After all the advanced hoopla about the recently-concluded IAAPA show, it’s hard to believe there are hundreds of amusement operators out there who’ve never even heard of IAAPA much less attended this gigantic trade event. These are people who rarely if ever visit a distributor in their region and when they do, it’s to pick up a part or two and then scoot.
I’m talking about those small operators, occasionally only part-timers, who work pretty much beneath the industry’s radar. Their routes often serve locations that “regular” trade people shun because there’s not enough money in it, or the owner is a mean drunk, or the place is in a neighborhood even the cops don’t like to visit.
Years and years ago, the Japanese video game company Capcom (the Street Fighter folks) held a distributor conference in Atlantic City. I went, like always, to get a story on the new goods they were previewing for their dealers. One night, some of us went out to a neighborhood bar for some beers, which is where I met such an operator for the first time.
This guy’d come in, did his deal with a messed-up machine, dumped a couple of cash cans, and then sat down on the stool next to me. Naturally, I grilled him about who he was, what his company was like and which of the machine distributors on Broad Street in Philly he preferred to deal with (that street was the “coinrow” for operators in Southern Jersey back in the day).
“Who you talking about” the guy asked. I rattled off places like Active Amusement, Banner Specialty, David Rosen, Inc. and Eastern Music. “Never heard of them,” was his response. Okay, now I had a real story going. But as I learned over the years, this fellow wasn’t all that unique. He’d gotten most of his machines from other operators and even sometimes from ads in the paper. He learned how to fix the stuff mostly by trial and error or using a basic electro-mechanical course given by a trade school. He didn’t have any staff to speak of and he never heard of any of the trade magazines.
But what he did do was a miniature version of what the big guys did. And he made a living. I remember that his big earner was a well-used Space Invaders video he’d gotten his hands on in some strange way involving a relative. To say he never bought anything brand new is to tell you something you’ve already figured out. But, do guys like this serve a purpose in the overall scheme? They certainly do, by filling in the blanks and bringing coin-op fun to a lot of citizens who’d otherwise miss out on pool, darts and the rest.
So, though they’ll probably never read this unless one of their operator buddies gets RePlay, I want to wish these dudes good luck, and maybe I’ll keep a lookout for a used Street Fighter for them. (By the way, I never did a story on that guy. My bad!)
– Eddie Adlum