Pinball Pete’s is synonymous with family fun as a local downtown recreation staple and the location for many memorable life moments for many East Lansing residents. Opening during the ‘70s arcade boom, there used to be many Pinball Pete’s scattered throughout Michigan, but today, only two remain. And both of those are in jeopardy.
For Nick Reynolds, Pinball Pete’s is like home. The social media manager and son of co-owner Mike Reynolds, grew up in East Lansing and spent much of his youth at the arcade. But for the last nine months, almost no one has been allowed to spend any time there.
Pinball Pete’s is in need of financial support.
Pinball Pete’s has launched a GoFundMe with the hopes of raising $125,000 to ensure the longevity of their two family-owned business locations, in East Lansing and Ann Arbor.
Like most entertainment venues, this business has still had to pay rent and utilities, despite not being allowed to have a single customer in their space. This lack of revenue led to the Reynolds family seeking out local help.
“While we’re ready for emergency situations, asking any small business to remain closed and still pay their bills for the better part of a year is kind of a lot to ask,” Nick said. “At this point, we started to ask for some help from the community. We’re overwhelmed to see the support that we’ve received in response to that request.”
Given the okay to reopen back in October for a few days, Pinball Pete’s was forced to close yet again – meaning no income a second time. The Reynolds and co-owner Ted Arnold debated posting the fundraising campaign, instead seeking out other ways to make ends meet. Ultimately, they launched the campaign on Christmas Day. At time of publication, it’s already received $66,000 toward the $125,000 goal. The number was decided on to both prevent both locations from closing forever and prepare for another closing if more epidemic orders are put in place.
“We went ahead and posted it, and woke up the next morning, and everybody was just coming out in droves to support us, and it was a great feeling,” Nick said.
In looking for incentives for donors to give, Pinball Pete’s decided upon a few different rewards. Donations of $75 earns a Pinball Pete’s t-shirt, a re-run of a vintage design, $125 a limited-edition tie-dye t-shirt, $200 a limited edition ‘I Saved Pinball Pete’s’ t-shirt, and $500 a name on the wall in addition to a meet & greet with the owner.
The rewards are designed to be thank yous from the family business. “I think if somebody is willing to share that much support, and help us in a time of need, the least we can do is memorialize what they’ve done for us in a wall at Pinball Pete’s – so everyone can see what they’ve done for us.”
The arcade is a local institution, and the owners have been delighted to hear from former patrons.
Despite being in a college town, Pinball Pete’s is not just for the college-aged crowds but also a popular go-to destination for many families. Since statewide orders allowed arcades, bowling alleys, and movie theaters to reopen with restrictions late-December, Pinball Pete’s reopened their doors to a limited capacity the weekend after Christmas.
Increased safety measures are being taken to ensure customer safety. Masks are required, and temperature scanners are used at the door. There are guides on the floor, directing traffic in certain directions. Hand sanitizer stations are scattered throughout, and staff are walking around with sanitizing wipes and rags to wipe down machines after use.
The family-owned business is grateful for all the community financial support thus far. With launching the campaign, there’s also been an outpouring of support in social media comments and posts, coming from longtime patrons.
“People are offering emotional support by telling us their favorite memories, or their birthday parties, or their first dates, or their marriage proposal, their late-night memories, talking about the world and the escape that they got going to Pinball Pete’s,” said Nick. “That’s super helpful, and it’s been amazing to read all of that, and relive our own memories in the store when we’re going through all those posts and comments.”
Being labeled a “nonessential business” did not come without some hurt. For many families, these shutdowns aren’t just a pause on recreational fun, but rather, a complete blow to decades of hard work.
“For me, personally, it’s been really hard seeing the business and livelihood my dad has created and shared with other family members, and business partners over the years – just be threatened to close and disappear, through no fault of his own,” Nick said.
“I don’t want to think about what my dad would have to do if all of a sudden his arcade is gone. It’s crazy to ask someone who has done something for 40+ years of their lives to all of a sudden go do something else because they have to not because they want to.”
While the business has applied for small business grants and support, what they have received did not even cover a month’s worth of rent for their 4,000-square-foot East Lansing space.
Moving forward, Pinball Pete’s is hoping to survive another 40 years as an East Lansing staple, creating a space for memories. The plan is to keep the doors open as long as they can find the parts to keep the machines working.
The GoFundMe launch has brought a wealth of feelings to the board, Nick said. “It’s been a very emotional week for all of us. Seeing my dad really realize the fruits of his labors over the last couple of decades. You go to work, you do your job, and you feel rewarded for what you do, but it’s moments like this when you really understand the impact that you have.”
“Even though it’s just an arcade and it’s just about entertainment, it is about the little moments in life that you get to enjoy and have fun. Those are the most important parts of our lives, and that’s what my dad gets to do every day, is make people’s lives better.”
Pinball Pete’s, located at 220 Albert Avenue, is open Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
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