-year-old son, Joseph, rack up points in Monster Drop while he also used his phone to record his progress.

Wesley Hurst, owner of Aquaboggan Water Park in Saco, cleans up his work site Tuesday after doing maintenance on a pump house in preparation for the park’s opening. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“He’s an arcade phenom,” she said. “He has his own YouTube channel.”

Joseph taught his mother well enough in a claw-dropping game that a large, stuffed snowy owl peaked out from her canvas bag. She won the prize Wednesday morning.

After each took a turn at adjacent Skee-ball lanes, they wandered the aisles in search of another game.

“We’ve been waiting for the longest time,” Varaklis said. “This is a dream come true.”

All arcade employees and customers except the youngest children wore masks. At least one family that arrived without masks was turned away.

The conversion from coins to a card-based payment system for games actually happened after Palace Playland closed in the fall, said Golder, who had hoped to work out any kinks this spring before summer tourists arrived. The coronavirus pandemic changed everything, of course.

Matt Ferdinand, a supervisor at Aquaboggan Water Park in Saco, cleans a kiddie pool Tuesday in preparation for the park’s opening. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Employees who last summer had been called upon to clear coin jams spent much of Wednesday wielding spray bottles and paper towels, wiping down controls and other high-touch surfaces. Golder divided the arcade into two sections with a limit of 50 people in each half of the roughly 24,000-square-foot area. He also pointed to 13 ceiling exhaust fans.

“They suck air out, as opposed to recirculating, so the air flows pretty good in here,” he said. “With the doors open, it’s a very open-air environment.”

Whether it can be a profitable environment remains uncertain. Visitors to downtown Old Orchard Beach on Wednesday numbered in the dozens rather than the hundreds. Maintaining social distance on the sidewalks was not difficult.

“We’re happy that we’re able to open at all,” Golder said. “A lot of places got a little bit of a head start on us, but it’s nice to try to be able to do some business. For a long time, we were looking at the potential of losing the whole season. And with the way things are across the country, it’s still a possibility. We could be doing all this and get shut down in a week or two weeks. Nobody knows.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.