Thursday, August 26, 2010

A KISS Fan Preserving Pinball


UXBRIDGE — Bruce A. Veinotte, 42, just smiles when he is asked about The Who song “Pinball Wizard.”

“People bring it up all the time,” he said as he stood behind the counter of Mantown Pinball Sales, 2 South Main St. “But I’m not really a big Who fan.”

Mr. Veinotte says he’s a KISS fan, and a big Bally pinball machine, circa 1978, featuring co-frontman Gene Simmons greets visitors walking into the business that opened about three weeks ago.

Mr. Veinotte used to sell irrigation equipment for a Boston-based irrigation supply company before quitting to become a stay-at-home dad to his son, Casey, 12, and daughter, Carlee, 7. He said he has always loved pinball machines, and about a year ago he approached town officials and potential landlords about opening up an arcade that would include the game machines. The people he talked with didn’t exactly flip over the idea, which made him think about starting a business where he would search the Internet for pinball machines for sale, buy them, fix them up and sell them.

That led to the opening of Mantown Pinball Sales, named after the broadcasts years ago on rock radio station WAAF that featured Mantown Mondays.

The KISS pinball machine was one of 19 lined up in two rows in the approximately 600-square-foot business, in a building owned by Kevin Meehan of Millis. The machines are priced between $700 and $3,200, depending on their rarity and how much it cost Mr. Veinotte to buy them online and fix them with parts he also gets online. He pays $650 a month rent and he says he should make a profit if he sells two or three a month.

Several of the big names in pinball machines are in the store. Bally, Williams and Gottleib machines may be out of business — only Stern Pinball Inc. in Chicago makes them now — but pinball fans know they had a ball playing them, and Mr. Veinotte thinks he has a chance to hit the jackpot with his fledgling business.

Mr. Veinotte, however, admits that his wife, Deanna, who is a stenographer, looked at her husband’s business venture with some dubiousness.

“She thought I was nuts to be doing this,” he said, while thanking her for patience and understanding of his passion.

“It’s definitely a niche business,” he said.

Since opening the store, Mr. Veinotte has sold three machines, including one to Gregory Stevens, 50, of Providence, who stopped by after a friend told him about the new business.

Mr. Stevens said he bought a 1987 Williams Big Guns pinball machine that he is keeping next to a 1984 Williams Space Shuttle pinball machine in his home. Mr. Stevens said the pinball machine brings back fond memories of when he used to go to arcades with his parents.

“A pinball machine like the one I just got will lose very little of its value,” he said.

Mr. Stevens said the machine is about more than monetary value, however.

“I’ve had some friends over and they think it’s awesome,” he said.

“I think a lot of people like to have them in their homes,” Mr. Veinotte said.

Mantown Pinball Sales’ location, next to Uppercuts Barbershop, 2 Main St., helps. Barbershop owner Matthew J. Brunet said two of his customers have bought machines next door.

“The guys that are older or in the middle age like the machines, and that’s really cool,” Mr. Brunet said one recent day while sitting on a sunbathed bench on the sidewalk in front of the two businesses.

Mr. Veinotte, who also has several machines in his house that will most likely be taken to Mantown Pinball Sales, says most of the work he does involves fixing the circuitry of the machines and their displays. He also said many machines need repairs to the flippers used to fire those silver balls onto the playing field.

While Mr. Veinotte may not be a fan of the song “Pinball Wizard,” Bernard B. Kamaroff, one of the owners of Bell Springs Publishing in Willits, Calif., said the song released in 1969 by The Who prompted a resurgence in pinball popularity for about 10 years before video games changed the arcade game world.

“The popularity of pinball comes and goes through the years,” said Mr. Kamaroff, whose company has published a book called “Pinball Machine Care and Maintenance.”

He said pinball machines are undergoing something of a resurgence, particularly among men in their 40s and 50s who remember playing them in their younger days.

“I think people are fascinated by that little ball,” he said when asked why people like to play on pinball machines mostly in the privacy of their own homes. “People these days are using computers at work all day and pinball machines get them away from that, plus there is a lot more physical activity involved than what you get playing a video game on a computer.”

One of the machines in Mr. Veinotte’s business is the Bally-made Funhouse game, which both he and Mr. Kamaroff said is one of the most popular pinball machines ever made.

Mr. Kamaroff said the key to maintaining a pinball machine for a long time is to keep it clean, dust-free and out of the hot sun.

As for Mr. Veinotte, he said he wishes him the best.

“He’s unique,” Mr. Kamaroff said.