'It breaks my heart': Wonderland's dancing hotdog man reflects on loss of Regina arcade

J.R. Stanley may have been Wonderland Entertainment Centre's biggest fan. He loved the arcade so much he dressed up like a hotdog and danced out front to attract business.

Now the Regina business appears to be closing its doors for good after 41 years in the city. The building was severely damaged earlier this year in a fire that also destroyed Lang's Café.

CBC Saskatchewan asked Stanley to share what Wonderland meant to him and reflect on its demise.

First I think of the sounds. A Skee-Ball machine loading up a new game. The basketball hoop looping celebration music. Kids screaming at the air hockey table. Echoing bells and spurts of digital audio spilling from the pinball room. 

Next are the sights. A counter of candy, hot dogs and popcorn. A wall of flashing screens, buttons and joysticks. A giant arrow pointing to a room of pinball machines. 

Then come the scents. Freshly mopped floors. Rotating hotdogs. Fresh popcorn. 

It breaks my heart thinking about how I'll never walk through Wonderland again. 

Nichole Huck/CBC

In the spring of 2015 I had just moved from Toronto and was sitting at a coffee shop across the street. I noticed an arcade with a banner above the door. "Wonderland Arcade," in a standard font. 

"Some artist should paint that building with characters and graphics," I thought. "Wait, I'm an artist that could paint that building with characters and graphics." 

I walked across to see if I could get permission. I wasn't looking for payment, I just wanted to help. 

Dorothy Stewart was at her usual station, taking hotdog orders and helping kids with games. She was overwhelmed by my offer. 

She talked me down to a simple Wonderland logo/sign rather than a full mural. At first it was just going to be a giant rectangle, but my dad dabbled in carpentry. He helped cut a sign with 3D letters. 

Before long my art was all over the place. I thought the pinball room needed something so I made another sign to go above the entrance. My wood carvings and pixel art were put on display behind the concession. 

It was a symphony to hear and see. - J.R. Stanley

After that I was welcomed to the arcade free of charge anytime. My friends and I could walk in and stay as long as we want. Dorothy and Andy Stewart, the owners, would wave off any money I would offer. I would go by myself almost everyday and hang out for hours, losing track of time. It was my happy place. 

I always tried to give Andy and Dorothy new ideas to market the arcade. I joked about how Andy should dress up in a hotdog suit and dance on Broad Street with a sign with big letters saying, "ARCADE" and an arrow. 

I eventually found a discounted hotdog costume and decided to do it myself. I got some white gloves, pair of sunglasses and made a giant sign to hold. People loved the dancing hotdog and I got tons of honks, laughs and waves. People took photos from their car and some wanted selfies with me. It was a marketing success. 

Micki Cowan/CBC

Often times I would be there from open to close. I would come at noon and hear the latest stories from Dorothy and Andy. The place would sit empty, in a zen state, with only the radio and the arcade demo sounds echoing off the walls.

I would see the same old man come in and go sit at his Pac-Man machine. There would be the odd customer who worked nearby and would get lunch at the concession. They really did have the best hotdogs. Dorothy had a full spread of toppings and condiments from spicy mayo to freshly chopped onions and hot pepper rings.

Later on, school would get out and the kids and families started to show up. The place really started to come alive with the sounds of people and arcade games.

Some older guys would come to shoot some pool. There was always a couple on a date shooting zombies together and playing the dance-dance game for the first time. Kids would start trickling for birthday partys and it got even louder.

All the 4 player racing machines would be in use. Basketballs and skee balls were thrown. Pinball machines dinged and the jukebox played. It was a symphony to hear and see.

We all have our own memories of Wonderland. If I could, I would open an arcade and run it just the same.

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