Meet the wizard who keeps Richmond’s pinball machines buzzing

Posted at 10:45 PM, Aug 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-05 13:34:07-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Punching the clock isn’t so bad, especially when you can mix business with pleasure -- like Charles Rowland.

Rowland works under the hood of true American classics -- pinball machines.

"We do everything with LED’s now instead of lightbulbs," Rowland said from his Henrico work space. "It’s like anything else once you understand it’s no big deal."

The Colonial Heights native's love affair with pinball stretches back to his childhood when he would visit the city dump to collect pieces of pinball machines that were thrown away.

His career choice was simple. Now in its 40th year, Rowland's company -- Games People Play -- is rolling.

In the early 80’s, when video games took arcades by storm, traditional arcade games hit the gutter.

"It killed pinball for a while," Rowland said.

But what’s old is new again. With the introduction of arcade-themed bars and restaurants, pinball has been being discovered by a younger set.

Higher demand means higher prices.

"There are always guys buying and selling and trading pinballs. It’s become a hot commodity," he said. "Some of the classic stuff from the 90’s even that stuff sells for $7,000 or $8,000 because they’ve become collector items."

Customers like Kent Savedge are drawn to the sights and sounds of his youth.

"I'm a child of the 1980s and some of these games look familiar to me," Kent said. "Those were the stress-free days."

The Henrico County father is passing on his love of pinball to his son, Jackson, for the first time.

"It’s the lights. It’s the sound. You can move with it. It’s not just looking at a screen and moving your thumbs and fingers," he said.

With more games played comes more wear and tear.

"We still restore electro mechanical pinball pre-1976 that had the score reels that turned around in the top,"Rowland said.

These days Charles said he spends more time repairing, and less time relaxing.

"We’ve got too much to fix now. We’d like to take a break from fixing stuff," he said. "Other than myself and one of my employees, who is in their 50’s, nobody is trying to learn that business of repairing electromagnetic stuff."

Despite the workload, this pinball wizard has no plans to retire anytime soon.

Why unplug when work and play are bumping.

"They say find something you love doing and you’ll never work a day in your life," Rowland said. "So, that is kind of it. I come in here and I play every day.”

Games People Play is located at 2002 Dabney Road in Henrico.

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