Pinball as a barometer of community health

Of interest to anyone who likes old roads like the Lincoln Highway is the state of the roadside and the roadscape, and the communities along the way. Are housing and retail developments being planned with care and context, or built as quick as possible by a developer who is already looking to the next project?

Pinball may seem an odd barometer of such matters, but this article in The New York Times contains some precious insights into the loss of places that were once a haven for pinball machines – the kinds of places that old road fans embrace for their friendly service and quality products. Click the screen shot below to open the article:

Gary Stern (seen above) is the owner of Stern Pinball Inc., the world’s only remaining manufacturer of coin-operated pinball machines. The company once built 27,000 machines a year but that’s dropped to 10,000. Stern says half the new machines (at $5,000 each) go directly into people’s homes, and of the total, 40 percent are exported. Why? People still love pinball but casual players are being lost: “Corner shops, pubs, arcades and bowling alleys stopped stocking pinball machines. A younger audience turned to video games.”

Not only stopped stocking it, but the places themselves are disappearing. “The thing that’s killing pinball is not that people don’t like it,” said Tim Arnold, who recently opened The Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas [a nonprofit museum]. “It’s that there’s nowhere to play it.”

Think about new shopping plazas – would Starbucks install a pinball? Bruegger’s Bagels? Kinko’s? Dollar General? When was the last time you saw a new bowling alley, roller rink, or soda fountain being built? When was the last time you saw a pinball machine?

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2 Responses to “Pinball as a barometer of community health”

  1. Glenn Wells Says:

    I recall one of Ray Kroc’s rules regarding McDonald’s was “No juke boxes.” Juke boxes, or pinball machines, or anything that caused people to linger without adding to the core business – hamburger sales – was seen as objectionable.

    Major chains hold the same philosophy today- order your food, spend just barely enough time to eat it, and get out.

    Makes you wonder how the bar owner of the past could afford to let us hang around the pinball machine when all he stood to gain was maybe the sale of another 25 cent draft beer.

  2. RoadDog Says:

    Plus, I can’t keep up with all this new technology. Just like the video games replacing the pinballs, it’s coming out way too fast and furious. Hey, I just figured out how to put THIS excellent source of news on My Yahoo Page.

    However, some bars are installing NTN/Buzztime which is an interactive trivia game. You play not only the others in the bar, but also across Canada and the US. I know it’s caused me to spend more time in bars, much more time.

    While waxing on this, I also dislike the new jukeboxes where you can play any kind of music. In the past, I liked places that tailored their song selection to the customers. Now, you can have someone putting rap on at a country bar. Not pleasant.

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