Game rooms tilt toward fun

Wall-to-wall amusements give basements the look and feel of game arcades
Lisa HutchursonStaff writer
(February 11, 2006) — Several years ago at a garage sale, Tim Claremont found relief from his high-tech computer programming job in the mechanics of a broken pinball machine.
"I can get this thing to work," he thought. So he slapped down $150 and brought it home.Five pinball machines, one tabletop bowling game and three slot machines later, the 36-year-old has made a hobby of such restorations. In the process, he has filled his Greece basement with similar amusements, along with neon signs, movie posters and video games.
Like Claremont, a growing number of people are adding game rooms to their homes, whether it's for the endless string of projects, the chance to relive younger days or the good, clean fun for friends and family.
Those selling the games are racking up numbers higher than a pinball wizard's. David Stott, president of Stott Vending & Amusement Co. in Perinton, has seen sales rise 25 percent to 30 percent each year for the past five years. The number of people with game rooms has grown accordingly. Dave Norbut, who designs and builds these spaces for Norbut Construction in Henrietta, has seen requests increase from one to three a month these past two years.
With all the bells and whistles, game rooms can be costly. But it's apparently worth it for many customers, says Norbut, who prices such projects (usually involving a basement refinishing) between $20,000 for 500 square feet and $100,000 for 1,500 square feet. Higher-end projects, he says, have included steam showers and home theaters with tiered stadium seating.
"People don't mind spending money on their homes and basement," says David Jones, organizer of the Rochester Home Game Room Show. Scheduled for March 4 and 5 at the Monroe County Fairgrounds in Henrietta, the event will showcase components such as arcade and pinball games, slot machines and table hockey. Also on display will be neon signs, jukeboxes, home theaters and hot tubs.
Jones, a collector of pinball and other arcade games, got the idea for this show after attending similar ones across the country. "They were just mobbed with people, and they were selling everything from $200 neon signs to a $5,000 jukebox," he says. His own game room in his Henrietta home features seven pinball machines, a jukebox, three video-game kiosks, and foosball, poker and hockey tables.
Expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand for hot items like bars, CD jukeboxes, and ping-pong, pool and poker tables. Golden Tee Golf and MegaTouch machines can run into the thousands, although used models can be had for a few hundred dollars.
Other items are more expensive: pinball machines ($2,000 to $6,000), video-game kiosks ($2,000 to $7,000) and packs of 40 to 60 games for those kiosks ($500 to $2,000). Some dealers, like Stott, sell used equipment from places such as bowling alleys and bars.
Those scavenging for themed décor or other deals on used equipment can find them on eBay, says Kevin Steele, editor of GameRoom magazine in Ohio.
If you're a fix-it junkie, you can go even cheaper. With the help of a Web site called Twobits.com, Mike Carrier of Gates resurrected a broken Pacman kiosk he got free from a friend. Because Claremont buys broken equipment such as $150 pinball machines, his whole game room cost him only $6,000, although his basement was already finished.
Furnishings and décor, some of it with sports or retro themes, can add to the price tag. But for many people, especially guys, says Norbut, game rooms are a beacon of self-expression in a neutral-walled world. Here in Rochester, Norbut has seen wild paint colors like bright red and lime green — even multicolored ceiling tiles. Jones' game room includes a movie popcorn machine, a white board for high scores and a talking deer head.
Game rooms don't have to be pricey or out-there to be fun, though. About 15 years ago, Carrier started with a $1,110 pool table from Clover Home Leisure Center.
The software engineer, now 35, then paid $20 or $30 for an electronic company break room dartboard, $150 or so for a pack of 14 or 15 games he can play on his Pacman machine, $150 for a 110-CD jukebox and a hundred or so for a combination foosball-hockey table.
His unfinished basement may have only a couch, some throw rugs and wall-to-wall posters from an old movie theater job, but New Year's Eve and Super Bowl party guests have routinely spent hours there. Carrier would like to add a big-screen TV, though.
If you don't have a knack for fixing old machines, the time for eBay or the desire for a refinished basement, Steele says, expect to pay about $8,000 for a basic game room with say, a jukebox, pinball machine and one video-game kiosk.
You may save some money on package deals. Stott, for instance, sells a collection of what he considers the super-hot items for $5,000.For most game room enthusiasts, however, you can't put a price tag on the benefits.
"I think that it makes entertaining at home more fun. It's fun for all age groups," says Claremont's 33-year-old fiancée, Jennifer Kimmel. "We had some company over last week and spent a couple of hours playing games. With the variety we have, there's something for everyone."

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