For Christopher L. Smith, visiting University Pinball at 40th and Spruce streets is a tradition for this Southwest Philadelphia resident that is more than a decade in the making.
“My father used to take me here,” said Smith, who has spent time – and quarters – at the West Philadelphia arcade since he was 12-years-old. Smith was back recently for the first time in a while, returning to this favored locale with his girlfriend and her daughter.
One of Philadelphia’s last-remaining entertainment venues of its kind, the 33-year-old University Pinball just reopened in January 2010. Its 4006-4008 Spruce St. location suffered damage during an August 2009 fire in the upstairs apartments that left the arcade’s floors flooded and many games inoperable.
“Most of the games on this side were just soaked,” said employee Eric Stewart, a Southwest Philadelphia resident who’s worked there since 2003.
“This was just like a lake,” he added, gesturing toward the right half of the store, where a line of four “H2Overdrive” racing games now sit.
Long-time customers from West Philadelphia said the atmosphere has changed a lot during the last ten years.
“There’s a lot more children,” Christopher Smith said. “It gives ‘em something to do with their time, gets ‘em off the streets.”
Dwayne “Twin” Evans, a 10-year employee, said one of the business’ goals lately is bringing “the families back.”
“It’s more family-oriented,” said Evans, a New York native who now calls North Philadelphia home. Evans said the place gets “a full house” Thursdays through Saturdays, adding that the store strictly enforces city curfew regulations. Philadelphia’s curfew bans children under 13 from being in public places after 9PM on weekdays and 9:30PM on weekends.
Breeahna Dupree is one of the many 20-somethings who appreciate the change in the atmosphere at University Pinball once the kids (12 years and younger) go home. For Dupree, a North Philadelphia resident, who was there recently with her boyfriend, her brother and a handful of friends, University Pinball serves as a “nice environment,” where she’s “never had any trouble.”
One attractive point for customers of all ages is the cost of 25 to 50 cents per game, prices that are reasonable and perhaps more surprising than the arcade’s survival.
What’s puzzling to Dupree is how rarely she sees nearby University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University students at the arcade, and “this is, like, my millionth time here,” she said. It was a first-time visit, however, for Dupree’s 18-year-old brother, Clay.
“It’s cool … I haven’t been to an arcade in a while,” he said. “If I’m not working, I try and hang out with my family.”
Darrell and Laverne Johnson, 38 and 33, visited the arcade Saturday for a “date night.” The quiet married couple of 3 years, who met on the Route 32 bus, earned enough tickets for a billiard-ball keychain, two squirt guns and a stuffed Stewie Griffin doll, of “Family Guy” fame, during a couple hours inside.
Both like to play the arcade’s latest games, but Darrell Johnson still has a soft spot for the classics.
“The back-in-the-day pinball games are the best,” he said.