They came. They played. They smiled.
Last weekend, a new arcade opened its doors in Newtown, Conn. conceived not to make money, but to spread joy.
The not-for-profit Sandy Hook Arcade Center is the brainchild of Newtown residents Andrew and Scott. The two, who asked that their last names not be used because of concern for their privacy, designed the arcade as a place for families to come together around fun experiences and to simply be happy.
"When you get back to some of the core values of who and what we are all about as people and families," Scott said, "and you start to bring community back together and you bring people back together, you know the goodness starts to come out and people just tend to have fun with each other."
The arcade features about two dozen pinball and arcade games, two Xbox 360s and doesn't charge a penny to the residents of Newtown who come to game. Any money the arcade does take in is used to help pay for the upkeep of the center, which the duo hopes to keep around for at least several months.
Andrew, who has always had an arcade in the basement of his home, was hosting a December birthday party for his son on the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The family sent out emails to everyone invited, leaving it to the families to decide if they still wanted to attend.
"Not only did every kid come, but a whole bunch of the neighborhood came too," he said. "I just knew from that moment that, wow, this is something that's bigger than us, how kids would enjoy these games and have fun with it. I thought, hey, let's see if we can make this a bigger sort of thing for the whole town."
So Andrew talked with Scott and within a week the two had managed to secure 22 arcade machines. Next they went door-to-door to every open retail space in town looking for a place that would help them find a home for their idea.
"Not one person would say no to us," Andrew said. "They would either meet with us or listen to our idea."
Once the space was secure, the entire town came together, from plumbers to electricians to painters, to turn the vacant space into a place where families can perhaps for a moment forget the tragedy that swept through the town and shocked the nation. A place that allows kids to be kids again.
"A lot of this is about the kids, but a lot of this is about the community, the parents as well," Scott said. "The parents are actually hurting as much as the kids are. We've had parents sit down in front of these pinball games and be like, 'Wow, I miss these days.'"
Accompanying video and photography by Tom Connors.