My Arcade Repair
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Article as published in NHmagazine.com
By Erica Thoits
January 2, 2009

Games Galore

Stay entertained (and warm) this winter by stocking your own personal game room with everything from pinball machines to billiard tables and jukeboxes

In these cold winter months there’s still plenty to do outside — skiing, skating, snowshoeing — the list goes on and on. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to stay inside where it’s cozy, dry and warm, safe from freezing winds and slippery ice.

But what do you do? Watch TV? Read? Sitting still gets old, and unless you’re an extreme boardgame enthusiast, most indoor activities are fairly solitary.

Electrical engineer and arcade game enthusiast Sarah St. John suggests you shelve Scrabble, switch off the TV and try your hand at classic arcade games like Asteroids, Frogger, Ms. Pac-Man and pinball machines.

“The biggest thing I hear,” says St. John, “is, wow, I had no idea you could buy these.”

At her shop and showroom My Arcade Repair in Pelham, St. John specializes in nostalgia. Clients often come to her with a favorite game from their childhood in mind, hoping to purchase a piece of their past. Many, she adds, don’t stop at one — once they own a game, they soon find themselves building their very own game rooms.

The showroom at My Arcade Repair is the big version of a game room — what many of St. John’s customers call the “Man Cave,” though she says her business, including sales and repairs, is about evenly split between men and women.

Unlike filling a media room with widescreen TVs and surround sound, a room full of these types of games is about more than top-shelf entertainment — it’s about designing a room around memories.

“It brings people back to their childhoods, back to when they were teenagers sneaking to the arcade to play these games,” says St. John. “Something always hits a note with people.”

To add a little ambience to a game room, St. John also repairs and sells jukeboxes.

Though CD jukeboxes are available, there’s nothing like listening to vinyl, says St. John. In her personal collection is a jukebox right out of “Happy Days” that she recently restored to working order.

Building a game room is certainly a luxury — and a passion for St. John and many of her clients — but it’s also about creating a space in your home where families, friends and guests can interact while having a little fun.

At Baron’s Billiards in Laconia, owner Mike Baron agrees that games are both a great way to decorate a room and an ideal way to spend time with family.

Games like foosball, ping pong and pool are all “things to keep your attention upon the game and the people you’re with,” says Baron.

After a lifetime of playing pool (including winning a few trophies) and running four different pool rooms, Baron is a bit partial to billiards.

“You can play pool if you’re 9 years old or 90 years old,” says Baron.

The tables at Baron’s are meant for entertainment, but they look beautiful, too. Baron’s offers Olhausen tables, a company here in the States that Baron considers one of the best, plus Drawknife tables (pictured at left), which come in earthy “handcrafted” designs perfect for many New Hampshire homes.

“We’re blessed to be in an area with a lot of lakes, mountains and trees — the rustic appearance fits right in,” says Baron.

He will also customize a table for you to not only ensure that it will fit in your room, but he can also add pieces of your home. Custom tables use all New England wood (most of it comes from New Hampshire, but a little comes from other New England states), and if you have wood from your own property, Baron is happy to make a cue rack or triangle to go along with your table.

Baron’s tips for first-time buyers are to buy as locally as possible for better quality, and to also ensure proper installation and delivery. Many tables purchased over the Internet, says Baron, are dropped at the curb. After struggling to move tables that weigh in the hundreds of pounds, improper installation can crack the slate or cause a number of other problems.

The second piece of advice when planning a game room, says Baron, is to do some measuring and homework. At www.baronsbilliards.com you can utilize the room planner and look over some pointers and frequently asked questions to make sure you’re off to a good start.

Helping families put together game rooms, says Baron, is one of the best parts of his job. If you’re curious about planning your own, he’s happy to help. NH

Baron’s Billiards
1127 Union Ave.
Laconia
(603) 528-5001
www.baronsbilliards.com

Article as published in The Eagle Tribune
By Terry Date
March 17, 2009

SHE'S A PINBALL WIZARD
New Hampshire woman a whiz at fixing arcade games.

Welcome to the time machine. Pinball repair technician Sarah St. John, 43, flips dual wall switches in an arcade-sized room in her home workshop. A bank of pinball machines to the left lights up. They flash, pop, ring. One even roars.

The heads on the machines display popular culture icons in campy poses from the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s — a 1960s surfer girl dance party, Captain Kirk and the Star Trek gang, Dirty Harry frowning and waiting for someone to make his day.

The machines convey a sense of time flipping backward.

That's the way St. John likes it. She is one of the few repair technicians who serve a small group of people who have a passion for pinball.

St. John got her start in pinball repair as a 16-year-old Pittsfield High School student in 1981. The owner of Berkshire Vending Co. recruited her to work as a summer technician, cleaning pinball and other amusement machines.

Within a month, St. John proved she was capable of more responsibility after she asked to fix a broken Xenon pinball machine. She perused a manual, ran some tests, and reprogrammed a memory chip. Green lights flashed seven times and Xenon came alive.

"It started the game up," she said. "It was a great feeling."

St. John was promoted to traveling repair technician. Through high school, then college, she drove a Berkshire Vending Co. car to taverns, pizza joints and arcades, hauling her bag of fuses, switches, chips inside and fixing the machines. Her skills paid for college.

St. John has a yen for those days. She was in her youth. It was the digital revolution. Pinball was popular and changing, becoming more complex, and video game interest was rising after the arrival of the games Space Invaders and Asteroids.

Graduating with an electrical engineering degree from Northeastern University, she went to work as a technology specialist for a semiconductor company after the arcade business crashed in the late 1980s.

In July, the Pelham woman retired and returned to pinball repair. Actually, she never left. She has been repairing machine for friends all along, collecting customers, of which she now has about 400, as well as parts and machines.

"I accumulated a huge selection of machines, and friends would ask if they were for sale," she said. Her new business is called My Arcade Repair LLC.

The pinball world is fairly small, said Gary Vincent, curator of the American Classic Arcade Museum at Weirs Beach in Laconia, where he has 270 pinball machines, all for playing. There is only one pinball manufacturer left — Stern. Williams, Gottlieb and Bally all have gone out of business.

St. John repairs Vincent's machines.

Like doctors who make house calls, St. John is one of the very few who still go to people's homes and make repairs.

"She is about the only one I know of who has a business that will go and repair games in your home," Vincent said.

One of the homes St. John frequents is in Lowell, Mass., and belongs to Joe Balas, 56.

He has 25 pinball games. St. John makes house calls for repairs to his home about 12 times a year.

St. John is a good teacher, and lets her customers take part in the repairs, Balas said.

Thanks to her lessons, he can do the simple things — clean contacts and switches, fix loose wires.

"Other than that, I have to call in the Marines, which is Sarah," he said.

Balas, who belongs to the Boston Pinball Association, says pinball is a release.

"It's fun to improve, it's fun to play," Balas said. "It's a hobby with a passion for people who are really into it, and I am really into it."

Balas said the success of St. John's repair business is due to her technical skill, but she also understands the emotions of people who play the game and want their games to perform correctly.

St. John travels within a 100-mile radius of her home, going to Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont for repairs.

She is an avid pinball player and has more than 100 games, including classic games like Wizard. Friends often congregate at her house for hours of pinball.

Friend Adam Pfeifer, 31, of Nashua stops by about once a week either for system repairs or a friendly competition.

He's been hooked on pinball ever since age 6 and played the classic pinball game Eight Ball at his parents' home.

Often, a 30-minute visit to St. John's Pelham home will stretch into three hours, with the two of them going against each other on the game Circus Voltaire.

For St. John, the allure of pinball is the melding of technical wizardry with the fun. She likes the challenge of figuring out what is wrong with a machine and fixing it. She also likes the way the game can transport a person back to a time and place.

"Yeah, I can feel it, going back," she said.

She again hits the two wall switches in her workshop.

One of the first sounds is the roar from a Jurassic Park game. T-Rex cranes his neck to take a pinball in his jaws.

His species is extinct, but pinball is still holding on.

 
 
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