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Inside the world's largest pinball factory in suburban Chicago

Pinball is having a renaissance, and that's good news for Stern Pinball in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
Posted at 5:44 PM, Dec 08, 2023

You know that vintage pinball machine at your favorite arcade?

Odds are that the machine was designed and meticulously assembled, piece by piece, at Stern Pinball's brand new factory, in suburban Chicago.

Zach Sharpe, Stern's marketing director, explained that "when you walk up to a pinball machine, you just hit start and you take for granted all the complexity that's under the hood."

A Stern pinball machine, which takes roughly 16 months to design and 30 hours to assemble, includes 3,500 parts and a quarter-mile of wires — and it's all hand-crafted.

"I couldn't imagine a world where robots are assembling this because there's so much love and passion put into these products," Sharpe told Scripps News during a recent factory tour.

Once the world's top pinball player, Sharpe is the perfect ambassador for the company, which claims to own 90% of the pinball market worldwide — and counting.

"Since 2008, it's been you know, 15% to 20% year-over-year growth, and it's shown no signs of slowing down," Sharpe said.

According to him, the pinball boom is driven not only by businesses like microbreweries and arcades, but also by households spending more dollars on home-improvement projects.

From Guardians of the Galaxy to Godzilla, Stern designs machines themed with some of the biggest names in pop culture.

A single machine ranges from $5,000 to $12,000 — an investment that Sharpe says comes with promising resale value.

"Even if you bought it for $7,000, you can sell it, after having years of entertainment, for near the cost that you've purchased it," Sharpe said.

When asked if his aim was to ensure every American family owned multiple pinball machines, the Chicago native responded emphatically, "Absolutely! Absolutely!"

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