Exploring the Pinball Universe at Atomic Pinball Arcade

By Isabelle Flener

Nestled in the business district of Wood River, Illinois, Atomic Pinball Arcade is not just a haven for gaming enthusiasts but a vibrant community hub. John Barnerd, one of the owners, shares the journey behind the arcade’s inception and sheds light on its unique charm.

“The main owner of the arcade and my partner Chuck Sanderson originally opened CP Pinball 15 years ago in South Roxana. It was a hidden gem that was in the old South Roxana post office with 75 pinball machines,” Barnerd said, recounting the roots of their venture. “Chuck was running out of space for all of the new and great pinball machines that were coming out, so we decided to collaborate in order to find a new, larger building that would hold more machines. The old K.C. Hall in Wood River was available and was much larger than the current space.”

With this collaboration, Atomic Pinball Arcade was born, officially opening its doors in July 2023. The arcade quickly became a thriving space, drawing in visitors from far and wide.

Barnerd’s personal passion for pinball extends beyond ownership. When asked about his favorite machine, he lit up with excitement. “That is the most common question we get! My favorite machine is the Rush machine made by Stern Pinball,” Barnerd said. “Rush is my favorite band, and it’s a great shooting game. Since it is a newer machine, we were able to buy it directly from a Stern dealer. Although many older pinball games are bought and sold between individuals.”

Beyond being a playground for enthusiasts, Atomic Pinball Arcade serves multiple roles in the community. “First, it is an affordable and family-friendly place for people of all ages to come and enjoy the energy and excitement of an arcade with over 100 Pinball machines, new and classic arcade games, driving games, skee ball, and more. Second, it is a place that draws customers to Wood River from all over the region,” Barnerd explains. “When we have big tournaments, we will have some of the best players in the world come to Wood River from all over the country to compete. This brings attention to Wood River and helps the local economy.”

Barnerd reflected on the diverse community that has grown around the arcade. “It is hard to pick out one particular customer, but I will tell you that the pinball community is a great group of people,” Barnerd said. “We have folks from all walks of life and all generations. So many people have come to the arcade just to check out a particular game or to kill a couple of hours and end up making friends, joining a league, coming to our tournaments, or just having a regular meet-up with other players.”

When asked to describe the atmosphere of Atomic Pinball Arcade in three words, Barnerd chose “fun, affordable, and friendly atmosphere.” The arcade’s operating hours are Wednesday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday from 5 to 11 p.m., and Saturday from noon to 11 p.m. Admission for each person is $10 per hour, $20 for four hours, or $30 for an all-day pass on Saturday. The best part? All games are free to play!

Whether you’re a seasoned pinball wizard or just looking for a place to unwind with family and friends, Atomic Pinball Arcade promises a blend of fun, affordability, and a genuine friendly atmosphere. Visit them at 102 Whitelaw Ave. in Wood River, Illinois, and dive into an enchanting world of lights, bells, and non-stop action.

For the latest updates, events, and glimpses into the thrilling world of pinball, follow Atomic Pinball Arcade on Instagram and Facebook at @AtomicPinballArcade and @atomic_pinball_arcade. Dive into the excitement and connect with fellow enthusiasts as you explore the arcade’s ever-growing community. For a complete overview of their offerings, schedule, and more, visit their website at atomicpinballarcade.com. Join the fun and let the good times roll at Atomic Pinball Arcade!

About Isabelle Flener

Isabelle is working towards her Associates of Arts degree, with plans to graduate in Fall 2024. After completing her arts degree, she intends to transfer to a university to pursue a degree in photojournalism.
View all posts by Isabelle Flener →

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