732 11th Avenue South, Hopkins, Minnesota, USA.
Report by Todd Andersen
SS Billiards - A Passage Through Time
SS billiards in Hopkins, MN is one of the oldest continuing operating arcades in the United States. From the website , this arcade “has been serving the Twin Cities for over 30 years” and boasts “the Twin Cities largest collection of publicly playable pinball machines”.
TED: How did you get started in coin-op?
LTG: I was born into the industry. When my father came home from the service in 1945 he went to work for an operator named Charlie Swan, Charlie died not long after and my father bought his route. This did good until the early 1960's when the freeways took out some of his best locations, he then bought the Rifle Sport Arcade at 812 Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis, he was forced to move it about 1970 upstairs to 6th and Hennepin. I worked for him as long as I can remember. Sorting records by label pictures before I could read, painting at the rifle range at the Minnesota state fair when I was 8. I worked for him until September of 1972.
LTG: The strip mall my business is in was completed in November of 1970. A man by the name of Sam Snelling opened the business known as S.S. Billiards then, he had a two-year lease, he was going to sell or close the business at the end of his lease. The average life of a game room is a year and a half. And Sam wasn't doing well with it. My Mother bought it on September 21st in 1972, with my help. I've worked there ever since. She retired in February 1979 and sold it to me, she helped out until her health started failing in October of 1987.
LTG: You buy a business, you buy a name. Not easily changed when you consider utilities, leases, licenses, etc. Through the years when air hockey was big, the fooseball years, the video game fad, you could have renamed it a lot of times. I'm not quick to change something that works.
LTG: I would think because of the hours I'm here. If it's open, I'm the only one here. A lot of people don't even know the name; they just refer to it by me.
LTG: That is one of life's little ironies. LTG was born here, but very few people know it here, it's more known in the rest of the world. A few years ago I walked through Expo with a blank nametag, and got spotted by many as "that's LTG".
LTG: They were initials I used for video games. In the early days of the video game fad you could enter three initials. I have four initials. And I didn't care for a lot of strangers knowing my full name. So about 1980 I started using LTG, which stood for “Lloyd The Great”, which was a joke because any time I got to enter it when I serviced a machine, the scores were reset, and anybody could get their initials in. So it wasn't on a game long. And anybody who asked what my middle name was got "The" and got laughed at. It became a big inside joke at my business. Then when I got webTV, it asked for a nickname for email, so I used “lloydthegreat”, and of course couldn't change it. So that stuck, then when I sold stuff on Ebay, I needed a seller ID, so why invent a new one, use one that is known as me and by my reputation. Questions arose on the rec games pinball news group what LTG stood for, David Gersic coined the "Launch Those Geese", and the rest is history.
TED: What is your proudest moment in over thirty years of business?
LTG: There is one moment I'll always remember and treasure. It happened at my 30th Anniversary party The Bolshoi Goose. Lyman Sheats was here. I had a father bring his daughter, about seven years old. She was playing pinball and having a blast. Lyman had brought some goodies with, so I asked him if he'd autograph a Medieval Madness poster for the little girl. He said sure. I gave the poster to the little girl. You should have seen the look on her face, her very own pinball poster. Thirty years of hard work were nothing in an instant when I saw the happiness on that child. That really made life worth living. The next day the father called and thanked me, that his daughter had the poster hanging on her wall. I told the father that he really should get it framed for the little girl, he asked me why, I told him to check the autograph and the design credits on the poster, that the nice man who signed her poster was very well known in pinball. The father was shocked, and assured me he'd get the poster framed for his daughter so she could enjoy having it for a long time.
TED: What is your biggest disappointment in your over thirty years of experience?
LTG: That from 1980 to 1990 the industry had it all, and they ran it into the ground. Everybody, the manufacturers refuse to listen and know everything, and when something is hot they build it to death, the distributors for not keeping abreast of trends like when the video fad bubble burst, they saw it in California first, and kept right on pushing equipment instead of trying to keep their ops solvent, this could have saved a lot of good ops, the ops for not keeping up equipment, everybody had a hand in destroying a good industry. There will always be a coin op industry, but it will never be what it once was.
LTG: Not much has really changed. Things happen slowly. When things work, I don't like to make changes. Air hockey was big for a year and a half, fooseball was big until July 1976, Pong was here in 1972, the pre video game fad years in the mid 1970's, the video fad late 1970's to about 1981. Pinball has always been here, from EM's to today's current line up. Numbers of games has changed with the times, from 13 to 15 EM's, down to six DMD games when Pinball 2000 was coming, to today's line up of 20 games. The old sign out front finally had to be replaced, there wasn't enough left to fix anymore.
LTG: In the near future I have to get the place better looking, new rug. Try and get the business going better. Long term is get my comic strip launched, and if things go really well I'd still like to expand. Have room for twenty more pinball machines, have an area to work on them. That would make the Pinball Circus and Mayday Tournament events bigger and better.
You can go to this site to see more pictures of SS Billiards in its beginnings.
The environment of Lloyd's is: clean, smoke-free, and friendly. There is no coin changer. The lack of an automatic coin changer is Lloyd's preference. The opportunity of making change allows Lloyd the chance to interact with his customers and ensure that they are taken care of.
As Lloyd “lives” in his arcade, he is always there to assist customers with a dispute over the rules of billiards or to quickly free a stuck pinball from under a playfield's glass.
In the past, Lloyd even had air hockey and fooseball tables. Presently, pinball tables are the most predominate feature in his arcade. In fact, Lloyd's is currently a pinball powerhouse; home to about twenty changing pinball machines at the location and several machines that are brought in for special occasions.
LLOYD'S “PARTY” PINBALL MACHINES.
LLOYD'S “ NORMAL ” PINBALL MACHINES.
This is Lloyd's first back row of machines.
This is Lloyd's second back row of machines.
Here is the front row.
Lloyd's front three-bank.
OLD to NEW
Besides getting a new ToPS pinball machine, Lloyd has recently revamped his arcade.
Look ma, new sticks!
Then Lloyd covered his five pool tables.
Lloyd's is always brightly lit, day (left) or night (right).
Next Lloyd bought a couple of cool neon signs.
Close ups of the new exterior and new interior neon signs.
And lastly, Lloyd got “Golden Tee” 2005.
With the impressive line up of well-maintained machines, it's no wonder that Lloyd's is the best place to play pinball in Minnesota. In fact, SS Billiards is a worldwide destination for serious pinball players.
All pictures courtesy of SS Billiards, LTG.
© Pinball News 2005