St. Pete's Pinball Arcade Museum offers fun for a cause

Proceeds from the games help a Bay area animal shelter.

click to enlarge CARRIE WAITE
Carrie Waite

For a certain generation — my generation — the early and mid-‘80s were a time of flashing lights and deafening sounds, of invaders from space and hunting spies and trying to rescue some girl from a gorilla with an apparently very fruitful endorsement deal with a barrel company. We spent our allowances a quarter at a time on standalone video games of quickly evolving levels of technicality and difficulty, at mall arcades and the game rooms of bowling alleys, movie theaters and skating rinks.

The few pinball machines on display at such places often went ignored.

Eventually, home consoles killed the mall arcades. More expensive, increasingly spectacular video games (along with the occasional nostalgic throwback Galaga machine) replaced beloved childhood titles at the movies; pinball hung on, but mostly just with diehard fans and as a way to kill a few minutes at the local bar.

In recent years, though, the arcade has made a comeback in different form — as a sort of participatory museum, where adults can relive their youth in novel form while introducing their kids to a lovingly remembered stage of their lives. Most of these places feature their fair share of video games, but it seems that the real attraction in many of them is the pinball machines, with their killer art, wildly varying features and analog feel.

That attraction isn’t just felt by 40-somethings pining for more innocent days, either.

“We get the kids coming in here, saying they love the pinball,” says Karen Ann Holland, general manager of St. Petersburg’s Pinball Arcade Museum. “It’s just more color, more creativity, more of a challenge.”

Located at 2313 Central Avenue in St. Pete’s Grand Central District, the Pinball Arcade Museum is the latest in a series of places to open around the Bay area that feature vintage games and pinball. The space is decorated with a distinctly ‘80s feel, bright streaks of neon paint glowing in the light of the games against dark walls that lend the feel of a noisy womb. Like the others, it features a plethora of titles, both pinball and video, and flat rates for unlimited play. 

Unlike the others, though, it’s got an agenda — the 501 (c)(3) nonprofit helps fund owner Andy Kline’s other passion project, the Odessa Wildlife Rescue and Sanctuary, where more than 300 animals are cared for.

“The monthly food bill alone is around $12,000,” says Holland, who also volunteers at the sanctuary.

The idea for the Pinball Arcade Museum came about during a discussion between Kline and Holland about Kline’s collection of vintage games, just sitting in storage. He wondered if he could open a fun place that could help the sanctuary and other local organizations; she encouraged him to do it, and even did a lot of the space preparation and painting herself.

She says Kline has nearly 200 games, meaning more are being added to the space all the time. The “museum” also has deals going with community partners like Right Around the Corner and Dog Bar, which offer drink discounts for patrons wearing the museum’s wristbands. 

For Holland, an old-school video game fan herself who once owned her own Asteroids machine, it’s just great to do something that’s fun and benefits a project she thinks is important.

“It’s nice to wake up and be excited to come to work,” she says.

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