Pinball seeing a surge in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 7:59 AM, Oct 25, 2020

For some people it reminds them of the good old days, others have never played it before, and a lot of people are just bored right now.

Whatever the reason, the pinball scene is growing here and it's having a good impact on business.

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have forced several businesses to close, it hasn't spelled game over for everyone's passions.

Kelly Thomson owns Utah Pinball Repair in Herriman and he's a collector of the machines too.

He said since the beginning of the pandemic he's had an increase in calls from people wanting him to come and check out their pinball machines and help get them working again.

"Definitely since the pandemic, people being at home, if they have machines sitting in their basement, they’ve noticed it and it’s inspired them to call me to come and fix their machines. Generally any free evening or weekend outside of my regular job I’ve been filling with repair visits to people. I would say I’ve definitely doubled the number of calls I get," said Thomson.

The owner of Utah Pinball repair isn't the only one seeing more business from the pinball surge.

Quarters Arcade Bar in downtown Salt Lake City is noticing it too.

Michael Eccleston, the owner of the bar said, "We were closed for three months so that was the hardest part. The reopening was nerve-racking, but after being open for four months now, we’re used to the new normal."

That new normal is spacing out pinball machines, using Plexiglas barriers at the bar, and cleaning down all surfaces regularly, as well as requiring people to wear masks and be socially distant.

Eccleston said he doesn't see some of his regulars anymore, but now he's seeing new regulars who haven't played before or in quite some time.

"We’re going to be starting up pinball league night on Mondays again, so hopefully we’ll be able to start rebuilding our community," said Eccleston.

Both Thomson and Eccleston said they're seeing more interest in home pinball play too, whether it's buying or renting machines.

"I think pinball, before the pandemic, was already on an upswing with people playing socially and competing, but now that that’s kind of been stopped for the moment people are wanting to have that experience in their home," said Thomson.

As you can imagine, not all pinball machines are the same, so if you are thinking about investing in one, there are a few things you need to consider.

"My advice to people usually is to figure out what kind of game they want and go after that. You should definitely look at the cosmetic condition. You’ll want to test play it. Probably when you are in the moment, you’ll be really excited to just say yes and go home with it, but if you can you should exercise some patience and really make sure it’s what you want."

Experts say the electromechanical pinball machines cost a few hundred dollars, then the 80s or 90s era ones go up to a few thousand dollars. Meanwhile, more modern games can cost upwards of $5,000.

Thomson said, "A cheaper game generally means there’s going to be more to deal with on the mechanical or the repair side than a fully working game."

If you'd like to follow Kelly Thomson's journey of repairing and customizing pinball machines or you need help fixing one of your own, you can find him on Instagram.