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Robo's Video Arcade: Main Street 1980s   15 comments

Posted at 7:39 pm in historic,stores

Consider the video arcade: Is there a more 80s location you can think of? These places flourished in that relatively narrow span of years between "Pong" and ubiquitious PC and console gaming. Video games started out in corners, perhaps forcing out a pinball machine or other mechanical amusement device, then spread to their own parlors then, aside from Ocean Drive and Chuck-E-Cheese faded back into corners again.

At one time Columbia had 6 video arcades that I can think of: One in a building specially built for it on Two Notch Road near where the I-77 interchange is now, one at Decker Mall, one at Bush River mall, one at Columbia Mall, and two "Robo's" locations, one at the Jackson Blvd K-Mart plaza, and the other on Main Street.

The Robo's on Main was on the west side of the street, just across from USC's "Towers" dorms (now gone), next to the 7-11 (now gone) and the Pizza Hut (now gone) and Stuffy's (now gone), in a building now gone. You get the picture. I was living in the Towers from 1980 through 1984, when Robo's was in operation. At the time, the USC student newspaper The Gamecock ran Robo's ads which offered cupons good for a free token. Either I or my roomate would walk into the room with the newspaper and say:

Rob?

or

Galag?

Rarely would the other turn down the invitation. Robo's had a wide selection of games, some that are considered classic now, and some that are long forgotten. My particular favorites were Joust, Pengo, and above all Galaga. We played Galaga so often and so long that my hand would bleed from frantically working the controls, and while I never achieved really elite status, I could reliably get to stage 15 and above. My roomate and I developed names for certain of the games tactics and avatars. You really had to beware of "greenies" and the dreaded "triple bee-pass". I was heartened to find recently on a trip to Myrtle Beach that we both can still play the game, though perhaps not quite as well!

At some point, as I intimated above, video arcades became trailing edge, and the crowds left, leaving the businesses to gradually become more decrepit until they couldn't pay the bills. As I recall, Robo's folded long before the building housing it was torn down. I think the arcades at Bush River and Decker pre-deceased even those ill-fated malls, and the one on Two Notch became a carpet store. Oh well, we still had some good times. Got a quarter?

Written by ted on January 8th, 2008

15 Responses to 'Robo's Video Arcade: Main Street 1980s'

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  1. I love Galaga too! I'm only 25 years old, but when I was in middle school there was a great place called The Grille on Sunset Blvd. in Columbia (I think there's a nightclub called Sunset Place there now). It was next to the old Super 10 store... they had a Galaga machine in there and I wore it out daily! :)

    Collette

    12 Feb 08 at 1:11 pm

  2. Collette, I remember seeing The Grille, but never stoped there. I've seen Galaga machines offered in catalogs, but for lots of money ($4000 !!). I'm sure it's possible to pick up a used one somewhere for lots less. If I ever get a rec-room, I'll think seriously about it. In the meantime, I don't know for sure where any machines are in Columbia right now, but I go to Garden City & Myrtle Beach often enough to get my fix!

    ted

    12 Feb 08 at 1:46 pm

  3. If I recall correctly, there was a Robo's at Dutch Square, in the strip building on the Broad River Rd. side of the parking lot, in between the A&P and Ed Robinson's Dry Cleaner's. There was also a video arcade at Widewater Square, but I can't recall the name (although it's possible that *that* was Robo's and the one at Dutch Sq. was the one I can't remember the name of!)...

    Also, there was the Barrel O' Fun inside the Dutch Square mall, and Aladdin's Castle inside Bush River Mall. I remember that Aladdin's had some standards, but specialized in slightly different fare. And let's not forget that the St. Andrews Multi-Cinema & Games started its life not just as a $1.00 movie house, but boasted a rather large arcade as well. I went there as often just to play games as to see a movie. Oh, and the Putt-Putt on St. Andrews Rd. had quite the collection of games too.

    Ahhh, the memories.

    And the quarters.

    -=B

    Brian

    28 Feb 08 at 6:05 pm

  4. I don't remember the Robos (or whatever) in the Dutch Square strip building. I *do* remember the Barrel O' Fun inside Dutch Square, and its funky round, wood entrance. I think that both Decker & Bush River malls (which were built as "twins") had the same arcade; certainly the layout (with a slope-sided entry arch) was the same whether both tenants were Aladdin's or not. Didn't remember about the Multi Cinema -- last time I was there (Bourne Identity), the gameroom looked pretty sad.

    ted

    28 Feb 08 at 6:19 pm

  5. I think the arcade at Bush River Mall was called Land of Oz.

    Susan

    21 Mar 08 at 12:14 pm

  6. No need to cry over old Galaga machines... Just download the latest Mame Emulator and download the Galaga ROMs and off you go on your PC! Just go a search for "MAME download" and "Galaga Mame".

    JP

    J.P.

    29 May 08 at 1:36 pm

  7. Susan - you're right... The Arcade at Bush River Mall was Land of Oz.

    I used to play Pac-Man and Crazy Climber there after we were through at Richway.

    Mike

    7 Jun 08 at 12:43 am

  8. I don't recall the Robo's near Dutch Square, but it would make sense if it was beside Ed Robinson's Cleaners (like the one near K-Mart), as Robo's was also owned by Ed Robinson. Get it: "Rob-o's"

    badger

    23 Jan 09 at 1:10 pm

  9. We used to rotate between the Robo's in the K Mart outparcel on Jackson Blvd and the arcade portion of Putt Putt Golf and Games across Devine Street, I think where the Bi-Lo strip mall is now.

    CJD

    29 Jan 09 at 4:59 pm

  10. I wondered if anyone else remembered the Robos in the KMart parking lot. Used to go there too. I had a buddy that worked at Putt Putt when we were at USC, I'd go after classes and he'd load me up on tokens. Ahh the sad life of a freshman.

    ChiefDanGeorge

    30 Jan 09 at 5:49 am

  11. I don't remember Robo's in K Mart's parking lot, but when I was little (1960s) there was a pay-by-the-hour slot car track in that building. I used to go and watch while my folks were in K Mart.

    Dennis

    30 Jan 09 at 10:42 am

  12. Those 1:24 scale slot cars were fun. I think we used to run them on that 4 wide track.
    Can that be right?

    Terry Edwards

    31 Jan 09 at 2:45 am

  13. Terry - that is right, though I thnik the track was closer to 3' wide. There was another operation like this on Beltline, not too far from Two Notch, in a strip mall next to a bowling alley.

    The competitive slot car scene is still alive in the snow belt states, and definitely in northern Europe. Seems like places that have harsh winters have thriving populations of model builders.

    Dennis

    31 Jan 09 at 5:31 am

  14. The Robo's Dutch Square was where the GB Shoe warehouse is currently. I remember the long lines of cruisers up and down that part of the lot on Friday nights. There was also a Robo's on Main st at University hall next to Pappy's a college bar. Used to go to Robo's and then to Pappy's to get those cheap pitchers at happy hour. They used to put big peppers in the pitchers. I also remember the Robo's at Jackson Blvd next to Kmart.

    jjt

    30 Mar 09 at 8:27 pm

  15. What was the name of the slot car building/place that was in the Ft. Jackson Kmart parking lot? I dont remember. I do remember though there were several small tracks, but one really big one that I think you could race 6 or 8 at one time. Anyone remember?

    Del

    4 Jul 09 at 11:31 am

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