By Kelle Barr | Special to the Kalamazoo Gazette
KALAMAZOO — Long before Chuck E. was the big cheese in town and prior to Dave and Buster’s arrival in Detroit and other nearby areas, Star World arcade was the place to be — every single weekend.
In the 1980s, teenagers who are now in their 40s, packed the Portage arcade to socialize, feed their quarters into pinball machines and games such as Pac-Man and Centipede.
Decades after Star World closed its doors, some of those vintage games carry price tags in the thousands at the Star World Amusement Inc. showroom in downtown Kalamazoo.
“The game industry cycled out, so we had to make changes with the times,” said Fred Hecox, who co-owns Star World Amusement along with Bill Cekola. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t still be in business.”
These days, Star World Amusement still sells games, but is now primarily a supplier to bars, bowling alleys, restaurants and other facilities. Hecox said the company sells and services machines they own that are placed at those businesses. They supply juke boxes, arcade games, air hockey, billiards and darts.
“We’ve got game systems in 25 movie theaters and in businesses all over Michigan and Northern Indiana,” said general manager Fred Wait, who listed Celebration Cinema and Airway Lanes as two locals in the large customer base. “Most people don’t realize that almost all of the game machines around here belong to us.”
Unmatched customer service from expert technicians, first-rate products and a rock-solid reputation has keep the business alive, according to Hecox — even in an age where homes are stocked with high-tech games like Wii and at least one computer offering Internet games that are free to enjoy.
“Our service department is absolutely unmatched,” Hecox said. “When a machine needs service, we’re there the same day if we can be — our customers don’t have to schedule an appointment and wait for three days.”
That’s why they keep coming back, said Wait, who described sporting and movie-themed games as the highest in demand from clients.
“We get about 90 percent of our business from word-of-mouth,” he said. “Our technicians are very talented, but they’re also personable, like everyone else on staff here. We treat people right and they stay with us.”
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