Video games have come a long way since Pac-Man first munched his way into  ’80s game rooms. Still, the arcades that house these electronic novelties are often the scourge of concerned parents. Some see them as seedy hang outs while others view them as merely a waste of time.

Lottie Minik wants to change these attitudes.

As the owner of Nickel Ranch in the Lakewood Shopping Center on Abrams Parkway, Minik has created an atmosphere that’s wholesome, comfortable and safe. With its carpeted floor, western decor and TVs playing old Roy Rogers films in various corners of the room, Minik’s Ranch is loaded with contemporary and classic video games (remember Asteroids?), pinball tables, interactive children’s games and ski-ball lanes. True to the establishment’s name, everything operates strictly on nickels.

Of course, the low price does constitute a $1.75 admission. In the end, however, an afternoon or evening at the Ranch certainly wears less on parents’ pocketbooks than most other entertainment centers.

“So far, everyone’s been delighted,” she says. “When most parents hear the word ‘arcade,’ they tend to scowl, but when they come in and see the carpet and the decorations, their attitude completely changes.”

Her role is not limited to merely overseeing the formalities of the business, but as being a full-time part of the fun. On any given day, she can be seen directing children to the restroom or picking up dropped nickels. Her experience in the center of the action stems from a long-time career in the “fun” industry.

She and her husband Bob have been involved in the amusement park business for several years. Lottie spent much of that time on the midway running carnival games and Bob is actually an amusement park designer. He was also the brains behind the concept of a “nickel” arcade. Thus far, it’s worked quite well in Lakewood. While Nickel Ranch may not be drawing in the megabucks of high dollar gaming centers like Dave and Buster’s, its success stems from the return customers.

“I don’t make a lot of profit on an individual, but he or she will come back,” she says. “I make a smaller profit, but everyone’s happy when they leave, so they’ll come back. That’s what I want. I want repeat customers who know me and are happy with me.”

Not only are return customers a factor in Nickel Ranch’s success, but also private parties and special days for day care groups. Corporate parties have also begun to pop up at Minik’s Ranch. She says the sky’s the limit as far as the events that can be booked in this colorful venue. “It’s my goal to book a wedding, a funeral and a Bar Mitzvah,” she says. “Well, the funeral might be a hard sell, but why not a wedding or Bar Mitzvah?”

Now that most east Dallas parents have learned not to fear the word “arcade,” Lottie Minik finds herself recognized as the “Nickel Ranch Lady” around the neighborhood. She’s delighted by that and plans to continue serving up fun and games.

“I enjoy the people best of all,” she says. “I like the kids. I like the adults. It’s because you’re dealing with people who are happy and came to have a good time! It’s here that you really see the best side of people.”

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