Pinball wizard of Wildwood hopes to play another day

With the Boardwalk Mall for sale, Randy Senna is not sure he’ll be a part of the future and he’s offering all the contents of his arcade, Pinball Palace, for sale, $700,000 worth of games.

In the din and the darkness of a basement arcade on the Wildwood boardwalk, Randy Senna sits alone with a few of the 500 mannequins he made in his image.

A maze of wood-paneled shooting games and retro pinball machines he resurrected rises up around him, alive with the clicks and buzzes and pings no modern games make.

The collection, curated and handpicked over a lifetime, had been for sale for a week, and for the blue-eyed wizard of Wildwood’s bygone days, letting go was akin to losing one’s own molecules.

“Everything is special!” Senna, 56,  yelled Monday afternoon, his volume as loud as every speaker there. “I don’t want to get rid of anything — but yes, certain things, of course, are more special than others.”

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With the Boardwalk Mall for sale, Randy Senna is not sure he’ll be a part of the future and he’s offering all the contents of his arcade for sale, $700,000 worth of games. He is shown with a few of the “Randy” mannequins, modeled after himself, in the arcade. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)

He has operated the “Remember When Retro Arcade” in the bowels of Wildwood’s Boardwalk Mall since 2011, but believes the future is uncertain now that the property, a former movie theater, is under contract with a new owner.

The mall is one of the largest buildings on Wildwood’s rambling, eclectic boardwalk, with dozens of small stores and kiosks selling everything from designer sunglasses to hot sauce on its three floors. In recent years, as some tenants left, the mall’s owner allowed Senna to put additional games — he has thousands elsewhere — in any unrented spaces to keep them from looking empty. Retail space above the building’s marquee, its clam-shell windows looking out over the boardwalk, beach, and Atlantic Ocean, was closed all summer.

The Boardwalk Mall, according to the commercial real estate website, was for sale for $2.495 million and the property’s real estate agent declined to comment, saying the building was “under contract.”

The building’s current and longtime owner, Martin Falk, opened the Boardwalk Mall in 1977 and believes the potential new owners intend to keep it that way.

“I understand Randy’s concern, but he may be getting ahead of himself,” Falk said. “They’re going to need tenants.”

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In recent years, as some tenants left, the Boardwalk Mall’s owner allowed Randy Senna to put additional arcade games — he has thousands elsewhere — in any unrented spaces to keep them from looking empty. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)

Senna said he hasn’t spoken to the new owners and doesn’t know their names. Other longtime tenants are keeping fingers crossed.

“I know there is an offer on the building and I’m trying to put myself into a state of grace,” said Joseph DiMartino, 67, whose Old Time Photo has been operating since the building opened.

DiMartino’s photo booth, where customers dress as cowboys or Southern belles, is one of the mall’s mainstays and he said potential buyers said they want him there. He just hopes they jolt the 26,320-square-foot venue back to life.

“It’s been a real disappointment and a real difficult year,” DiMartino said.

Senna said he has an option to purchase the building and has consulted a lawyer. In the meantime, he put the entire collection at the arcade, several hundred machines, up for sale on eBay for $702,000.

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Among the hundreds of games in Randy Senna’s Remember When Retro Arcade is a customized Spyr-O-Mania, with two of the “Randy” mannequin heads modeled after himself. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)

“The Retro Arcade has been in operation for 7 years, and now it looks like we are going to lose our location due to the building being sold and re-purposed,” Senna wrote in his listing.

There’s no place on the boardwalk, or anywhere in Wildwood, Senna could afford to rent and move his collection, he said. He can’t pay for storage and certainly doesn’t have room in “Randyland,” his 21,000-square-foot property on Pacific Avenue a half-mile away that’s full of games.

Senna, who spent years working in Walt Disney World in Orlando, has been dreaming of opening Randyland as a retro arcade museum for at least a decade, but zoning issues have kept the place dark. Most of his Randy mannequins and heads, designed to be the “Mickey Mouse” of his world, are there.

Tourists still peer in through the windows of Randyland, dark and locked like Willie Wonka’s factory, from the sidewalk. The public did get a peek into Randyland in 2011, when Senna appeared on the reality series Hoarders.

He didn’t actually throw anything out in the episode. Instead, he moved games from Pacific Avenue to the boardwalk to open the arcade.

“That doesn’t make me less of a hoarder,” Senna said.

Wildwood Commissioner Pete Byron, who once ran a pork-roll shop in the mall, hopes new owners keep Senna around and keep the marquee aglow.

“It’s fallen on some hard times,” Byron said. “It’s an icon of the boardwalk, though.”

Byron said the city has worked with Senna to get Randyland open as the museum he wants it to be. Byron said Senna knows there are some variances he would need and fire-suppression systems he’d have to agree to.

“Personally, I think he’s a good guy. He’s a brilliant guy,” Byron said. “The city would love to see that building open.”
Senna said he’s done well there in the Boardwalk Mall basement, home to various arcades over the decades, despite not having games that spit out tickets to win stuffed animals, bracelets, and even televisions.

Senna is a purist who plays games for the thrill of it, and wants others to do the same.

“What’s up there now, they’re not arcades!” Senna yelled, motioning to the boardwalk beyond the mall’s steel doors.

The opening theme to Laverne & Shirley blasted through the arcade Monday, followed by themes from other sitcoms and the occasional squawk from a mechanical crow in a Western shooting gallery.

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Randy Senna plays one of his favorite shooting range games in his Remember When Retro Arcade. There’s no other place on the boardwalk, or anywhere in Wildwood, Senna says, that he could afford to rent to house his vast collection. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)

Signage plastered on the walls promoted Senna’s appearance on Hoarders, his mentions in GQ Magazine and other news outlets, but one sign seemed more ominous, particularly when the wooden casket in the shooting gallery creaked open.
“If we move, want to follow us?” Randy’s latest sign read.

On Tuesday morning, the eBay listing ended with the collection unsold, but Senna’s not opposed to an offer, as long as it’s for everything. Randy’s retro arcade will live on, loud as ever on weekends until the mall closes for the season in October.

No one, Senna said, is as dedicated to retro gaming as he was, when he bought it all in the first place, piece by piece, up and down the Jersey Shore, where he worked in arcades nearly his entire life before and after his stint in Orlando.

“I live the dreams,” Senna said in an e-mail Tuesday morning. “I must remain loyal to the old ways, and die with them if I must. It is not for money alone that a man spends his life building a business: It is to preserve a way of life that one knew and loved.”

Camera icon CHARLES FOX
Randy Senna stands outside the Boardwalk Mall, one of the largest buildings on Wildwood’s rambling, eclectic boardwalk. Its dozens of small stores and kiosks sell everything from designer sunglasses to hot sauce on its three floors. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)