Sheri and Bob Burnham, owners of Flippers Family Arcade in downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming, in front of a few of their modern pinball machines.
’80s Feel With Modern Flair
Pinball, Video Game Arcade in Wyoming Sets the Bar
by Matt Harding
Flippers Family Arcade is very much like a traditional arcade, but it has all the modern touches to make it a huge success. Of course, one of those “modern” touches is the nostalgia factor of some 1980s and ’90s pinball machines and video games, but the Cheyenne, Wyo., arcade also stays current with a large selection of new cabinets.
Bob Burnham has operated a 100-location route – Paradise Pinball – in the Wyoming and northern Colorado area since 2003, and along with his wife Sheri, had always wanted to open an arcade. They’ve worked together since the beginning – “and we still like each other,” Sheri quipped.
After getting a great deal on a 4,000-sq.-ft. space in the heart of downtown Cheyenne, the duo opened Flippers in July 2016, which Sheri manages day-to-day.
“I was so busy with my route, and I had a lot of older equipment that I knew couldn’t be used on location, so I figured this type of arcade would be a good place to put them and maintain them easier,” Bob said.
The space was made into its current layout by knocking down a wall that had formerly separated a restaurant space next door. Now, it mainly houses the birthday party room and redemption area. The rest is all games.
In total, Flippers has 110 machines. By the arcade’s name – and its proprietors’ route name – you may have already guessed a whole lot of those are pinball machines. There are about 45 pins, ranging from Bally’s Bow and Arrow (1974) and Captain Fantastic (1976) to Addams Family (1992), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1992) and modern ones like Stern’s The Beatles (2018) and The Munsters (2019).
“We’ve always been focused on pinball,” Bob said, adding with a laugh, “Even when it wasn’t popular!”
They have a good mix of redemption and prize machines vs. video games and pinballs – about a 50-50 split. Of all their games, about 15 percent are classics. Along with those vintage pinball machines, their oldest is an electromechanical gun game from the late 1960s.
“What we have on the floor is always evolving and changing,” Bob noted. “But my collector side allows me to put some of that older stuff out there. I like the retro ’80s stuff. I grew up in the arcades.” Sheri, on the other hand, loves the Skee-Ball lanes; they have four of those.
Having the route games in storage makes it easier for the couple to switch out machines regularly, or taking under-performing games at route locations like skating rinks and trampoline parks and seeing how they fare at Flippers.
“We bought a Jurassic Park when we opened, but the rest we had in storage around town,” Sheri said. “Sometimes it feels like we’re buying a new game every month, but recently we’ve just been rearranging and switching out games.”
She said Jurassic Park has been in their top five best performing games since opening, and that every week, redemption units like Ticket Zone end up in that top-earning category as well.
For the first couple of years, the traditional arcade kept up with the hallmark of any coin-op business… coins. Since March 2019, however, they’ve been operating on a card system. “People liked the nostalgia of coins,” Sheri said. “A lot of people would say, ‘I just love the clink of the coins,’ but the card system keeps track of everything, and people are coming around. It’s just easier for everyone.”
Another change the business made came after consistently slow Mondays. “When we first opened, Mondays were so slow. I thought we should just close,” she said. “But one of our employees suggested we try a buy-in Monday. So, it’s $10 at the door and we have all the video games and pinball machines set to free play. Now it’s as busy as our Fridays.”
The Burnhams have also worked to have the best décor and arcade vibe they can create. “The decorating of the arcade has actually been a fun, evolving project,” Sheri said. “There are little treasures around every corner.”
The building was formerly used as a dance club, and still has a dark, mysterious style in parts, such as the Donkey Kong and Pac-Man graffiti on the bathroom walls. “I wanted to give it that ’80s feel I grew up with,” Bob remarked.
In the last year or so, they’ve also added new lighting and a lot of classic arcade art like vintage marquees, and pinball playboards and backglasses. It’s looking so good, they touted, they’ll be hosting a wedding for an arcade-loving couple there this summer. “It’s attracting a lot of different crowds,” he said. “I think it’s awesome.”
Speaking of different crowds, Flippers Family Arcade is truly for the whole family. It’s not uncommon to see Grandma bringing the grandkids in, and playing a few games herself.
However, their decision to serve alcohol to keep customers playing longer wasn’t initially met favorably. “We actually hit a little bit of pushback having alcohol with kids welcome,” Sheri said. “It took some time, but the community has now welcomed us with open arms.”
They stick to a three-drink limit, and are quick to note that the business isn’t an arcade bar. Flippers is too games focused to be considered that, they say. Food and beverage only account for about 25 percent of revenue. In addition to the alcohol, they serve a few bar-style items like hamburgers, wings and pizza.
Like many other cities, Cheyenne’s downtown area has also had somewhat of a resurgence in the past couple of years. With more revitalization comes more people and more foot traffic in front of the arcade, Sheri reports. That’s especially true during the summer when there are events like the Fridays on the Plaza concert series and Frontier Days, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo.
At the end of the day, the success of Flippers relies on two things – the people and the pinball.
Some of their dozen staff members have been with Sheri and Bob from the beginning, and several more started working for them in that first year. “Some of our best ideas have been off-the-cuff, ‘What if we did this’ type of things,” Sheri said. From fundraisers and community involvement to food and drink specials, and of course the wildly successful buy-in Mondays.
They have pinball leagues in the spring and fall (dubbed the Flippin’ Wizards league) with about 10-20 participating players, and do launch parties every time they get a new pinball machine. Their tournaments have pretty good turnouts, with people coming up from as far away as Fort Collins, Colo. – about 50 miles from Cheyenne.
If there’s ever been a second “golden age” of pinballs, it appears to be happening now, and the Burnhams were far ahead of the curve. Keep up with them on Facebook – www.facebook .com/flippers cheyenne.