Claw machine arcades are Toronto's hottest newest trend
Every childhood trend has a comeback season — bell bottom jeans, gothic choker necklaces, Baby Phat— and evidently claw machine arcades are having a renaissance moment.
Over the past year, Toronto has seen a marked influx of twinkling, pink-hued stores populated with grabby devices full of toys.
For the price of a few tokens or credits, players can get their hands on collectibles imported from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea, from Hello Kitty plush dolls to Doraemon key chains.
You'll find them at Asian malls scattered around the city, each offering a different experience and unique selection of cutesy stock.
First starting the trend in Toronto was Pali Pali, the unmanned arcade which first opened in Splendid China Tower in September 2018, and then with a second shop in Dragon City Mall in February of this year.
Catchers' Station, which opened in January, sits tucked away in the underground parking of Langham Square plaza with a whopping 17 machines squished into its narrow store.
There's Vava near Yonge and Finch, a second-floor premium arcade in the heart of Koreatown North.
And at First Markham Place is Claw & Kitty, which opened in June and has already become a weekend staple with nine machines and all-you-can-play 15-minute tournaments for $20 that can get pretty crazy.
"You should think of it as a machine that brings joy and brings back memories as a kid," says Claw & Kitty's owner, Simon Au.
As a full-time realtor, Au says he opened his arcade to bring fun to people's lives. His wife brings toys from Asia, and some of their machines come with claw grips, meaning its almost guaranteed that players can win a Monchichi toy or two.
Au also tests out each toy with his machine to ensure his products are feasibly clawed (beware: some arcades display toys that are too small or too large to be grabbed).
Wholesome intentions aside, claw machine arcades can be pretty profitable. They don't take much money to start, which makes it an enticing business opportunity and has created a cascade effect for other interested entrepreneurs over the last year.
Other than the cost of the machines (a good model from Asia costs only a bit over $1,000), the shipping of toys, and rent, there's no experience needed to run an arcade.
Pili Pili, which is a self-serve concept, doesn't even have someone manning the shop, meaning owner Rex Lin can save on employee costs as well.
"It's really popular in Asia," says Lin. "We wanted to see how Canada's market would be."
The taste in toys are slightly different in Toronto. Pokemon is easily recognizable, and ergo popular, but at the end of the day, both Au and Lin say that people are overjoyed to win anything at all.
Join the conversation Load comments