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Land of Oz, 2500 Decker Boulevard (Decker Mall): 1986   21 comments

Posted at 1:27 am in Uncategorized

Actually, this might not be Land of Oz as I can't remember if that was at both Bush River & Decker Malls, or only at Bush River with this being another operation. Whatever the name, it was definitely the Decker Mall video arcade though.

In its current incarnation, it has had somewhat "regular" doors retrofitted into the distinctive flat-arch entranceway, but originally, I believe they just drew a sliding mesh curtain at nights.

The layout I most remember had Don Bluth's pioneering "Dragon's Lair" console dead center in the entranceway facing the hall. This game was a combination of traditional hand-drawn "cel" animation served up from a laser-disc (not a DVD!) and choose-your-adventure gameplay with the transition between the scenes being guided by the game-play lever. For instance, if a dragon was about to fry your knight, and you raised your shield, the disc would transition to a "flame bounces off shield" scene, if you didn't raise it, it would transition to an "the ashes of your character blow away scene" (those are just examples, I don't recall the actual specifics). Actually like many "pioneering" technologies, it wasn't that good because they were pushing the video scene changing tech further than it was really ready to go, and the transitions were really clunky.

If you turned left at "Dragon's Lair", there was a "Bezerk" somewhere in the left side of the store. This was the pushy game that would in "attract mode" declare "COIN DETECTED IN POCKET" from time to time. You had to either shoot the robots or run them into the electric walls. I liked it, but wasn't that good.

Somewhere against the back wall, I think was "Battlezone" a vector-graphics based POV tank game. You had two levers, one for each tank tread, and you could spin in place by running one tread fowards and the other tread backwards. I usually ended up fooling around with navigating the tank and getting shot.

I don't recall any more of the layout, but they definitely also had "Asteroids", "Space Invaders","Tempest", "Defender" (which I could not play at all -- too many things to keep track of), "Milipede", and "Missle Command". I suppose they must have had "Pac Man/Ms Pac Man", but I don't really recall it. I'm prettty sure they did not have some of my other favorites, "Star Castle", "Galaxian", "Phoenix", "Gorf", and "Joust", or my all-time favorite, "Galaga". Of course, it could just be that when I was in college, I went to Robos instead of here and thus missed the gradual turnover.

I'm not really sure when they closed. The mall underwent a long gradual decline that accelerated into death-spiral when Kroger and Target pulled out, but I think they were gone before that, probably late 80s I'm guessing.

UPDATE 18 June 2012: The last city directory listing Land of Oz is 1986, so I have updated the closing time in the post title from "1980s" to "1986".

Written by ted on July 22nd, 2009

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21 Responses to 'Land of Oz, 2500 Decker Boulevard (Decker Mall): 1986'

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  1. I spent many a quarter and wasted hours in this place. My favorites, though, were the Asteroids machine and Galaga. I could never seem to get enough of them.


    22 Jul 09 at 11:35 pm

  2. I remember they had Mr. Do's Castle too.


    23 Jul 09 at 7:18 am

  3. Does anyone remember that you had to be 18 years old to even play regular flipper pinball machines back in the '70s. Not everyone enforced it but the Land Of Oz sure did. I remember going there when it opened around '77-'78. They had a row of pinballs on the wall on the right and they all had signs "must be 18 to play". My mom always shopped at the fabric store across the hall and I would go in there alot. I remember playing a game "Space Wars". It was a black and white monitor spaceship battle game that featured a keypad in the center to enter the options you wanted during gameplay like, shots that bounced off the screen or extreme gravity around the sun etc. The ships looked like the Enterprise and the ship on Asteroids ( which would come years later). I also remember Boot Hill and Stunt Cycle. Boot Hill was a black and white monitor game with green tint over the screen in which you were gunfighters shooting at each other. Stunt Cycle was themed after Evel Knievel. You had a motorcycle handlebar with a throttle and you had to jump these barrels. Everything changed in '79 when Space Invaders came out. The arcade got really busy and those signs came down and you were allowed to play the pinballs at any age.


    24 Jul 09 at 9:12 am

  4. I forgot about this play. Anyone remember that night club in Decker Mall? I think it was called Chances.


    24 Jul 09 at 10:04 am

  5. Space Wars was a direct descendant of the very first video game, originally implemented by computer scientists on a mini-computer (which meant at the time, one which only filled *half* a room).

    I found this one at the mono-rail hotel in Disney World back in the late 70s and was blown away!


    24 Jul 09 at 10:46 am

  6. Yup, Computer Space made by Nutting Associates (came out in '71) and was the inspiration for Space Wars. Way ahead of its time considering it was alot more complex than the more popular Atari Pong. Check out for lots of pics.


    24 Jul 09 at 11:07 am

  7. MR BILL, I remember it. I believe it was in the old Shoe Carnival type store after it closed. It was more towards Richway and on the same side of the mall. Didn't last long. Does anyone remember the name of that shoe store?


    24 Jul 09 at 11:23 am

  8. Here's a link to the "original" from MIT in 1962(!)


    24 Jul 09 at 11:23 am

  9. Wow! 1962, that's awesome!


    24 Jul 09 at 11:28 am

  10. Yes, the one in Bush River was also a Land Of Oz.

    I remember loving that place becuase it was one of those places you got 6 tokens for $1, and 30 for $5. The one at Bush River was the first place I ever saw a Tron machine.

    Mike M.

    26 Nov 09 at 12:54 am

  11. We went there a LOT after school in the late 70s and early 80s. I remember when Asteroids came out and there was always a crowd hovering nearby and a line of quarters across the front of the screen. One of the neat (and sneaky) things I remember there was that you could shuffle your feet across the carpeted floor and "shock" the coin box on some of the machines and it would register as a credit. :>) I also remember one of my friends telling me about someone who was putting dollar bills upside-down into the token machine and punching the front and it would read them as a $5 bill and give 30 tokens. Who comes UP with these ideas???

    One of my favorite games to watch people play was "Red Baron", a WWI flying game. As you steered the plane you couldn't help but lean and bank yourself to match the plane's movement. I saw people fall over from leaning too far.

    There was a game in the back left corner that had a spinning planet with triangular targets and you had to time your shots just right as the targets came into view. Seems the end of the game had some big pear-shaped alien head (think Star Trek credits) laughing at you. Sound familiar to anyone?

    I also remember a pinball machine (Space Shuttle?) that jammed once while I was playing and the score just kept rolling up for no reason. The guy who worked there (Gary?) got mad at me for not coming to him and telling him about it. What, are you nuts? Why would I tell someone to stop me from getting points? :>)


    11 Aug 10 at 12:05 pm

  12. Shannon, the laughing alien game was Sinistar. Sad that I'm old enough to know that.

    59 Ford Wheelman

    11 Aug 10 at 1:13 pm

  13. Ted, that was a good link to the “original” from MIT in 1962. I had forgotten all about the DEC PDP units. I installed a PDP-11 at Williams Brice stadium to drive the old incandescent lamp matrix boards above each end zone. Each board was 21 rows high and 256 columns wide, and we would put up a static message like "NC State" and a PacMan figure would travel across the screen gobbling up the lettering from left to right. This was all controlled by a punched paper tape drive that was then loaded into the PDP-11. Leading edge at the time. Pretty quaint, now.

    Terry Edwards

    14 Aug 10 at 7:03 am

  14. Does anyone remember if they had tokens with Land of Oz on each side with California on one side and Florida on the other. Love to hear if anyone knows.

    Robert Baum

    6 Jan 11 at 1:03 pm

  15. Unfortunately I don't remember -- but I have to ask:

    Any relation to L. Frank Baum?


    6 Jan 11 at 2:51 pm

  16. "There was a game in the back left corner that had a spinning planet with triangular targets and you had to time your shots just right as the targets came into view. Seems the end of the game had some big pear-shaped alien head (think Star Trek credits) laughing at you. Sound familiar to anyone?"

    Sounds like you're describing Sega's 'Space Fury'.


    15 Oct 11 at 8:06 pm

  17. Hey Ted, I noticed the phrase "The list city directory listing Land of Oz is 1986" and wonder if you mean "the last city directory" in today's update on this post


    18 Jun 12 at 1:23 pm

  18. D'Oh! ... fixed.


    18 Jun 12 at 1:52 pm

  19. I remember "chances". Had so much fun there!


    9 May 13 at 6:49 pm

  20. Ted,

    I was the manager of both the Bally's Land of Oz (that was the full, proper name, circa 1985 forward) on Bush River Road and the Bally's Aladdin's Castle in the Columbia Mall.

    The 3 stores were all part of the parent company, Bally / Midway, who also made Spy Hunter, 8 Ball Champ, 8 Ball Deluxe, Ms. Pac-Man, etc.

    We initially closed the Decker Blvd location because the mall there was slowly...well, increasingly rapidly, declining. Stores left the mall in droves, our sales dropped and we had more thieves abusing the arcade equipment and stealing tokens than we had paying customers.

    We also had an assistant manager at the time who we later discovered was aiding and abetting in the theft. The mid-level management decided that it was best to cut our losses.

    The Decker location closed around 1988, as I recall.
    This was initially managed as a satellite location from the larger parent business at the Bally's Aladdin's Castle in the Columbia Mall, which was on the upper floor on the Sears end.

    At one point, I managed both the Bush River location and the Columbia Mall location, but the company decided to have a separate full time manager at the Bush River location to prevent the same type of problems that had occurred at the Decker location.

    The Land of Oz locations featured around 40-50 games, that is all they could handle. The Bally's topped off one time at around 90, but typically we had 80-85, including the only decent pinball machines in the city. We had 4 or 5 classics, including 8 Ball Champ (or Deluxe, that was rotated out between other locations in our state), the Kiss or Journey pinball machines, a Pac Man Jr., a Spyhunter pinball (yes, they had both video game AND pinball for that!), and a few others.

    You really ought to include the Bally's Aladdin's Castle as a separate listing, it was the parent to the 2 satellite stores.

    On Halloween, 1986, I had former WNOK (now WVOC) radio personality Gary David host the 'One price, play all night for free' M.A.D.D. co-sponsored party. He and his then-girlfriend (now his wife!) Anne showed up and MC'd to a room of about 30 people, as I recall. Not quite the magical moment we had hoped for, but the funds raised supported M.A.D.D. in our national campaign. Who knows? Maybe we kept a handful of kids off the street and saved their lives?

    Bally's originally had 330+ stores nationwide, my store at the Columbia Mall always ranked in the top 10 for sales and 'game up' average (no game repairs needed, or were repaired very quickly, keeping the revenue stream up and the bean counters happy).

    We also hosted LOTS of birthday parties there, with tie-in deals from Chick Fil-A (thanks to store owner Don Ball) and the movie theaters (thanks to manager Chip, who literally followed me from the Bush River location to the Columbia Mall at about the exact same time, strangely enough!). Chip was a great guy, and loved playing the video games on his off time. He and Don Ball both helped us create some awesome tie-in deals with movie tickets, posters, etc. and food, respectively. Both were super managers, unfortunately you don't see this type of management style anymore these days.

    The Bally Corporation decided to focus their financial muscle on their fitness products (they created all kinds of aerobic machines back then, very good quality stuff, not like the junk they sell on TV today) and their adult nightclubs, like up on Chicago's Pier area. Chicago was their home base of operation. They closed the Aladdin's Castle in the early 1990's, as I recall, but by then I had already left, due to horrible new mid-level managers.

    Feel free to zip me an e-mail if you have any other questions on this location. I spent many, many weeks putting in EIGHTY hour weeks, and most work works were ALWAYS no less than 65 hours. Again, you can't find that level of dedication anymore these days.

    Sorry for the lack of brevity, I started to reminisce, and a flood of words came forth!


    31 Dec 15 at 2:38 pm

  21. I meant to add, the name of the movie theaters at that time, on both the Bush River Road and Columbia Mall areas, was "General Cinemas".


    31 Dec 15 at 2:40 pm

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