Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wanted: Pinball wizards

Ever think it’s time to niche out?

Thirty years ago, I wrote a story for Washingtonian on people who collect pinball machines. Even then, the machines were going less mechanical and more electronic.

Now, according to Barry Newman (WSJ, Sept 7, 2010), no one can repair a broken flipper anymore.

First rule: If a machine is for sale—it’s broken. Nobody, the experts say, sells a working one.

Only one machine maker is still standing in the US—Stern in Chicago.

These things get banged askew when people apply English with a hand or hip. The rubber bands break. Clown heads can crack. A nicked ball is like sandpaper—it wrecks everything it touches as it caroms around.

There are 750 repair wizards left across the 50 states. They charge $150 an hour or more—and like most doctors, won’t make housecalls.

As one guy said, this is no time for sentiment anymore. “Game over,” one said grimly.

But this raises a point—what arcane (or should I say, arcade?) deal can you get into to make a few bucks?

I remember Bally as a brand from my story—the Bally Spiderman. Slam, slam, ding, ding.

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