Date: 20th September 2022
Location: 732 11th Ave S, Hopkins, MN 55343, USA.

SS Billiards is one of the, if not the, oldest full-time and continuously operating amusement arcade-only establishments in the entire United States. This year sees the Golden 50th Anniversary of SS Billiards under the same ownership. Both feats are the achievements of the sole owner/operator, Lloyd Olson. Lloyd marked these accomplishments by throwing a once-in-a-lifetime celebration, The Golden Goose party.

The Very Beginning

How it all began
The sign of things to come
The early games
The early games

SS Billiards Today

Lloyd's business these days
Lloyd’s business in 2022

SS Billiards is located in a strip mall in the city of Hopkins, Minnesota, USA. Construction of that mall – the West Brooke Square Mall – was completed in November of 1970 and Sam Snelling soon opened the business named after him and known as SS Billiards.

By 1972, as the end of his two-year lease loomed, Sam had already announced his intention to either sell or close SS Billiards. Lloyd and a family partner bought SS Billiards and opened at 3pm on September 20th, 1972.

Lloyd has worked there ever since.

In February 1979, Lloyd became the sole owner of the arcade. He continues to be the sole owner and operator of SS Billiards to this day.

In February of 2022, Lloyd sent out an update e-mail with the first announcement of the aptly named 50th Anniversary party, The Golden Goose.

The last couple years have been trying for everybody. Things are finally looking up. The newest PPS/CGC remake arrived yesterday. Cactus Canyon SE with some of the prototype LE features.

We are back up to 22 pinball machines. Here is a Youtube walk through.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcKScMiZ8CE

50th Anniversary Party, the Golden Goose, is coming up September 20, 2022. It will be a customer appreciation event similar to the 40th anniversary party. You are cordially invited to attend.

This event is known but won’t really be advertised. I want it to be special for those that have been customers and especially those that supported me in the last couple years. It won’t be open to everyone.

I appreciate your understanding.

We are still doing tech support for Planetary Pinball Supply and Chicago Gaming Company.

I hope this email finds you in good health and good spirits.

LTG : )
http://ssbilliards.com/

P.S. I hope you can make the party.  

Then, in April, Lloyd sent his official invitation-only Golden Goose party e-mails.

Hi.

You are invited to my 50th Anniversary Party for my business SS Billiards. http://ssbilliards.com/

It is on Tuesday September 20th, noon to midnight, maybe later. It is for customers and people I work with or have helped with their pinball machines.

There is a Marriott near by –
Marriott Southwest Minneapolis
5801 Opus Pkwy
Minnetonka, MN 55343
Phone: 952-935-5500

There will be pop, hot dogs, and cheese pump all day. Around dinner time 10 slabs of Famous Dave’s ribs delivered and Jets Pizza – butter crust 8 piece pizzas. All the pinball machines on free play.

If you have any questions please let me know.

Thank you,
Lloyd

Party Report

Pinball News arrived at SS Billiards at 11am to take a few pictures before the party began, and was greeted at the door by Prada. But where was Lloyd?

Prada guards the entrance
Prada welcomes visitors

Lloyd was running a last minute errand for the party. He was getting cheese for the, now infamous, cheese pump 2.0.

Nachos!

Lloyd held his 50th anniversary “The Golden Goose” party on Tuesday September 20th, from noon to midnight. Pinball News was fortunate enough to be invited to be a part of American pop culture history.

Lloyd making some last-minute preparations
Lloyd making some last-minute preparations
Supplies for the day ahead
Supplies for the day ahead

For the Golden Goose party, all the pinball machines were set on free play.

Free play for the party
Free play for the party…
Including the four Chicago Gaming 're-makes'
…including the four Chicago Gaming ‘re-makes’
And the Jersey Jack titles
And the Jersey Jack titles
Four of the earlier Jersey Jack Pinball releases
Four of the earlier Jersey Jack Pinball releases
Plus all the classics
Plus all the classics
And some 'classic' modern Sterns
And some ‘classic’ modern Sterns
The first guest
The first guest

At noon, a few diehards who had taken the day from work arrived. By 1:30pm the place started filling up, and by 2pm there was a pretty good crowd.

Guests start to arrive
Guests start to arrive

If there was a problem with a game, Lloyd took care of it quickly.

Big Bang Bar gets Lloyd's attention
Big Bang Bar gets Lloyd’s attention

Sometime around 5pm, a selection of pinball parts showed up.

Pinball parts
Pinball parts

By 5:30pm, the place had filled up.

The party is fully under way
The party is fully under way

At 7pm, Jackson picked up an order of ten racks of ribs, and not only ribs, but Famous Dave’s ribs – pick’n ’em up and put’n ’em down.

Pick'n 'em up...
Pick’n ’em up…
...put'n 'em down
…put’n ’em down

The ribs went so quickly, there weren’t quite enough to go around.

Ribs get the thumbs-up
Ribs get the thumbs-up

There were still hot dogs to enjoy though, and someone brought in mini-cupcakes.

Plenty more to enjoy
Plenty more to enjoy

Only an hour after the ribs were finished off, Lloyd ordered a round of Jets pizza. Fortunately, it was not the ‘magical disappearing pizza’ of events past.

Pizza time
Pizza time

By 9pm the food had all been eaten and more-serious pinball playing began. Pictured below is a much-needed break.

Time out from the competitive pinball
Time out from the competitive pinball

A few of the groups started impromptu tournaments among four to six of the members.

Playing some fun tournaments later in the evening
Playing some fun tournaments later in the evening

By 10pm, Lloyd’s arcade started to thin out…

Some of the party-goers had to return home
Some of the party-goers had to return home

…until by 12:30am, only the last few remained.

Only the last few die-hards remained
Only the last few diehards remained
It had been a long night for somebody
It had been a long night for somebody

Lloyd received a sack of congratulatory cards, which he waited until after the event to open.

Cards from party guests and those who couldn't be there in person
Cards from party guests and those who couldn’t be there in person

When asked how long Lloyd intended to continue his customer appreciation parties he replied, “3,652.5 days”.

Looking Back… and Forward

Before the Golden Goose party began, Pinball News asked Lloyd how his business had changed over the past half-century of ownership, and about his plans for the future.

When you took over ownership of SS Billiards, did you think that you would still be running the place half a century later?

LTG: “No. Average life of a game room then was a year-and-a-half to two years. The man we bought it from was going to sell it or close it at the end of his two year lease. I never in my wildest imagination thought I’d be here a half a century later.”

If you hadn’t been running SS Billiards, what might you have done instead?

LTG: “Radio broadcasting or railroad engineer.

Those answers were from when I was younger – pre-18 years old. I’ve loved trains my whole life, and a friend had a friend in radio broadcasting who could have gotten us each started if we had already gotten a few months in at Brown Institute for radio broadcasting. I was young and naïve. I hadn’t worked outside of the family yet.

After I graduated from high school, I worked for a year for the largest operator in the Midwest. I realized I didn’t like working for anyone else or taking orders. Working for family was bad enough. Working for someone else was way worse.”

What were the best and worst years out of the fifty, and why (both commercially and personally)?

LTG: “Best – 1979. I bought out my mother’s interests in SS Billiards and started buying my own games. Pinball was going solid-state and the video game fad started.

Worst – Late in 1981. My father died. That really hit home. My parents were the youngest of their large families, so growing up it seemed every month we’d go to a funeral. I became immune to them until my father died. And by the end of 1981 the video fad was starting the slide to oblivion.”


Are you able give us a brief history of SS Billiards and your time in the coin-op business?

LTG: Sam Snelling opened SS Billiards in November 1970 when the strip mall was completed.

My mother bought it with my help in September 1972. We took over and opened the door for our first time on September 20th.

Late in 1972, the operator that had games in there put in an air hockey table which was a huge attraction for about a year-and-a-half.

1974 saw the rise of fooseball. We went from one table, to two, then four, then six. Then six to four, to two, to one, to none in 1976.

1975 saw a surge in video games, starting with Space Invaders. Pong was 1972 but video games weren’t really catching on until Space Invaders.

Fall of 1978 I started putting in my own games and bought my first new game in February 1979, a pinball machine – Gottlieb’s Pinball Pool.

I bought out my mother’s interests in the business in the fall of 1979. She helped out there as best she could after that. This was about the same time the pinball machines were switching over to solid-state and the video game fad started.

My father, who owned the Rifle Sport Arcade at 812 Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis and later upstairs at 602 Hennepin Ave., died in September 1981.

By 1983 the video game fad was dying rapidly and things were looking pretty grim for a few years.

In 1986 I managed to get the Williams pinball machine High Speed, and things started turning out for the better.

In October 1987 I put in the new rug and for the first time had two windows removed to bring in a huge sit down video game, Sega’s After Burner.

This also was the time my mother wasn’t able to help anymore and I started working all the hours we were open. She died in July of 1991.

Around 1996 the coin op industry was on a down-turn. Manufacturers were cutting back and closing.

1996 saw my first post on Rec.Games.Pinball, which started the ball rolling with me helping people with their pinball machines.

In December of 1999 Williams closed their pinball division, which only left Stern Pinball making pinball machines. During the worst decade ever in coin-op, Gary Stern kept the silver ball rolling, turned things around, and is alive and well and building great games today.

2001 saw my first appearance at Pinball Expo in October that year. I missed 2003, but made many years after. I started doing seminars there too. Great times.

March 2nd of 2001 was my first pinball event – The Launch Those Geese party. The ‘Goose’ parties continued until October 2nd, 2004 when they evolved into the Pinball Circus.

Fred Richardson ran the first major tournament here, April 28th to May 1st, 2005, the May Day Tournament.

Around this time the economy was going through a down-turn. I managed to get a new game and recovered the pool tables just in time for the 2006 smoking ban, which was made state-wide in 2007. My business dropped hugely.

2007 in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin at the Midwest Gaming Classic, I did my first pinball seminar.

Around 2010 (I’m not sure the exact date or year.) I started helping Rick Bartlett with a tech column for Bay Area Amusements, which eventually became Planetary Pinball Supply.

October 11th, 2011 saw my first post on Pinside.com.

On May 9th, 2013 Jack Guarnieri brought me on board for tech support for Jersey Jack Pinball, which I did until January 5th, 2022.

At Pinball Expo in October 2013, Planetary Pinball Supply and Chicago Gaming announced the Medieval Madness Remakes, and Rick Bartlett and Doug Duba asked me to help them with their pinball tech support, which I proudly still do to this day. They build great games. Besides the remakes, they’ll be doing their own titles too.

In 2014 we did the refresh that Kris Lillemo ran. New floor and a lot of improvements.

2020 saw something entirely new. I closed twice for Covid – March thru June, and again mid-November thru January 2021. This also destroyed my 48+ years of experience. I used to know when I’d be busy, or slow. Things like that. Since then, I have no inkling of what is going to happen business-wise.

Which brings us to September 20th. The Golden Goose. The 50th Anniversary Party. Where I get a chance to thank many of the people who helped me get this far.”

What have been the long-term trends over those years?

LTG: “Equipment went from mechanical to solid-state. And the price per play has continually risen with the costs of equipment and the economy.”


Were there any missed commercial opportunities you now regret?

LTG: “A plot of land in Grand Marais, MN. for $5K. It already had sewer and water and electricity to it. It costs more than the asking price just to bring those to the land. My concern was dealing with it from 280 miles away. I was thinking to build a retirement home on it for me. There are town homes on it now.”


How has the clientele changed?

LTG: “More older now than years ago. I used to see a lot younger, not so much anymore unless with parents or grandparents.”


You must have some interesting stories from your years running the business.

LTG: I’ll start with some quips – shorts from other stories.”

A young women, who appeared to be expecting, left my business in a hurry. I looked at her and she said, “I’m not pregnant, I have a tumor.” I asked her, “What are you going to name the tumor?”.

One young man that was a major problem came in one day. His face looked like somebody grated it. He pointed to his face and said, “Look what the police did to me!” I laughed. He said, ” You think this is funny?” I said, “Yes, I don’t like you.”

One day four young men from a rich suburb were playing a game. I’m going around cleaning. One of them remarked, “What’s the matter, couldn’t your maid come in today?” I responded with, “No, your mother called and said she was sick and couldn’t come in.” This turned from looking down on me to his friends unloading on him.

One man who was sitting in an expensive sit down driving game asked me, “If you won the lottery could I have this game?” I said, “No!” He said, “If you won the lottery you wouldn’t remember the little people you met on the way up?” I said, “If I won the lottery, I could afford new little people.”

I had one of the pain-in-the-rear types sitting on a sit down motorcycle game. Messing with it. Wasn’t going to play it. I was just about ready to tell him to get off of it when he leaned back gripping the handlebars and said to me, “Feels just like my girlfriend.” I said, “What, everybody else has already been on her for a buck?” He turned red he was so mad. He didn’t say a thing. He knew I’d just throw him out.

One lady once told me that she, “wished she had my quick wit”. I asked her, “Why, do you feel like getting beat up more often?”


How has the coin-op business changed?

LTG: “Besides dying, not much. I doubt it’s even 5% of what it once was.”

Tell us about your first customer appreciation party

LTG: “That would be the Hairy Goose Pinball Cotillion – Saturday, October 4, 2003.

I got a lot of crap on Rec.Games.Pinball about calling my Goose events ‘parties’, when I had the games on coin play. And I usually broke even or lost money on them. So, I thought the heck with this. I cancelled the Hairy Goose Pinball Cotillion.

Then I found out that Steve Tsubota and Martin Ayub had already bought airplane tickets to attend it. Which if I recall you lost a couple hundred dollars cancelling a ticket back then. So, I thought what the heck. I’ll throw a free party. I can’t possibly lose that much more. Only thing was, it was for customers and those traveling long distances.

It was a blast, just like the first Launch Those Geese party two years earlier. So, the next free one was The Emperor’s New Goose Pinball Cotillion – Saturday, April 3, 2004. But there was complaining going on both during and after the event. I mean, where else are you going to get 12 hours of free pinball, pop and hot dogs, pizza during the day, mugs, and tournaments to win money. For free. I couldn’t believe it.

I was fed up. I thought, “if I have to listen to this crap I may as well get paid”. This gave rise to the Pinball Circus – the first one was on October 2, 2004. This started as a one day event similar to the Goose parties, but with a cover charge to get in.

After that, the 30th anniversary party was on coin play. The 40th was free for customers.”


Will arcades such as SS Billiards continue to exist for future generations to enjoy?

LTG: “There will always be a few larger arcades. I’m not talking about barcades here – they’ll come and go – but true arcades with no alcohol, just pure entertainment, will be few and far between. The income level won’t justify it, and a person dedicated to doing whatever is necessary to run it and hang in through the good times and bad will be hard to find.”


Any life-lessons you’ve learned over the past half-century?

LTG: Not all mine, but things I learned…”

  • People come into your life for three things. A reason. A season. And a life time. The first two you have to learn to let go.
  • I believe we are handed hardships to help us organize our lives. When times are good, everyone is your friend. When times are tough most disappear. It is surprising those that step up to help. Your true friends.
  • The longer you live. People you care about can die. Don’t mourn for them. Thank God that they lived. And touched your life.
  • People doing things and not meaning to hurt you or your business can do you harm. Even if they think they are helping.
  • People you are helping with tech support can be trying to scam a company out of parts for a game they don’t own.
  • People you are helping with tech support, that are in over their heads in trying to fix their game, will try to get you fired.
  • The most important parts of your life – graduation, marriage, birth of a child, great job – can be condensed into a half hour if you think about the actual time of each event. Enjoy every second of every day.
  • Whatever you do, don’t save that champagne or whatever for a special occasion and many years later discover it’s spoiled. Use it to make the little events special. Your wife got a new job. Your kid scored in a game. Your dog remembered to go outside. You finally remember to wear both socks, and they match. So many little everyday things could be made extra special, rather than letting them slip by.
  • People can smile to your face, and lie.
  • People can, and will, try to hurt your business. Your livelihood. And act offended if you strike back.
  • People will believe gossip and lies, and hate you for things that aren’t true.
  • People will post negative things about you on social media. Yet, are surprised when they come in and need help, and you refuse them.
  • Don’t get in an argument on any forum. Have your say. Once. Then ignore it. They always dry up and go away. You’ll outlive them.
  • No matter what, do what is right. It will astonish most and gratify a few.
  • The only things you leave here with is everything you gave away.

Pinball News has been reporting on Lloyd and events at SS Billiards for the past twenty years. Here is a partial list, with links, for those who wish to learn more.

August 2005: SS Billiards – A Passage Through Time
Report by: Todd Andersen
https://www.pinballnews.com/sites/ssbilliards/index.html

November 2006: SS Billiards – Present
Report by: Pinball News
https://www.pinballnews.com/sites/ssbilliards2/index.html

September 2011: SS Billiards – 39th Anniversary Party
Report by: Pinball News
https://www.pinballnews.com/shows/ssbilliards39th/index.html

September 2012: SS BILLIARDS 40th ANNIVERSARY PARTY
Report by: Pinball News
https://www.pinballnews.com/shows/ssbilliards40th/index.html

2014: PINBALL PROFILES – LLOYD OLSON
Interview by: John Greatwich
https://www.pinballnews.com/learn/pinballprofiles/lloyd.html

September 2015: SS BILLIARDS – WHAT WAS OLD IS NEW AGAIN
Report by: Pinball News
https://www.pinballnews.com/learn/ssbilliardsrefresh/index.html

October 2019: Pinball Expo 2019 – Lloyd Olson
YouTube Video by: Pinball News
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zywZOA2Hw4g

February 2020: SS BILLIARDS: After the Refresh
Report by: Pinball News
https://www.pinballnews.com/site/2020/02/02/ss-billiards-after-the-refresh/

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