Even though it’s been years since arcades reached their peak of the ’80s, there’s still a fondness for the classics. Whether it’s Pac-Man, Donkey Kong or Galaga, old-school arcade games still have an audience.
One store that celebrates that love is the Vintage Arcade Superstore in Glendale, California.
Gene Lewin is the owner. At the store he sells everything from pinball to Pong. He says his love for all things retro and arcade began when he was young.
“I started playing when I was 16 in 1972,” Lewin says. “All thorough my teenage years, I went to arcades and played pinball.”
After playing for a few years, Lewin decided that he had to own a piece of the arcade for himself. “I got my first pinball in ’76, and I still have it.”
The machine was called Jumping Jack and was based on the Jack-in-the-Box restaurant. He eventually found out how to make money with his new machine. “I put my Jumping Jack into a billiard place,” Lewin says. “And since my game worked better than all the other games, it made more money than anything else. So I talked the owner into letting me take over the whole location, and that’s how I got started.”
Lewin’s business plan ran into a major problem in 1985: The market for video games and arcades completely crashed. He managed to stay in business, but just as things started to pick up for video games in general, arcades could not return to their former prominence. The release for arcade games slowed, and the ones that did come out were derivative of ones that were released on consoles.
“[The developers] lost their creative edge,” Lewin says. “I thought maybe it would come back, but it really didn’t.”
With arcades struggling, Lewin decided to try a new business venture: selling games and pinball machines.
“I figured out these games would be collectible years before anyone else did,” Lewin says. “It started with pinball. I would go to pinball shows and see ‘Oh, these are worth money now!’ So I started thinking after a few years, ‘Oh, this is going to happen to video games too!’ ”
Lewin would buy the games for cheap prices and then collect them until their value increased. Then he’d sell them back to his fellow fans. The buyers would get them for restaurants or just for their homes. “They want to own a piece of their childhood,” he says.
Most of the machines go for thousands of dollars, and that price only increases as they become rarer.
Lewin doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon. “A lot of people hate their work,” he says. “I always end up staying late, and my favorite thing when I’m done working is to go over to the showroom and play pinball. It’s pretty awesome.”