Barcades, baby boomers keep pinball machines rolling off assembly line


The whirring and dinging pinball machines that once dominated arcades lived, for a while, shrouded in nostalgia in your grandparents’ basement. But now they are having a resurgence, brought on by the rise of barcades.

There are about a dozen of these bar-arcade fusions in Chicago, said Jody Dankberg, director of marketing and licensing at Stern Pinball, one of the world’s largest remaining bastions of pinball machine manufacturing. But the trend is not just local, and the presence of pinball in bars could help the industry tread water for years to come.

“We’re seeing that trend all over the country, and we’re starting to see it all over the world,” he said. “These people will become the next generation of collectors.”

The resurgence, also helped by a baby boomer population that wants to collect the machines, is radiating to the assembly line at Stern’s Elk Grove Village headquarters. Where production and employment used to fluctuate seasonally, it remains steady now, Dankberg said. More than 250 employees filter in five days a week and take their place on the line.

Some days, they are attaching fire-breathing dragons to a “Game of Thrones”-themed pinball machine. On others, they’re adding mini Millennium Falcons and Death Stars to “Star Wars” machines. They do the wiring, quality checks and assembly, among other tasks. The skills are handed down among the workers, Dankberg said.

“(It’s) what we call tribal knowledge,” he said.

The facility ships about 55 machines a day but has the capacity to do 100 when things are busier, like during the holiday season, Dankberg said. He declined to comment on revenue numbers but said 2016 revenue was up about 40 percent over 2015.

amarotti@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @AllyMarotti



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