When you have been around in the industry for an uncomfortably large number of years, it is a symptom of that longevity that you enjoy most talking about the old times.
Generally, the "good old days" never actually were. But in the coin machine industry I would beg to differ.
That’s another subject, however.
Top of the line today is pinball, an oft-overlooked product but one that arouses more emotionally-charged nostalgia than arguably any other single game sector. There may be a depleted market place these days from the halcyon commercial environment of the late 1980s, but there are just as many firmly committed enthusiasts for pinball as there ever were.
Good news for Stern, of course, as effectively the only serious manufacturer, especially now that "barcades" (adult-orientated half-bar-half-arcade) are opening across the US and beginning to arrive in the UK, Australia and subsequently, we have no doubt, many parts of Europe.
The love for retro gaming has found an outlet and the people at Elk Grove Village, Illinois (not far from Chicago), should be set for fair weather ahead.
Maudlin nostalgia lends memories of meeting Sam Stern, Gary’s father, a hard-headed Chicago company executive who I found a little fearsome - it was in 1973 when he was at Williams and I was gauche, sensitive and unworldly - but he also oozed experience. Gary would probably concede immediately that it was Sam’s inspiration that drove the creation of Data East Pinball with his long experience of building Williams pinball behind him. But Sam passed in 1984 and Data East Pinball opened two years later.
Gary was to make it his own, with the help of a pretty dedicated team, the whole underpinned by the indefatiguable Shelley Sax, who does just about everything in the background at Stern Pinball. The heydays were followed by the late 90s and early 2000s when pinball was contracting - at least in the street market, but not in private homes - and Stern dabbled in novelty games as a supplement. Who could forget those wonderful party nights at major US shows when Stern hosted a boozy gathering of internationals? Some of us were compelled to "sing for our supper" by Gary and Co.
It was all an integral part of what was, for me, for most of the older generation left in today’s industry, and all those friends now departed, the "good old days." They really were….