Nerd Alert Arcade In Cooper Young Is The Real Deal
For all the Mid-South Galaga Grandmas and frame data dorks alike—Nerd Alert is your new home.
Tyler and Melissa Oswald are the owners and operators of Nerd Alert, an entertainment and retail space in Cooper Young that wears its ‘80s and ‘90s nerd culture nostalgia on its face, literally. As soon as you walk in, it’s immediately recognizable as a labor of love and as a commitment to authenticity.
Keep reading for my Q&A with the owners and more information about the games and story behind the shop.
You can check Nerd Alert out for yourself at 1061 Cooper St. in Cooper Young. The best part? You can leave your quarters at home! A $10 door fee ($5 on Sunday for kids 12 and under) lets you play to your heart’s content.
Make sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram for store hours, a games list, and event and tournament news. They have BYOB nights on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., no extra fees or anything!
Being a ‘90s baby myself, their arcade is full of games that I’d played on home consoles but never got to play in a real arcade. I had a hands-on history lesson playing few rounds of The King of Fighters ‘98 on a real Neo Geo, then I sat down to chat with Tyler and Melissa.
Nerd Alert Arcade In Cooper Young: Q&A with Tyler Oswald
Wesley: So, first off, I’m a big Street Fighter fan, and when I heard that Nerd Alert had gotten a Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike cabinet, I had to come check it out. I’ve never played it in a real arcade before.
Tyler: 3rd Strike’s in the shop, actually! People played it so hard a couple weekends ago so I’m putting new sticks in it. I’m a huge Street Fighter fan too. I was fourteen when Street Fighter II came out, and I spent every day at the mall playing it. I had an obsession! All the money I made as a newspaper boy, I spent playing Street Fighter II. When Champion Edition came out in ‘92, I entered a tournament at the local mall and took second place. There was this Zangief guy, right? And not many people could do the Spinning Pile Driver, but this dude could do it every single time.
Wesley: Oh God, yeah. Champion Edition was busted. That move has a quarter-screen range right?
Tyler: It sucked. There was no way to get out of throws. They didn’t fix that until Super Turbo.
Wesley: When you bought that 3rd Strike, were you already building a collection or was it because it just seemed cool to have?
Tyler: Once arcades started going down, stuff started getting cheaper, and that’s when I started buying. Because by ‘99, I was 22, so I started having money. The first machine I got was a Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, and I got it in a lady’s garage for $115. From there, I bought every Capcom fighting game that exists. Except JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. [laughs] So from then on, I just had ‘em. And I took them with us when we moved to Illinois.
Melissa: Yeah, that was when we had to move out because there were just Street Fighters all around our bed. [laughs]
Wesley: I know that you’ve both moved around the country together while operating arcades. What made you want to come to Memphis?
Tyler: Illinois is cold! It was minus 40 one year, and I was in Mexico for work, sitting on a beach, then [Melissa] sent me a video of her throwing a bucket of water in the air and it turning into snow on the way down.
Melissa: We couldn’t leave the house for two weeks! We also had the shop which was just taking off, and we had to stop for like two months out of the year.
Tyler: No one would come outside!
Wesley: So I guess wherever you ended up, you were going to open an arcade. But when you took a look around before you decided to move here, was the fact that Memphis doesn’t have a legit arcade, something that isn’t a barcade, a factor in that decision?
Melissa: Memphis just seemed really accessible when we were here. We went down Cooper and just loved it. It just reminded me of Jersey in the 90s, that east coast feel, I don’t really know how to describe it. But yeah, there wasn’t an arcade here, and we looked.
Tyler: We really needed to go where the weird was, where the artsy people were, and I think this was perfectly suited. We picked Memphis first, then we were like, okay, what’s down there? Do they have any weird shops, any arcades, you know. We saw a little bit of that, but not exactly what we wanted to do. And I don’t want to do a barcade, because drinking and all that stuff is kinda not my thing.
Melissa: And, we’ve always been a kid-friendly thing. Kids have always been a part of our business plan.
Tyler: Exactly! We’ve always had kids with like six bikes laying out front. That was the thing for me, and we wanted it to be the thing for us. We’re starting to get more and more walkers from the restaurants and stuff up north.
Wesley: You’ve got the hits like Dig Dug, Donkey Kong, and Mortal Kombat, but you also have some really cool deep cuts like Garou: Mark of the Wolves and Vampire Savior, and hardcore faves like Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. A game selection like that says that this is more of a passion project than anything, right?
Tyler: This is my personal collection. So, if something breaks, it’s like, oooooh, I gotta fix that! It’s not like it’s just a business. And that’s the difference. We’re not just a business to make money, this is my stuff. This is our stuff. When the joysticks are too loose, it makes me upset. Like, I need to be able to play it too, right? People will come in and tell me what’s wrong, and I’ll fix it.
Wesley: Do you have any plans for expansion? Do people come in and make game suggestions? Do you listen?
Tyler: Uh, I kinda listen. [laughs] These are all games that meant something to me as a kid. And luckily, we’ve got 15 out of the top 20 most-produced games. They’re all the games that we know and remember. But like, I’m not a sports guy, so I won’t get an NFL Blitz for instance, but I would get an NBA Jam because I played that. It was awesome! There’s more stuff I’d like to get, and depending on how well the arcade does, we’re gonna push out into that front room, because we’re gonna hit capacity in here pretty soon.
Fun fact about the above game: Nintendo’s 1981 arcade hit Donkey Kong was originally slated to use Popeye characters, but Nintendo couldn’t secure the license. So Bluto became Donkey Kong, Olive Oyl became Pauline, and Popeye became Jumpman...who later became Super Mario. They were eventually able to develop a real Popeye game, pictured here.
Wesley: Where do you get new machines? Because this stuff definitely isn’t as cheap as it was in the ‘90s.
Tyler: I get them everywhere. The last place I went was West Helena. I drove to Atlanta to get a bunch. You just gotta make a trip. And eventually, you start networking with other operators and restorers. They’ll just buy a bulk container of like 30 games and ask if you need anything from it. I had that up in Illinois, and I’m kinda getting that here. ‘Cause you know, Midway was big in Illinois. So there’s a lot of that residual arcade stuff laying around up there. It’s super easy to find.
Melissa: And it’s really cool because a lot of those guys are still around. They’re selling machines that they had from when they first came out.
Tyler: That Pac-Man cocktail came out of a Midway executive’s basement. He put it up for sale!
Wesley: No way! I love these so much, especially the face-to-face aspect of them. Very social machines.
Tyler: Yeah, we wanna try and get people out of their basements, right? I mean, these younger dudes, no offense to younger dudes, but lots of these guys have never really played against each other, right? They play at home or online. And I’m still struggling to get people out for stuff. I had a Guilty Gear Strive tournament the day after it came out, and only one person signed up. It’s probably a combination of COVID, online gameplay, and the heat.
Wesley: Well, Guilty Gear is also still pretty niche when it comes to fighting games, so that’s not totally surprising. We’ve got a pro Tekken player who lives in Memphis, I think, so Tekken may draw out some people. But what do you think is special about that in-person head-to-head competitive gameplay?
Tyler: It’s the rush, man. The rush! I used to get super nervous when I put my quarter up. Back when Street Fighter II was hot, there’d be four of them in a row, and you couldn’t see the screens because of so many people, so they’d hook TVs up on top of the cabinets so you could see what was happening. But if you wanted to get in on that, you had to put your quarter up then wait your turn. There’d be like six quarters up, and the guy playing would knock out the next five people, and you’d be like “Oh God. Alright, let’s do this!” We’re trying to create that here.
We had a Smash tournament here recently, and I remember talking to one kid and he was like “I’m so nervous man. I’m shaking, and I’m sweatin’!” You don’t get that at home! It’s just not the same.
Melissa: Fridays are becoming that! Like, there’s a line to play.
Tyler: Oh yeah, we’re starting to get that for Marvel vs. Capcom 2. I didn’t realize that it’s been so long that this has been anywhere for you guys. A lot people are like, holy crap, I’ve never played a Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Ever. And you know, some people do the MAME cabinets and the ROMs and emulators and all that crap, but people can do all that at home. They don’t need me for that. I got the real hardware, and it just feels different.
Wesley: I can totally buy that, especially when it comes to Marvel 2. That game came out when arcades were essentially dead, and home console versions got really, really expensive. So I remember only being able to play in the arcade at the Malco Paradiso or at my friend’s house whose older brother had it on PlayStation 2. And the MAME cabinets you’re talking about, I’ve seen those in a bunch of arcades around the country and they always just look and feel awful to play. It’s not authentic. I think it’s cool that y’all care that deeply about it.
Tyler: We’re really selling feelings, you know? My arcade in Pennsylvania was called Spaceport. It looked like a hangar bay. It was neon, it was dark as heck. Some arcades were super bright, but this one was super dark, and it was just way cooler. We want to sell that feeling back to people. You can play any one of these games here at home, but we made it look a certain way, we made it sound a certain way.
Melissa: Because that’s how we remember it.
1061 S. Cooper Street
Memphis, Tennessee 38104