In the spring of 1953 I opened my first amusement stand on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights. I leased the space from Stanley Tunney who at the time was the mayor. I bought some used lumber from a building that was being torn down in Toms River. the building was 80-100 years old. I had to build the 16′ by 40′ stand in February, March, April, and May of 1953. The biggest part of the job was nailing down the tar paper on the roof. Then my father and I poured 35 gallons a gooey, sticky, black tar. After those 3 extremely hot days on the roof we had to throw out our shoes.
I finally opened in June of 1953 with a wheel which you had to spin by hand. My first stand was filled with dolls and other stuffed animals. It only cost a nickel a space or 6 spaces for a quarter. 1953 was a very good year for me. In September I closed up my stand and put my shirt and tie on so I could go off to Seaside Park elementary which is where I taught school. There were a total of 4 teachers and a principal at that time teaching school down in Seaside Park. I was the sixth grade teacher. On the weekends I would reopen my stand from noon until 10pm. It was long hours but I sure did love the excitement of it all and the people. The stands and all the rides would close down in the end of October and reopen again in the spring.
In 1956, I along with all the other stands in seaside, had a bad year. As the state of New Jersey declared all the games in seaside as gambling and on July 4th weekend all of seaside was shut down for 3 to 4 weeks. At that point one of the local stand operators suggested that we should let the customers spin the wheel as this would be considered as a game of skill, not gambling. This was the way business was done from this point until 1960 when the state declared a referendum that the people voted on and legalized the wheels that we used as legal.
In 1960 I met Earle Mackennon who had a shooting gallery on the next block. I asked Earle if he ever considered retiring and to my surprise he said that this was actually his last year. We sat in the back of the shooting gallery and came to an agreement were I would get to lease the stand as long as I kept it as a shooting gallery for the next three years. Well that was 45 years ago and we still have that location today. Earle passed away in 1966, now I deal with his daughter Charlene.
In 1975 I had the opportunity to lease the entire block where my first stand was started. The previous lease had retired so I signed a 20 year lease in the spring of 1975. I tore down the old building and scooped up the putt putt golf that was there. I built a beautiful brand new concrete building to house an air conditioned/ heated arcade. The front 120′ of this property I laced with 7 stands.
In 1986 this great operation I had started only a short 34 years prior was coming to an end. I was ready to retire and spend some time travelling, and spending time with my five grandchildren. My 2 sons Steve and Tom took over the business. They have been doing an excellent job with ever improving the arcade and games that surround it.
Steve does a superb job of running the arcade and has made many enhancements to update it to keep ahead of the times. Tom runs the front stands with great enthusiasm and innovation running through his brain daily. Tom is always on the prowl for new ideas and innovations that help him stay 20 years ahead of everyone else.
Through the years the years the business has changed very drastically. When I opened up Lucky Leo’s for the first time it was filled with nothing other than video and pinball machines. Now today when I walk in there, there are only a handful of video games and no pinball in site. The business is now mostly slots and cranes. People just love winning stuff I guess. Along with their VIP programs and all the other incentives that they offer for repeat customers they are able to draw in that just perfect crowd they always seem to have going in there. They are really doing a great job of taking over I don’t think I could have ever imagined what they have done with the small video game lobby that I left them with. I am so very proud of both of my amazing sons who did a wonderful job of keeping the Lucky Leo name in such high regard.
Since retirement I have taken up golf with my wife Barbara. We play 4-5 times a week and love every minute of it there are two highlights to my golf career so far 1 I hit a hole in one right here in Toms River back in 1997. The 2nd is I hit another hole in one just this spring, which was during a tournament. So as the name says Lucky Leo got lucky again, the hole had a special prize for anyone who hit a hole in one on it that day. A brand new jeep Cherokee sits in my driveway today thanks to that lucky shot I made in March of this year.
We are forever thankful of the continuous support we receive in the aftermath of Sandy and the devastating fire one year later. We are always taken aback at how many generations of families we have been a part of. We thank you and hope to serve you for 60 more years !!
Thank you for all the great times and memories and thank you for returning year in and year out to keep making those wonderful memories.
-Leo T Whalen II