Pinball wizards are re-opening an arcade in Downtown Bay City

What happens when three pinball wizards combine their personal collections of retro arcade games? Well, let’s just say things get a little … crazy.

Brentt Brunner, Chris Exo, and Jeff Palmer are the co-owners and friends who started Crazy Quarters Arcade located in Downtown Bay City. They opened their doors in February 2020, but due to state regulations designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, they closed their doors in August.

With a new year comes new hope. Crazy Quarters is set to open early this year at a new downtown location, 304 Center Ave. Brunner, Exo, and Palmer have remodeled and restocked the arcade with fan favorites.

The original location housed over 30 pinball machines and another 15-plus arcade games. The new location is roughly 3 times larger and allows the team to deliver a larger and more eclectic mix of machines. All the machines take coins, so if you go, bring quarters or dollar bills.

Pinball fanatic Andy Hahn says Crazy Quarters offers a wide range of games. Before the original location closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, Hahn, of Bay City, earned the top score on Ms. Pac Man.“We all have emptier basements and garages now,” Brunner says with a smile as he anticipates seeing players enjoying arcade games such as skeeball, bowling, shooting hoops, and pinball machines.

“And we are excited to bring families together again in the downtown corridor,” Palmer adds.

Last winter and summer, Crazy Quarters Arcade players get lost for hours while the air filled with ringing bells and a rainbow of colored lights. Players dropped coins in machines new and old, setting high scores, and even making love connections.

“We formed a hidden gem here that kind of popped up after we opened. We found this place to be a semi-informal first-date location. People come in here and it’s less awkward because of the other people around. It's a safe area. You can still talk, but there's the ambiance,” Exo says.

Oh, yes, the ambiance. When the doors open, expect to hear clings, clangs, claps, cracks and cries of joy as players set new high scores.

All of this hubbub evokes a lot of emotions. For the younger crowd, the arcade is something new. Instead of playing games on a small phone screen in the family living room, they can physically smash buttons, stomp on arrows and scream in anger or joy. For the older folks, it’s as nostalgic as watching Netflix’s Stranger Things – which was the theme of the first pinball machine purchased for the store. Memories come rushing back faster than a pinball banging around a triangular arrangement of bumpers.

Before COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were put in place, Crazy Quarters Arcade was popular with all ages including families, teenagers, and young adults.“People come in here and say, ‘I used to play that in the ‘70s when I was a kid and that was on my paper route.’ Or stories like, ‘My mom and dad would take me to the store and I would play this game when it was in the entryway.’ That was a good time in people's lives and it's fun to hear those stories,” Exo says.

There’s even an encyclopedia of pinball machines at the desk so people can look up their favorite games.

Brunner, Exo, and Palmer opened the business to experience those moments. They want to connect with the community, so the new location includes a private room available to rent for birthday parties or business meetings.

Inside the arcade, decades-old pinball classics sit next to games created just a few years ago.They also want to share their passion and expertise.

“They are just great guys,” says customer Joe Pastula. “I met them through pinball but now we hang outside of here. Chris (Exo) and Jeff (Palmer) are geniuses when it comes to electronics. They are teaching me how to restore an old electro-mechanical machine called Grand Prix. I told them it was one of my favorite old machines and they went out and bought one.”

Pastula lives in Midland and is a competitive pinball player in the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA). Before the COVID-19 shutdowns, he was ranked 17th in Michigan.

Many arcade games tap into the same nostalgia that fueled the success of the series Stranger Things. The Netflix series also was the theme of the first pinball game purchased for Crazy Quarters.“Having played all over the state, Crazy Quarters Arcade has some the best varieties of pinball, they are always adding new things and the upkeep is phenomenal,” Pastula says.

Another fan is Andy Hahn, of Bay City. “I’m a huge pinball fan and they have an insane amount of pinball games here,” says Hahn, who currently holds the top score on Ms. Pac Man.

Just playing the games isn’t the only thrill for the owners. The crew takes pride in restoring complicated, decades-old games. The oldest machine at Crazy Quarters Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball, which was the first coin-operated pinball machine ever created. It was manufactured in 1931.

Before the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were felt in Michigan, Crazy Quarters opened in Downtown Bay City, attracting gamers of all ages.“For me, I get great enjoyment out of bringing them back to life and preserving its history,” Palmer says.

“The fact that, by and large, these are a finite resource, and what we have is all we have. So a lot of times, the machine that we grabbed, some people might not want, but we've had several that are just outstanding machines here because we gave them the time. And then when you see a kid come in and grab the stool, stand up and play that game and they're smiling ear to ear because you decided to take that and do something with it, to keep it from the trash, to keep it from getting (sold for parts) on eBay, it just makes it all worth it.”

An arcade also offers a range of experiences.

Before the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were put in place, the Crazy Quarters Arcade was filled with fans of arcade games.“One thing is you can play pinball and arcade by yourself or you can be with somebody. It's not a sport that you need other people to play with, but if you want to, you can,” Brunner says.

In the future, the crew hasn’t ruled out selling food or alcohol, but the response without it has been encouraging.

Joe Pastula, who was ranked 17th in Michigan by the International Flipper Pinball Association, mentioned to the Crazy Quarters owners that he loved the game Grand Prix, so they bought one to fix.“When we opened (the original place) in February, the response we had from families with younger children were glad we did not have alcohol in here because they felt that it was a safe environment,” Exo says.

“A lot of people like it because you can take your kids for five or 10 bucks and they can go have fun for a half-hour to an hour. They have made this part of their weekend rituals,” Brunner says.

Watch the Crazy Quarters Arcade Facebook page for re-opening details.

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