WATERTOWN, S.D. (AP) - To some, arcades have become a cluster of games in a forgotten corner of a dying mall as home gaming consoles have gained popularity.
But for brothers Ryan and Clay Wilfahrt, there remains something magical about the lights and sounds of a metal ball flinging through a pinball machine.
While they were traveling musicians in the band the Dive Bar Club, the brothers found themselves throwing quarters into a pinball machine in Deadwood.
That’s where things started.
“My brother went and found a pinball machine that needed fixing up.,” Ryan Wilfahrt said. “I wanted a pinball machine, too, so I went and found a broken early 1970s Williams Triple Action, and I got it working. I think my wife thought I was crazy.”
Self-taught through the internet, the brothers began buying more broken machines and repairing them to working order. Word got out, and they began fixing the machines of private collectors.
“The collectors want to buy something different, so we buy what they want to replace. We bought a lot of our pins that way,” Wilfahrt said.
The brothers named their new Watertown business Retro Bros. Pinball. With their collection expanding, they wanted to find a place to house the machines and enjoy them the way they were intended - by being played. But Retro Bros. isn’t an arcade, it’s where they work on and repair machines. They also loan pinball machines.
“There is something about pinball that keeps bringing you back. We were totally hooked on it at that point,” Wilfahrt said. “We just wanted the machines out in the public so we could play them. It was kind of selfish of us. We wanted a place to have a beer and play. We thought that if we wanted that, maybe others would too.”
There was immediate interest in their pinball machines both locally and across state lines. To accommodate that, the Guest House Bar has become the local stop to enjoy the pinball machines, the Watertown Public Opinion reported.
During the pandemic, the Wilfahrt brothers and Guest House owner Chance Walford got to work painting the bar’s arcade and setting up the machines. Now that patrons are returning out of quarantine, the games are seeing some action.
Wilfahrt wanted to bring a new competitive edge and formed a local pinball league. Individual players square off against each other on Tuesday nights. Winners receive a cash prize, and all players get a chance at a paid bar tab during league nights.
“It’s just an excuse to play pinball and drink a couple of beers,” he said.
It is not just men who are flocking to the arcade. Women are winning in the leagues, and most of the players are millennials.
“The league has created a small pinball culture in town. Most of us are new to it. We are learning the game together, so the competition is pretty even. The older generation is excited to have an opportunity to teach us to play better,” Wilfahrt said.
The arcade in the Guest House is open for players of any age.
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