Come on, admit it. Once or twice you've had the fleeting thought: "Hey, it's nearly September! I'd better get busy and make my hotel and plane reservations for this fall's AMOA show." Then you remember: "Oh, yes -- there won't be an AMOA trade show and convention this year."
For many old industry fire horses -- and younger fans of the show -- the absence of the traditional fall exposition sponsored by the Amusement and Music Operators Association leaves a big void in their professional lives and in their "mental geography." That's to be expected after decades when the AMOA Expo was the American trade's most reliable and comfortable fall landmark.
Sure, amusement manufacturers, and even a few jukebox makers (and there's not many left) will show their hardware and services at the International Association of Amusement Parks Attractions' exposition in November. And yes, hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand, amusement operators and FEC owners will attend the "parks" show. But it won't be the same. Nothing ever is in an industry, and a world, in which the only constant is change.
If the pangs of nostalgia are particularly sharp around, say, Sept. 25, don't worry. We've heard that AMOA is considering putting on a webinar entitled "Coping with AMOA Expo Withdrawal Syndrome" (just kidding).
But seriously, the approaching occasion of that first-ever blank spot in the industry's fall calendar is a good time to pause for a moment, engage in a few sober reflections, look back at some fond memories and peer ahead at some upbeat future possibilities.
The AMOA show began in Chicago in the 1950s, when the Windy City was the capital of the coin machine industry. With AMOA and the American Amusement Machine Association still headquartered in Chicago, along with many leading manufacturers, Chicago is still the historic and emotional heart of the U.S. amusement machine business.
Today, however, the financial capital of the industry has shifted. To San José? London? Tokyo? At times they all seemed like candidates. But the financial capital of the industry in 2010 is perhaps best symbolized by the Internet -- an information channel and communications medium that is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.
The Internet is our candidate for "Coin-Op Capital of the World" these days because the next big trend or source of machines for this business could come from any place on the planet. If you don't believe us, read Kevin Williams' column in this issue (page 54). Or ask an American pool table manufacturer who has lowered his prices due to competition from China.
Meanwhile, we offer an affectionate salute to the memory of AMOA Expo. We all know how much good it did the industry. We know how much it did to create and strengthen bonds of friendship and community in a competitive business. We know how much it helped promote sales, innovation, education and responsible political activism.
When you think about it, the AMOA International Expo was an extraordinarily tough, resilient animal. Recessions in the larger economy couldn't stop it. Booms and busts within the amusements trade couldn't stop it. New technology couldn't stop it.
Changes of venue to other cities couldn't stop it. Competition from gambling couldn't stop it. Internal industry "civil wars" -- and we had them -- may have turned up the emotional thermostat at AMOA Expo some years, but they couldn't stop it either.
Not even the terrorist hijackers who brought down the World Trade Center could stop the 2001 Expo held just three weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Everyone remotely connected with AMOA Expo should feel only pride, not regret, when they think about the value, success and endurance of this show.
Everyone will have their own happy memories of AMOA's fall shows, but surely most will keep a special place in their hearts for the image of little kids running through the aisles, their eyes wide with excitement as they played the new games in the "world's biggest amusement arcade." That sense of innocent fun and wonder, for kids from eight to 80, is what this industry -- at its best -- is all about, then and now.
Next March, the spirit of AMOA Expo will live on in the Amusement Expo, co-owned and co-produced by the AMOA and the AAMA. It's a sign of progress and maturity for the industry that we finally have one show. It's also a sign of the times: all those challenges couldn't stop AMOA Expo, but America's "Great Recession" finally did.
The good news is that this past spring's inaugural joint AMOA-AAMA show was successful financially, politically and socially. If Amusement Expo is managed wisely and creatively, we see no reason why it should not continue to grow in strength and success from year to year.
By the way, this will be the first fall season without an exhibition produced by the National Automatic Merchandising Association, which began staging vending shows in the late 1940s. I wonder how the vending community feels about that.