A series of positive news stories in the national print media and the launch of a pinball-themed museum and (unrelated) pinball location-tracking website have given the classic flipper game a higher profile, even though much of the attention has a decidedly nostalgic or retrospective tone.
The Aug. 29 edition of Parade Magazine, a popular Sunday insert carried by dozens of newspapers nationwide and read by millions of Americans, featured an ode to the silver ball by bestselling author Mitch Albom ("Five People You Meet In Heaven").
Albom reported that the pinball industry may have fallen from its modern-day peak production of 100,000 new machine sales in 1993 to just 10,000 new units built in 2009, but that Stern Pinball president Gary Stern "remains an optimistic, wisecracking guru" who "carries on -- despite obstacles."
Stern admitted that "The economics of starting a pinball company today wouldn't make sense," but asserted that "We're in love with our business."
The Wall Street Journal followed up on Sept. 7 with a profile of Mike Hooker, a locomotive repairman for the Long Island Rail Road who fixes old pinball machines for collectors in his spare time.
On the other side of the country, collector and curator Charlie Martin drew 100 guests to the Sept. 4 grand opening of his Seattle Pinball Museum on Sunday, Sept. 4, at 508 Maynard Avenue in Seattle’s Chinatown International District.
The museum is actually a three-month, rent-free exhibit as part of a community-sponsored program to revitalize empty retail spaces. The exhibit boasts 15 games from the 1930s to the 1990s, including a Bally Bumper (1936), Gottlieb Rack A Ball (1962), Gottlieb Funland (1968), Williams Stardust (1971), Bally Time Zone (1973), Bally Future Spa (1979), Bally Harlem Globetrotters (1979), Gottlieb Countdown (1979), Bally Mystic (1980), Bally Flash Gordon (1981), Bally Gold Ball (1983), Game Plan Atilla The Hun (1984), Data East Laser War (1987) and Midway The Shadow (1994). The site also boasts Facebook page.
Seattle seems to be enjoying a bit of a pinball renaissance, in fact. A website --pinballmap.com -- originally launched to track working pinball locations for fans in Portland, OR, now has a Seattle page. Visitors can check locations for the latest games, search for specific machines, browse all machines in their regions and enter high scores.
"We currently are tracking 187 locations and 389 machines," the site owners said.
Stern Pinball has a machine locator on the Web that allows users to find games in 15 countries by searching title, location name and/or region. Visit sternpinball.com.