I’m Brian Jamison. I live in the pinball capital of the world, Portland Oregon. This blog is a compilation of my lessons learned as a small time, part time pinball operator. If you love pinball, I hope you will think about doing what I’ve done, too.
Long ago I made the decision that I was going to run a pinball arcade. With the many other responsiblities I have I knew it was going to take years, so I began casually collecting machines. By 2014 I had eight pins in my collection and it felt like the time was right to take things up a level.
I started doing a lot of research. I spent hundreds of hours reading about running a pinball business, listening to podcasts, and talking to people.
A lot of what I heard didn’t sound good. It seemed that there were fewer and fewer pinball operators. People who operate them often talked about how much work it was and how little money was in it. A friend of mine with close to 40 years of experience as an operator and pinball repair guy liked to joke “I’m the only guy in Oregon who makes money on pinball. Because I get paid to fix them!”
But I also saw success. In Portland we have Ground Kontrol, possibly one of the first barcades after the first wave of arcades from the 70s and 80s died off. I saw them grow and thrive even through awful economic downturns.
In late 2014 I started talking with a friend of mine who owns a local chain of excellent family restaurants, and after some discussions we agreed to try out a couple of my pinball machines in one of his new locations.
I was psyched, and also nervous. Would my precious machines be destroyed? Would it turn out to be a money pit?
It took a few months to iron out the details, but by January of 2015 I put two machines on location – a 1995 Bally Theatre of Magic — the first pinball machine I ever bought back in 1999 for $3,000 — and a 2002 Stern Rollercoaster Tycoon I had just bought for $3,000. The machines did well enough in the first month that I invested in a 1991 Bally The Addams Family for $4,000.
Fast forward to August 2017 and I now have 24 pinball machines. I haven’t been able to buy all those machines with the profits from the pinball business. I’ve invested a fair amount of my own money to build up the collection, and made some very good deals along the way.
In my next post I’ll talk about my biggest mistake (so far!) as a pinball operator.