Jedi Alliance: A collection connection
-May 25th, 2017
Tyler Arnold says he and his brother, Tim, have been collecting Star Wars and other TV, movie, and pop culture memorabilia for more than 22 years now.
“It all started with a ‘Return of the Jedi’ lunch box I bought when I was 17,” he says. “Now, here we are many years and thousands of items later.”
The brothers are co-owners of The Jedi Alliance, a comic book emporium, toy museum, and classic arcade and event space here.
Located at 2024 E. Boone, the 4,000-square-foot building once housed a Free Methodist church congregation, but now serves to showcase the brother’s extensive collection, while also offering customers a chance to play classic arcade games for a small fee.
Born and raised in Spokane, both brothers also work at Bullet Proof Tattoo, at 2309 N. Division, Tyler as a tattoo artist and Tim as a piercer.
Although neither has a college degree, Arnold says Tim attended Evergreen State College in Olympia for several years in the 1990s.
“I followed him out there for a while and we’d participate in the toy show circuit, buying and selling items almost every month,” he says. “We don’t have any formal business training, but we do seem to have a knack for dealing in collectibles.”
Arnold says it wasn’t until 2007 that the two brothers began to realize they would need to find a large, permanent home for their collection.
“In 2007, we rescued about 140 old arcade machines from this old warehouse here in town,” he says. “We didn’t want to see them destroyed, and we were running out of places to put them.”
Eventually, Arnold says they found the building on Boone Avenue and bought it in July of 2015 for $90,000, a purchase that he says was funded mostly through the sale of a classic guitar.
“I bought the building using money I gained from selling my signed Johnny Ramone Mosrite guitar,” he says. “We’re still pretty big Ramones fans, so we still have a display case here with two other guitars and band-related items.”
The business’s location is divided into three main areas: a small gift shop space with comics and other merchandise for sale, another small room with wall cases showcasing items from the brothers’ collection, and the gaming room featuring 80 arcade and pinball machines, as well as two projection-movie screens.
Despite having finally found enough space for most of their collection, Arnold says the two quickly discovered buying a former church property came with a small catch.
“The building is still trapped in this weird zoning, so some of the space has to function similarly to a church or event space,” says Arnold.
He says because their collection already featured lots of Star Wars-related memorabilia, the brothers decided to designate part of their new space for use as a Jedi church.
For those unfamiliar with the films, Arnold explains, Jedi are members of a mystical knightly order who’re trained to use their powers to guard peace and justice in the universe.
“Jediism is this religion that follows the same philosophy and principles as the Jedi from the films,” he says.
Arnold says although the business is classified as a 501C3 nonprofit, because Jedisim isn’t recognized as an official religion, it’s still required to pay taxes on any business it conducts, or property it owns.
“It was never our goal to be tax-exempt anyway, so we’re all right with not having that,” he says.
The Jedi Alliance is only open Fridays and Sundays from 6 to 10 p.m., but does occasionally host special events, like this year’s Star Wars 40th Anniversary celebration, as well as charity events for local organizations.
During peak hours, the business asks customers to pay $10 to play as long as they want, and offers a discount of $5 on Sundays for families or late night players.
“All the machines have been decommissioned, so they’re free to play,” Arnold says. “Quarters are actually hazardous to a machine’s longevity. They get stuck in odd places and can even start fires inside, so it’s just best not to have to worry about that.”
Arnold says all fees are considered donations, and go toward maintenance of the machines and the use of the building.
“We only sell items that we don’t personally collect, or overstock of items we already have,” he says. “All of that money goes back toward buying new items for our collection.”
Arnold says most customers stop by to play the arcade games, although some will hang around and check out the rest of the collection.
“Sometimes they’ll talk about a certain item they remember having way back when, but I think most people come to play,” he says. “The arcade is kind of like a giant museum, only you get to touch and interact with all the artifacts.”
For $250, customers also can rent the building for private parties, although groups usually are limited to 25 people or less.
“The cost to rent the building includes use of all the arcade games and movie screens,” he says. “We try to limit groups to about 25 so they can get the most out of the space.”
Arnold says the majority of parties tend to be birthday celebrations for people who’ve outgrown arcades but still want to relive the nostalgia their childhoods.
“It’s fun to see people who grew up loving these toys and movies come in, and introduce some of it to their young kids who’ve likely never seen an arcade game or pinball machine,” he says.
Unlike most businesses that incorporate games or movies and sci-fi themes, Arnold says the Jedi Alliance doesn’t serve food or alcohol, and isn’t focused on selling merchandise.
“In my experience, those businesses tend to fizzle out once customers lose interest, or the owners try too hard to push sales and make a profit,” he says.
While party rentals allow for customers to bring in alcohol and food, and small snack items are sold in its gift shop, Arnold says the brothers aren’t interested in adding a kitchen or bar.
“We’re not open often enough to make a profit on food or alcohol sales,” he says. “Offering alcohol would also take away from our family-friendly atmosphere, and that’s not something we want. For us, it’s about sharing our collection and giving people a place to come and interact and have fun.”
Arnold says the brothers are constantly adding to their collection, and in the future hope to open up the building’s basement space to use as further storage.
“We don’t really have an end goal, we’re just evolving and adapting as necessary,” he says. “I’ve always kind of believed if things are meant to be they’ll work out.”
As to the future of the collection, Arnold says he hopes one day the brothers will be able to pass it down to their children.
“I’ve considered just selling all of this and using the money to retire somewhere nice,” he says. “But it has a lot of sentimental value, and it’d be nice to see our kids continue with it.”