The Pinball Wizard of Illinois
September 17, 2021 7:13 AM   Subscribe

"McLean, Illinois, has a population of 750 people and 100 pinball machines." The tiny Illinois town, 15 miles outside Bloomington-Normal, is experiencing a downtown revival after a pinball collector opened not one but two pinball arcades.

He has also renovated the spaces above his commercial spaces into pinball-themed AirBnB lodgings for pinball fanatics to stay. And yet when one man buys up most of a town, he's not always popular:
"Yates and his family members are the only people running Pinball Paradise and Arcadia. They don’t have employees, and until the Airbnb business increased during the pandemic, they brought very little in the way of economic impact or tax income to McLean — all while buying up a massive portion of the buildings the town had to offer. Given this, Yates is not without his critics."
posted by Eyebrows McGee (23 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Neat! I'm looking forward to the end of COVID so I can have an excuse to visit Urbana-Champaign and stay at this place. (It's a bit of a distance, but close enough.) Sounds awesome!

I also don't really understand choosing to live in a town with 750 people. I have family who lived in a similar sized one deep in the Ozarks, and I spent some time there as a kid. The amount of traveling they had to do just to get anything done seemed incredibly frustrating. An hour drive to work, half an hour to buy towels, two hours to see a film or reach a regional airport. Groceries were expensive and bad. Getting several acres where you can keep horses for the price of a car is kind of appealing, but the day to day hassle was a real burden. (And then there's the well and cesspool maintenance, and heating bills that cost half as much as the land every year.) But, this family seems happy, and I'll definitely stop there any time I'm passing by, so cheers!
posted by eotvos at 8:14 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


I'll add this to the itinerary of my hypothetical future trip to Illinois, before or after the Catcade in Chicago.
posted by acb at 8:28 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]


There has to be a twist...
posted by chavenet at 8:36 AM on September 17 [4 favorites]


I would happily drive the five-ish hours from my current location if they have Monster Bash.
posted by barrett caulk at 8:59 AM on September 17


I also don't really understand choosing to live in a town with 750 people.

Nostalgia's a hell of a drug. Plus, living in central Illinois, where roads are flat and straight, is a very different proposition from the Ozarks; McLean is just off an I-55 exit, and depending on where they go, they may have about the same trip for shopping as a lot of residents of Bloomington-Normal.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:12 AM on September 17 [5 favorites]


Awesome!! So happy to see a pinball renaissance across the land (this joint opened up a year or so ago a few miles down the road from me and the whole fam is squee-squee-squeeing). The arcade machines for sale here in McLean have me drooling--if I ever win the lottery!!
posted by riverlife at 9:15 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


Yeah, McLean is 20 minutes from Illinois State University. It's not that far out in the boonies. :)

Like, you could take an Amtrak to Normal and get a taxi to McLean from there, for a fairly reasonable cost. It only takes five minutes longer to get to McLean from ISU than it takes to get to the CIRA airport.

(Also it's a really nice truck stop, it's a Road Ranger these days. I've never been in McLean, but I've definitely been to their truck stop.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:22 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


These guys have (had?) a small companion arcade in Atlanta, Illinois right on Route 66. I was there once on a day it was closed, and the owner of the neighboring business where I was having lunch said "oh no worries; give me a minute and I'll unlock it for you."

I took my kids and we got to poke around all by ourselves in a dimly lit old building full of well-cared-for machines. If I remember correctly, they had a Computer Space cabinet that was just beautiful.

We didn't play any of the machines - just admired them and imagined a return trip - but it was a highlight for sure.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:34 AM on September 17 [8 favorites]


I also don't really understand choosing to live in a town with 750 people. I have family who lived in a similar sized one deep in the Ozarks, and I spent some time there as a kid. The amount of traveling they had to do just to get anything done seemed incredibly frustrating. An hour drive to work, half an hour to buy towels, two hours to see a film or reach a regional airport. Groceries were expensive and bad. Getting several acres where you can keep horses for the price of a car is kind of appealing, but the day to day hassle was a real burden.

I mean, I lived in Toronto for a lot of years and it took me an hour to drive to work and half an hour to buy towels because of traffic and parking. I could see a movie or go to the airport in less than an hour, sure, but how often did I need to do those things, specifically? A lot less often than I laid awake on a Saturday morning listening to airplanes fly overhead, for sure.

The day to day hassle of living in a small town isn't really that much hassle, you just live your life on a different schedule. You don't wait to buy towels when you need towels, you keep an eye on when towels are on sale and buy them during your weekly trip to town. You also buy groceries, and clothing and whatever else you need during that trip, not go to town every time it occurs to you to want something.

That said, our town only briefly had a tiny arcade and once the arcade closed, there was just the one pinball machine in the restaurant, so it didn't have nearly as much to recommend it as the town in the article!
posted by jacquilynne at 9:46 AM on September 17 [4 favorites]


I assume all of the buildings he bought were for sale before he bought them. Since he grew up 15 miles away, it's not like he's carpetbagging; more like "hometown boy makes good." Seems like a win-win, with more revenue to come.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:51 AM on September 17 [4 favorites]


If there was ever a M*A*S*H pinball machine, they had better have it.
posted by hwyengr at 10:20 AM on September 17


Wow, this article has a little bit of everything for everyone (to argue over). It's got:

- Declining small-town America (for 100 years?)
- Silicon Valley tech-bro ruining said town
- Video game hobby
- AirBnB
- Small business and entrepreneurship (and resentment)
- Tourists/out of towners
- Generational gap/grumpy old people
posted by meowzilla at 10:26 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


It doesn't seem like the regular anti-Airbnb arguments would apply in this situation, and I know that he's an entrepreneur who spent some time in Silicon Valley, but labeling him as a tech bro seems a bit harsh. I'm more annoyed by the banks not wanting to exchange his quarters for him.
posted by queensissy at 11:41 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]


Interesting! I have family in Bloomington/Normal, might have to keep this in mind the next time I visit.
posted by photo guy at 12:01 PM on September 17


Is this not right on Route 66 as well? I’m 99% sure I have been to Pinball Paradise, because I remember seeing Arcadia right there, too. Unless we took a detour off Route 66 specifically to play pinball, which is entirely on-brand for me, so… hard to say. (We were driving back north from seeing the solar eclipse in southern IL a few years ago, in the path of totality. Overall, what a wonderful weekend)
posted by jeweled accumulation at 12:07 PM on September 17


Scrolling to see if they're selling the Stargate pinball machine. Excitement! They are...oh, no those are video games. Ah well.

I was in Las Vegas a few weeks ago and visited the Pinball Hall of Fame. They have at least 700 pinball machines/video games. I got $20 worth of quarters and it was the best money I spent in Vegas, because I got to fulfill a childhood dream of playing a game over and over ad over. A lot of the older pinball machines at the Hall of Fame were very fun, but I spent the most time with the 1995 Stargate machine. My mom used to give me only one or two quarters to play, and of course, I would lose immediately. I always envied the kids who had enough money to play games until they became good at them.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 12:28 PM on September 17 [3 favorites]


I'm more annoyed by the banks not wanting to exchange his quarters for him.

Yeah, I can get why tellers at a bank might not want to do it but isn't this what banks are for? Maybe set-up a bi-weekly appointment where it can be done so he isn't taking up some random teller.

Or skip the banks entirely, get some special "Pinball Paradise" envelopes or bags made and then let visitors buy them 4 for a dollar as souvenirs. Yes he's out the cost of the bags but it's advertising and hopefully reduces the number of quarters he has to deal with. Also let visitors know they don't need to bring quarters as the arcade can make change.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:54 PM on September 17


labeling him as a tech bro seems a bit harsh

Honestly I think the term has become kind of meaningless other than "male in tech who does business and makes money in a way I do not approve of", ignoring all the lousy ways than business in general operates.

Yeah, I can get why tellers at a bank might not want to do it but isn't this what banks are for?

Are they though? Banks aren't a public service, they're businesses. If the bank isn't loaning him a lot of money and getting profit through interest, yet the coin machine that handles all his quarters breaks every month and costs a thousand dollars to fix every time, I can see why a small bank would be quite willing to "fire" him as a customer.
posted by meowzilla at 1:46 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]


Most of the barcades I've seen recently have their own tokens, which you buy at the bar/from a vending machine. As they're part of a closed loop, there are no trips to the bank, only ordering more once enough have vanished due to being souvenired/lost.
posted by acb at 10:25 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting. This was fun for me because I actually spent part of my childhood on a small farm outside of Heyworth, which is about ten miles from McLean. Heyworth is a bigger town, though still small, and we did go into town for groceries. But medical visits and church were in Bloomington.

My mother loved that place. We moved to Springfield (about 80 miles) for my father's job - he had tried commuting from Heyworth, but it didn't work. We had eight acres of land and cherry trees, apple trees, blackberry bushes, a grape arbor, chickens. It was a pretty idyllic place for a little kid. Mom couldn't let go of it, and we only sold it after she died. I'm still kind of sorry there was no way for me to live there as an adult.

I was alway told that McLean Stevenson, who was from Normal, decided to use McLean because it was the county he was born in, but Wikipedia gives McLean as his middle name at birth.

(I also have the 1960 Spot-A-Card pinball machine that belonged to my brother. It has a place to put your cigarette on the frame - my son told me that was the last year they had those.)
posted by FencingGal at 11:03 AM on September 18


I went down the rabbit hole on the quarters issue. 80 quarters weigh one pound. Since he ostensibly does not bring in mixed change, they should be able to weigh them, and be done with it. Some people just gonna peep.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:15 AM on September 19


80 quarters weigh one pound. Since he ostensibly does not bring in mixed change, they should be able to weigh them, and be done with it.

OTOH, they're also legal tender, which may complicate things.
posted by acb at 12:48 PM on September 19


I am flying into Bloomington in a couple of hours for work. I will be checking this out. Thanks again Metafilter!
posted by zinc saucier at 3:56 PM on September 19


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