Walking into Save Point arcade on a Friday night, patrons will be met with a wave of sounds, ranging from the popping of pinball machines and the “waka waka” of Ms. Pac-Man to the chatter of friends beating each other’s high scores.
During the last several months the arcade has become the go-to spot for video game enthusiasts in the region. Located at 17 N. Main St. in Union Bridge, Save Point features a donation-driven free-play video arcade with about 20 rotating games. The shop also buys, sells and refurbishes video games from every era.
Owner Eric Holniker has lived in Carroll County his whole life and said it’s always been a dream to share his favorite games with others.
“My dad made arcade games in Baltimore in the 1980s, so I grew up around the machines and developed a passion for them,” Holniker said. “We have a lot of unique things that we really cherish and there are no other arcades in the state that we’re aware of that maintain the games like we do.”
Save Point’s mission is to embrace video game culture and educate people on the world that video games offer, while taking the time to repair and preserve the games for future generations to enjoy.
Holniker often travels around the country securing quality imported-from-Japan arcade machines to add to his collection.
Some of the rarer machines at the Union Bridge arcade include one of only 100 Primus pinball machines ever made and Taiko no Tatsujin, the Japanese version of the music game Taiko Drum Master.
“We have the only public machine on the East Coast,” Holniker said.
Store operations manager Izzy Basili said she’s been interested in “weird, obscure Japanese games” since she was a kid.
“We have a lot of things here that are hard to find,” Basili said.
Although Save Point was formerly a video game store at the TownMall in Westminster, it closed its doors in 2017 due to limitations at the mall.
“We couldn’t have tournaments or stay open late,” Holniker said.
At the end of 2017, the plan was to move to a new location in Westminster, but that fell through due to landlord complications.
“The dream was dead unless we could find a place to call home,” Holniker said. Through 2020, the business had to get by with online sales.
Eventually a space was found in Union Bridge that accommodated the arcade’s needs perfectly. The new space opened to the public in May.
The owner said while Save Point does have a retail side, the focus is on arcade games and pinball machines, which the public can play free of charge.
“We’re here for the people who can’t afford to throw money at a machine. … We just want to share our games,” Holniker said.
Another unique feature of the arcade is that anyone 21 and older is allowed to bring their own alcoholic beverages to drink while hanging out with friends and enjoying the games inside.
“We’re one of the only free BYOB arcades in the state,” Holniker mentioned. “Other arcades sell alcohol and charge around $15 per hour to play.”
Donations are accepted, and go toward electricity bills, machine maintenance and a backroom expansion, which will add more space and another 20 arcade games to the lineup. Those interested in donating can do so in store or online at https://savepointmd.square.site/free-play-arcade.
Save Point currently offers more than 100 unique Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games, 200 unique Nintendo DS titles and more than 350 unique PlayStation 2 games for purchase.
In addition, the Save Point team has been delivering an assortment of gaming machines to events all over the country, such as the annual MAGFest ( music and gaming festival) in Maryland.
Maddy Lehmann, who repairs machines in the arcade, said the busiest nights are usually Fridays and Saturdays, noting business often fluctuates.
“Seeing people play these games makes me happy … otherwise the machines would be sitting in storage,” she said.
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Jacob Manion of Westminster began visiting Save Point about five months ago.
“When I first walked into the place I was taken aback,” he said. “I never grew up wealthy so the free-to-play feature blew my mind, even as an adult.”
Manion said he “fell in love” with the arcade and returned every weekend for a while.
“It’s a safe place to enjoy yourself and have a good time on the weekend,” he said. “I can’t think of another place like it on the whole East Coast.”
Now Manion volunteers at Save Point, doing everything from working at conventions to fixing machines and updating the arcade’s website.
“Being able to watch a dad show his son how to play Galaga and seeing that connection makes all of our work worthwhile,” Holniker said. “I think we’re going to put Union Bridge on the map.”
Save Point is open from noon to 9 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays, and noon to 6 p.m., on Sundays. Though they are not open for regular business hours Monday to Wednesday, a team is usually on site, either working on arcade machines or helping people fix games they have at home. During this time, appointments can be made for trade-ins and repairs. Anyone who wishes to rent out the arcade for a party or private event can call 443-289-4825 to discuss booking and rates.