A Bright Spot During the Pandemic
Lloyd Thoburn’s Coin-Op Warehouse Doing Great
With two warehouses full of used coin-op video games, jukeboxes and other mostly classic machines, Lloyd Thoburn’s Coin-Op Warehouse in Hagerstown, Md., has just about everything for collectors.
The 40,000-sq.-ft. warehouse is for shipping, receiving and storage, where between 2,000 and 3,000 machines are always on hand. The smaller, 24,000-sq.-ft. warehouse is mostly focused on the music side of the biz with a record shop up front (open by appointment only).
Unlike much of the industry, which has faced untold challenges this year due to Covid-19 and related shutdowns, Coin-Op Warehouse is thriving.
“I’m an outlier because our business is actually up from last year,” Thoburn said. “It’s a great time to buy and sell with so many people stuck at home. Plus, there are a lot of people wanting to sell equipment.”
That’s the focus in the Coin-Op Warehouse, where Thoburn buys and sells 50-plus machines a week – sometimes as many as 100. He mainly sells to dealers who cater to collectors, so he leaves the restorations to them.
With Facebook as the primary means of communication with buyers – there are around 75,000 likes on his page, which you can access at www. facebook.com/coinopwarehouse – Coin-Op Warehouse has a lot of repeat dealers who buy from Europe. Thoburn will store the machines for them until they reach about 50 units, which is what will fit in a 40-ft. container heading across the Atlantic (a method of shipping he uses about once a week). Roughly 75% of his machines are exported to Europe and Australia, two markets yearning for classic coin-op.
Thoburn has been in business since the early 1980s when he picked up a Wurlitzer 1015 bubbler jukebox at the age of 21.
“I was just fascinated by the old jukeboxes,” he said. “I still collect penny scales and jukeboxes. I just think the art on them is beautiful. It’s neat to watch the progression – even in pinballs and videos.” Lloyd has a rotating personal collection of about 50 or so machines, including old piano nickelodeons. But make no mistake, everything has a price.
“The guy that got me started would go around to old operators and buy all their ’40s Wurlitzers. He started giving me the crumbs, which were ’50s and ’60s machines.”
Thoburn started the business out of his garage, but a competitor with a retail store called zoning on him and got it shut down. So, he rented a sizable 13,000-sq.-ft. space with only about 10 machines in northern Virginia, where there was cheaper real estate. (Lloyd has since taken to renovating abandoned buildings – check out one of his buildings, where he runs Hub City Vinyl, on Facebook.)
Starting with jukeboxes, Thoburn got into electromechanical pinball machines and arcade video games a few years later – sometime in the mid-’80s. “I’m always a few years behind what the operators are doing,” he noted. “I’m a good resource for operators.”
While Thoburn spent most of his career juggling buying and selling with a job in commercial mortgage lending, he’s now focused on the booming coin-op business, traveling all over the country to get new (used) equipment.
“I’ll buy anywhere,” he said. “If it’s 10-15 hours away, we’ll drive there. I’ve picked everybody clean that’s within a few hours.” Thoburn explained that most of the time it’s east of the Mississippi, but he gets deals from further, too. Earlier this year, he bought 13 tractor trailer loads worth of equipment from Nova Scotia.
Thoburn’s daughter operates JaybirdAuctions.com, which runs auctions on approximately 400 items each month from the Coin-Op Warehouse stock.
This industry has always been a passion for Lloyd, and while it’s nice to be making money, he sees it as much more than that.
“I love the business. I love the old stuff and love seeing it preserved.” That’s part of his mission, he said, “To preserve the history of the amusement business and coin-operated machines.” If that’s not an admirable goal – we at RePlay don’t know what is!