Closed by state order from mid-March until mid-September, and with limited hours and traffic since then, Pinball Pete’s was on the ropes. Rumors circulated that the classic South University arcade was closing. But an outpouring of pinball patronage saved the day.
On Christmas Day, owner Mike Reynolds launched a GoFundMe campaign, posting: “It is with heavy hearts that we announce a fundraiser for our long time family business Pinball Pete’s. The whole world has fallen on hard times during this last year, small businesses especially, and we are no exception to that fact.”
The response from devotees of the arcade and its sister store in East Lansing was immediate and resounding. As the comments filled up with childhood and college memories, $60,000 was raised in the first four days. Reynolds told WXYZ television that “we saw someone who said they proposed to their wife next to the Tetris machine because it was their favorite game.” By mid-January, contributions topped $100,000, and the campaign’s goal of $125,000 seemed well within reach.
At press time, fewer than twenty-five of the campaign’s more than 2,100 contributions were for $500 or more, and the vast majority were between $5 and $50. High-dollar support presumably came from patrons who frequented the arcades when they were new (the East Lansing store, the first, opened in the 1970s), but Pinball Pete’s has lately attracted a new generation of archivally minded young people. U-M student Kaleb Brown, writing in the Observer in 2018, called the underground South U location an “extraordinary Cave of Wonder” and “the arcade that time forgot.”
Pete’s is aiming to return to regular hours as soon as they could staff up (want to work in a pinball arcade?). The campaign continues, and for a contribution of $75 or more you can be in style in a Pinball Pete’s T-shirt bearing an image of the South U arcade’s neon-pink elephants. For $500 or more, you can have your name on the wall and hang out with the owners.