Pa. man discovers large fan base for restored pinball machines
FEASTERVILLE, Pa. (AP) – Don’t talk to Russ Snyder about the Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3 or Microsoft Xbox 360.
For Snyder, there is nothing like the sound and feel of a classic electromechanical pinball machine.
“They’re fun to play,” he says simply.
But there is more to it than that, he adds. Playing pinball connects people of a certain age – the baby boomer generation – to a bygone era, when pinball machines lined the walls of arcades on boardwalks along the New Jersey shore and nearly every soda shop, corner store and bowling alley had at least one.
“People say, ‘I played such-and-such a machine at my school or at my steak shop’ and they really have a sentimental attachment to them,” said Stacy Snyder, Russ’ wife.
For more than a decade, the Snyders have earned a living helping people recapture that feeling through the business they’ve named Pinrescue, based in Feasterville, less than 20 miles northeast of downtown Philadelphia.
Like many other businesses across the country that perform vintage pinball machine restoration full time or part time, the Snyders buy 1960s and ’70s pinball machines, rebuild or recondition them and sell them. They also repair machines for customers around the country who spend hundreds of dollars just to ship them to Feasterville for work.
“They find us because of the Internet,” said Russ Snyder, referring to their business Web site, pinrescue.com. We’re fortunate because we get to pick and choose what we want to buy. We get four or five calls every day,” about buying machines, he said.
If the calls come from a drivable distance – typically from Washington to Boston – and the machines sound ripe for refurbishing, the Snyders inspect them and decide whether to buy.
They said they spend from a few hundred dollars up to about $1,000, depending on the condition, and sell them later for anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000.
A mechanical overhaul can take about 30 hours. If the cabinets that house the parts need to be reconditioned, the job can take up to about 100 hours. Russ Snyder does most of the jobs himself, but contracts out some of the cabinet work.
Russ Snyder started working on pinball machines in the 1990s as a hobby. He previously worked on IBM Selectric typewriters, until they became obsolete. He also sold Steelcase office furniture. Friend and customer Bob Loring, of Cherry Hill, helped launch a Web site for the pinball business in 2002.
“Everything exploded on the Web,” said Loring, a pinball hobbyist who now works part time for the Snyders. “The first day the Web site launched, they had 150 hits. That’s a huge response and within a week their first sale came in from the Internet advertising. Within a year, their business quadrupled.”
Russ Snyder said the business has a waiting list for some specific pinball machines from customers who are trying to track down the same games they played as children.
Loring said the business has succeeded because it launched its Web site and Internet marketing efforts just as baby boomers were reaching the point where they had the discretionary income to indulge in the hobby.
“The kids can compete with their fathers,” Stacy Snyder said. It’s the one game “the dads may be able to beat them on.”
Russ Snyder reconditions the machines in a workshop at his home. He said he sells an average of three or four per month, more around the holidays and fewer in the first few months of the year. On weekends, he also has a regular booth at an antiques market in
Lambertville, N.J., just over the border 20 miles north of Feasterville.
In addition to the machines, he sells service contracts and warranties on his work.
On the Net:
Pinrescue pinball restoration: http://www.pinrescue.com/
Information from: http://www.phillyburbs.com/
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