It was a mild spring evening, a “lamb day” in March as the very fine days of the month are commonly called. I told my kids, ages six and eight, that we were heading out for an indoor surprise, and their pandemic-heavy eyes lit right up. Like so many, it’s a rare occurrence for us these days to happen upon indoor fun. So, when the doors of the Olympia Pinball Museum in downtown Olympia swung open, revealing an hour of private arcade play, the looks of unabashed joy (and relief) that washed over my children simultaneously filled and broke my heart.
Olympia, if you are looking for the comforts of yesteryear, a simpler time where you can lean against a pinball machine with a glass bottle of Pepsi in your hand, Tonya and Welby Bergum, the owners and curators of Olympia Pinball Museum can make that happen.
When you step through the mural-darkened doors of the Museum, (which is not like the traditional no-touch spaces of other “museums” that come to mind), you are instantly transported to another era. The click-clack of the flippers, the whoosh of the shiny silver ball, even the decor and the old-timey beverages provided by L&E Bottling, make for an experience where Tonya aptly tells it like it is: “It’s perfect because you don’t know what’s going on outside. You’re in your own little world here, where you can relax, feel comfortable, and just play pinball. Enjoy life, because sometimes life sucks.”
Indeed, it sometimes does, Tonya, but thanks to her and Welby’s savvy collecting that spans three decades, Thurston County and beyond can now experience the delightful magic of a real pinball arcade. There are 85-90 pin machines to play at any given time, depending on what Welby is working on repairing, or whatever new machines have arrived. It’s a steady rotation. There are also several video-game style machines like Pac-Man, Burgertime, and others that bring me right back to my 80s childhood.
“We currently have about 200 pinball machines all-together,” Welby says, “and we’d like to buy our own building and make it 300.”
Would you believe the Bergums used to have all of these machines in their home? They did, and also the homes of all of their family and friends. Fortunately for us, they’ve transformed the space at 509 Capitol Way S into a family-friendly, (or just friendly – you pick) arcade that can be rented by the hour at certain times or admits folks during general admission.
Accessibility is important to the Bergums. Tonya being a driver for Intercity Transit’s Dial-a Lift is dedicated to make Olympia Pinball Museum a welcoming space for all with wide aisles and an ADA compliant restroom.
Both Tonya and Welby are working full-time jobs, Welby owning and operating Olympia Rare Coins, in addition to keeping the Museum alive. I met the Bergums a little over a year ago, when they had first opened the arcade, just days, mere moments, before the pandemic ground our region to a halt. It may be nothing short of a miracle that they’ve been able to hang on, and I’m thankful for that because the unique experience they are giving to our community is miraculous.
The Bergums are also filled with gratitude for the support they’ve received. They say their refreshments vendor, L&E Bottling has been instrumental in not only providing them with awesome vintage-themed refreshments, but also in connecting them with key members of the community.
Tonya is focused on supporting the surrounding businesses and feels that she’s got a really great spot for date-night. “We get menus from restaurants all over around here,” she says, “and you can order food and they’ll bring it over. Basilico next door has a license for patrons to have drinks outdoors on their sidewalk.” And Tonya and I both agreed that Basilco’s classic Italian food paired with some classic pinball make for a memorable evening out.
Whether you are looking for an opportunity to play Hercules, the World’s Largest Pinball Game, (or any of their handful of other ultra-rare games), or perhaps you want to try one of the antique/vintage pin machines (which my husband and I both found to be quite challenging), Olympia Pinball Museum is the place to do it.
General Admission is only on Fridays for now, from 12-4 pm. Adults (ages 13 and up) are $20 and a child pass for ages 6-12 is $15. Supervised children ages five and under are free with a paying adult.
Otherwise, you can rent the museum for $100 an hour for a party of six, or bring more friends along for an additional $20 per person. All machines are set up on free-play and you can stress-relieve to your heart’s content.
There are capacity limits dictated by what phase of COVID we’re in, and the Bergums take great care to wipe the machines down every 30 minutes and in between reservations. Placards help general admission patrons social distance, as they place them on surrounding machines. The player then takes their placard with them as they move to the next machine. Masks are required.
My personal favorite was jamming out to, err, I mean playing, The Beatles pinball machine, which Tonya said she turned the volume up on because she likes the music. (We have this in common). And if you’re ready to turn the volume up a few notches on the joy in your life, or to see if you’re a Pinball Wizard with a supple wrist as the song suggests, visit Olympia Pinball Museum’s website or follow their social media for all of the details.
Olympia Pinball Museum
509 Capitol Way S, Olympia