In late March of 2020, a virus named Covid-19 punched the nation’s economy below the belt. A year and a few months later, that economy is still woozy, but has been climbing back onto its feet in many towns, cities and states.
Throughout the fiscal depression caused by this virus, business people were wondering exactly how things would look after it was conquered. It’s shrunken down but behold! At this early stage, it’s really not looking a whole bunch different than before.
During last month’s Amusement Expo in Las Vegas, I conducted a little straw poll of route operators to see how much damage they’d really suffered from this thing. I determined that somewhere between 5% and 12% of their locations not only shut down, like so many street businesses, but closed for good. Hold the thought.
As regular readers of our Instant RePlay newsletters learned during the years, it wasn’t just bars, restaurants and the like that shuttered permanently, but even some family fun centers, bowling alleys, and accounts like that. I asked one operator who lost a bowling center if it might come back, and he replied: “I don’t think so. The place was bulldozed.”
How about the bars? Here, another guy was a tad more optimistic, saying he wouldn’t be surprised if one or two climbed out of the economic ashes and gave him a call. But the brightest thing I heard…and heard from more than one operator…was that they’ve been picking up a few brand-new spots. And what that tells me is that the much-anticipated “new normal” looks kind of close to the old normal.
Yes, a lot of equipment has been lugged back to the shop, off to the auctioneer (or dump) and/or listed on eBay. And that alone could put a pause on the recovery. But the old rules of keeping the attraction level up with fresh machinery while scouting the terrain for new location opportunities still define this business.
The road ahead will continue to be bumpy for a while, no doubt, with (among other worries) whether all the machine makers will get production back up and spare parts more available. But the players are returning and at a rather brisk pace. So, keep trudging through this time of reconstruction. If every jukebox and game operator in this land is as gutsy as some of the guys and gals I saw at the Vegas show, the sun will come out again.