Tale of Two Pinball Arcades: One Struggles While The Other Thrives

Posted On: 10/3/2012

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TAGS: pinball machine, coin machine, classic coin-op game, amusement arcade, pinball arcade, Lloyd Olson, SS Billiards, Minnesota smoking ban, Kim Jones, Pinball Jones, flipper game, pool tables, billiards

FT. COLLINS, CO and HOPKINS, MN -- Two arcades dedicated chiefly to pinball are experiencing dramatically different fates as they celebrate landmark anniversaries.

In the Twin Cities, Lloyd Olson recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of SS Billiards, which despite its name is billed as a pinball establishment. | SEE STORY

The arcade provides seven lovingly maintained flipper games for play. The company website describes SS Billiards as "the home of the region's largest collection of publicly playable pinball machines."

Olson said he rotates the available flipper games periodically from his collection he keeps in a warehouse.

SS Billiards also boasts a handful of videogames and has five pool tables that are rented at $6 an hour. But the pool tables are rarely played these days, said Olson.

He blamed Minnesota's smoking ban for a 90% drop in customer traffic. Generating strong income is difficult today, he said, but he hopes to keep SS Billiards going long enough to hit its 50-year anniversary.

More than 900 miles away in the Colorado college town of Ft. Collins, Kim Jones is celebrating her first successful year as the proprietor of Pinball Jones. The local student newspaper described the arcade as a popular hangout. | SEE STORY

Jones said she offers 20 flipper games at a time and, like Olson, rotates them often to keep player appeal fresh. In her case, rotation is accomplished through buying and selling machines on a regular basis rather than by swapping warehoused units.

Her arcade's popular monthly pinball tournaments are now being bolstered with weekly league nights starting on Oct. 1.

Jones said she began operating pins as a fan, installing them in bars in various towns (a practice that's becoming more common among collectors). Eventually she decided it would be easier to consolidate all her machines in a single location.

In October 2011, Jones rented a storefront, opened her store and hired a mechanic she found on Craigslist. He had no training in flipper game maintenance, but was a pinball fan and has since become adept at the job.

Both Olson and Jones occasionally supplement their operations revenues with pinball machine sales, and both operators rent out their stores for parties and private events.

Population density does not appear responsible for the relative successes and challenges of the two pinball arcades. Ft. Collins has a population of 143,000. Suburban Hopkins has a population of approximately 17,000, but it is located just 20 minutes from Minneapolis.

Both states have adopted smoking bans that apply to bars, restaurants and other public venues. Colorado adopted its ban in 2006; Minnesota's ban took effect in 2007.

Local demographics may be a factor in the levels of customer support for SS Billiards and Pinball Jones. The Minnesota suburb's median age is 34 while the Colorado college town's is 27.