Seattle pinball museum part of silver ball revival

SEATTLE — For $13, you can play pinball until your arms fall off at Seattle’s working pinball museum.

The two-story storefront in Seattle’s International District is filled with games from every era from the 1960s to today.

The museum, which houses about 50 or so machines, started in 2010 as one couple’s obsession and grew to be something they wanted to share with others, or as Cindy Martin puts it: a good solution when they ran out of space in their garage.

“Any serious collector will tell you collecting these machines is an incurable disease,” said Charlie Martin, her husband and business partner.

They keep the equipment fixed up — with some help from other collectors — offer brief historical information and “fun” ratings on small cards above the games and sell snacks, beer and soda to visitors from around the world.

The Seattle museum is one of a handful around the country celebrating a pastime that seems to be in the midst of revival.

In addition to the look back at pinball through the ages, the 1,900-square-foot space also features a glimpse of the future. In December, four one-of-a-kind artist-made machines were on display and — of course — were playable.

The Martins own dozens more pinball machines and constantly move machines in and out. The oldest machine in the building was made in 1963, but they have a few from the 1930s they keep at home.

The Martins continue to buy the newest pinball machines on the commercial market and just installed a state-of-the-art Star Trek game. Many of their machines are limited edition models, but games enthusiasts are also likely to find a favorite machine from their youth.

The museum, which isn’t a nonprofit, averages about 15,000 visitors a year. It isn’t a profitable operation, although Charlie Martin said they’re “holding steady.” Both Charlie and Cindy Martin also continue to work full-time jobs.

It’s smaller and less well known than the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas or the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, Calif., but Charlie Martin said they’re happy staying small. “We’re very comfortable with where we’re at right now,” he said. “We don’t want a mob scene.”

A couple from the Seattle area spending a day holiday shopping in Seattle and acting like tourists made a stop at the museum recently.

“This was the No. 1 thing we wanted to do,” said Lisa Nordeen, of Kirkland, Wash. She and her husband John spent two hours at the museum, as long as their parking meter allowed and until they started thinking about lunch.

Richard Dyer, a University of Washington law student from Chicago, brought out-of-town visitors to the museum.

“It’s very Seattle to me,” Dyer said.

If you go:

Seattle Pinball Museum: Adults, $13, discounts for children. Open Thursday through Monday, varying hours.

Pinball Hall of Fame: Las Vegas. No entrance fee, but pay to play the games. Open every day at 11 a.m.

National Pinball Museum: Baltimore. Closed while museum looks for a new home.

Pacific Pinball Museum: Alameda, Calif. Adults, $15, discounts for children. Open Tuesday through Sunday, varying hours.

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