Hot off the presses! The Rockford Squire has written a lovely article about Pinball Land in the Thursday, July 22, 2021 issue, and they even put it right on the front page. Read the entire article here!
The coolest place in town on a mission to bring kids something to do
Pinball Land: a natural habitat for all age kids
By BETH ALTENA
“Boy, is this place cute. Rockford is like an amusement park. It’s got hotdogs, ice cream, games, but no rides.” So said Ryan Thompson, who solved that void in downtown Rockford when he opened Pinball Land two years ago at 114 Courtland Street. It’s the east end of Courtland that can be overlooked, off the “square by one block, next door to the Skate Shop and across the street, more or less, from Cinco de Mayo.
Ryan said opening when he did, two months before “the apocalypse” was challenging, but business always is. He said he made it through the last dark year with the help of the Kent County Chamber of Commerce, his awesome landlord Jeff Swinehart, and loyal and generous arcade fans.
The February 1, 2020 opening was immediately followed by the March 2020 shutdown. But they made it through to the good times. Erin Thompson said, “If we could do that, we can do anything.” Now Pinball Land is fully open – a Rockford arcade chock full of whatever video, pinball, or other old-school gaming you are up for.
Thompson has always liked these sorts of games, and grew up with a television magician for a father. His dad was Bozo the Clown’s sidekick on tv. He said as a kid his family had a pinball game he loved and he wanted to pull it out and play it after he finished college at Grand Valley State University. Unfortunately, the mice had found it to be a wonderful home and it was destroyed by mouse bedding. Instead of giving up on it, he restored it.
Ryan decided to run an arcade as a third career, after spending over two decades creating educational entertainment and producing movies. It’s a dream he believes in and a way to share these machines that are now pretty rare and offer so much for kids. So used to playing games on their phones, he said it is magical to see them begin to understand playing “a real game in a real place with real friends.”
Pinball Land is a great opportunity for unlimited fun for a limited price. Rather than putting quarters into machines for each go, there is an hourly rate, a two-hour rate and an all-day rate. It’s fantastic when moms and dads have other business in Rockford and want their kids to be somewhere safe, clean and fun.
“Some arcades in my day used to be dark and have a bad reputation,” Ryan confided. His place is anything but, all bright with lights and animation and filled with fun sounds and booths to play in.
Since arcades have largely faded away in America, the machines themselves are not easy to get. They literally don’t make them anymore. Ryan, along with his wife Erin, have traveled the country to pick up games. They’ve been as far as Long Island to pick up a Black Knight, New Jersey to grab a Pin*Bot, and down to Tennessee to pick up a rare Robo War.
Ryan said playing these games – pinball, for example – can look intimidating but it really isn’t. “I won’t say it’s for everyone, but it really is,” he said. He said the trick is to make your shot and get the ball to come back to the flippers. People ask how much they can nudge the machine and he tells them, “as much as you can get away with.” The machine has a real limit that is sensed by an internal pendulum and will let you know when you’ve gone too far by ‘tilting’ the game.
Pinball Land is a real-life refuge for what ails you. “Everyone who comes in here is trying to escape from something,” he said. “Even if it is just boredom.” He doesn’t sell alcohol, but he doesn’t have to – other places do that. He said Pinball Land is the de facto game room of all the bars and restaurants in Rockford, if people want to have a beverage and then play. “Go support them, have dinner or whatever, and then come play.”
The all-day pass is a phenomenal value, husband and wife both agree. People will often buy an hour and then another and then want to switch to the two-hour or all-day price. “It happens all the time.”
It’s a unique way to price an arcade, but it really works out for everybody. Pinball and other arcade games are usually a dollar a go, so if you get in at least seven two-and-a-half-minute games in an hour, “you got a great deal.”
The arcade starts in the pinball room in front, and extends down a hallway with booths and machines to play along the way and ends in the back cavern with even more fun games. They are things moms and dads might remember from back in the day – Burger Time, Galaga, Ms. Pac Man, Asteroids and Donkey Kong are all showcased, just to name a few. Moms and dads are suddenly cool because they know these games. They can show their kids “how it’s done” and reestablish that grownups have some sweet skills.
You can call Ryan and Erin the King and Queen of Fun. “This is what we love,” Erin says. “I used to carry around a big bag of quarters in case we came across something to play.” Before they jumped into this business with both feet and both hands, Ryan thought about selling his collection—machines he’d found and fixed for nearly a decade.
“Instead I decided to put them back into their natural habitat.” Formerly in the education business, Ryan and Erin don’t love seeing kids glued to their phones. “Give them something good,” Ryan said. “Play a real game, shoulder-to-shoulder with a friend and talking trash.” Maybe it isn’t just the machines that are better off in the arcade, but the kids too. Let’s get them back into their natural habitat.
Pinball Land is at 114 Courtland Street in Downtown Rockford. The retro arcade is closed Monday, open 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, Friday 2 to 10 p.m., Saturday noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday noon to 6 p.m. Find them online on Facebook and at pinball-land.com.
You can read the entire article on The Rockford Squire’s website here!