It was just one short month ago that Logan Bowden was on the local news in Portland, Oregon celebrating the resurgence of pinball. QuarterWorld, which Bowden manages, has its own arcade, and even rents machines to bars and pizza shops around town. It’s one of the reasons that Portland has more pinball machines per capita than any other place in country.
But last month feels like a long time ago …
On March 13 the QuarterWorld arcade was shut down because of COVID-19, and Bowden had to lay off almost his entire staff. “It was gut-wrenching,” Bowden told correspondent Luke Burbank. “I mean, the arcade, like, that’s your job. That’s how you support yourself.”
Bowden made the decision the day before Oregon had its first reported death from the virus. “An arcade in its essence is very hands-on,” he said. “You’re touching everything, and there is not enough Clorox in the world to be able to be, like, following someone around cleaning games. So, like, we just had to pull the plug.”
But then, QuarterWorld earned a bonus round! Bowden and his staff had the idea to offer month-long home rentals of pinball and arcade games, meaning he was able to hire back at least some of his staff.
When the coronavirus pandemic made pinball parlors a no-go, QuarterWorld earned a bonus round by offering shut-in Portlanders eager to play the opportunity to rent games for their very own home.
Bowden said, “Unfortunately there are businesses that are not gonna survive this, and I’m just doing everything in my power to make sure that everyone that we had to lay off has some place to come back to.”
Each machine is cleaned, and then packed at their warehouse (which contains more than 750 vintage games) and delivered to Portlanders hungry for a little home entertainment that doesn’t involve a screen.
Still, Logan and his crew say they are cognizant of the dangers that come with human contact.
“People are opening their doors and letting us come into their safe zone, and we wanna make sure that they know that they are safe,” Bowden said. “We’re taking all the precautions to make sure that they’re safe, but also I’m making sure that my guys are safe.”
Bowden said now more than ever there’s something therapeutic about the old-school nature of his games. “I feel like they remind you of kind of a happier time,” he said. “You either have seen or played these classics cabinets in an arcade, or in a bar, or a pizza place, or a restaurant.”
He’s an avid pinball player himself, and sounds almost zen when he talks about the game: “Lot of, like, classic arcade games, yeah, that turtle that you gotta jump on in Level Two, he’s always gonna be there. He’s not goin’ away. But every game of pinball is always different.”
On March 23 when Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered all non-essential businesses closed, QuarterWorld’s team rushed to deliver their machines to customers stuck at home in case it would be their last chance. All told, QuarterWorld was able to rent and deliver almost 90 games.
One lucky Portlander can now play an arcade game in their very own home.
One of those lucky recipients was Samantha Swindler, a reporter for the city’s newspaper, The Oregonian. “I’ve always wanted a pinball machine!” she exclaimed.
“I feel like totally privileged to be able to just sit at home and play pinball, and feel like I am ‘helping’ in that way by not harming people by going out.”
A timely thought as we battle this virus! If you’re not a health care worker, or a delivery driver on the front lines, you can still do your part by just staying home. And who know? Maybe playing a game of pinball.
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Story produced by Anthony Laudato. Editor: Chad Cardin.