The Wizard Of Ocean County [Video]
If you travel New Hampshire Ave or Airport Rd in Lakewood, you're used to the scenery - industrial parks in grey, nondescript buildings. What you may not know is that in one of those buildings, the gaming industry is being revolutionized.
Jersey Jack Pinball has only been around for a couple of years, since 2011, but in that time they've done something that many thought wasn't possible - they took the classic feel and game play of the pinball machines that we played growing up, and pulled them into the 21st century with unprecedented technology.
Full disclosure - I'm a pinhead. You may remember that just about exactly two years ago, I completed a quest that I've been on for more than half my life when I bought the pinball machine that I loved to play growing up. So reaching out to Jersey Jack Pinball was a no-brainer for me.
I first got in touch with Jack Guarnieri two years ago when they were pumping out their well received first foray into 21st century pinball, with their Wizard of Oz table.
I went full on fanboy and asked for a tour of the factory, and he was more than happy to oblige. At the time, they were riding high on the success of The Wizard of Oz, and working on their next project - an officially licensed table to coincide with The Hobbit movie trilogy. Jack and his daughter Jen told me to keep in touch and invited me back for another tour when the production line switched over to The Hobbit.
It wasn't just an empty invitation. I took them up on it, and they enthusiastically obliged. So myself, a friend of mine from college (and a fellow pinball fan), and my editor took a trip out to Lakewood on Monday.
The first thing that you'll notice is Jack's enthusiasm. You can tell that he's not just a businessman, but a fan. And the time and care that they put into every machine is truly impressive.
You may not even notice without me pointing it out, but you don't see a single robot or automated step in the assembly process. It's literally all done by hand. From nailing the rails onto the playfield all the way to testing out each individual game (yes, it's someone's job to play pinball machines). Someone's hands are doing every step of the assembly process.
The best part - it's all being done right here in Ocean County.
Touring the factory with Jack was like listening to a father talk about his kids. You can see the pride in his face when he told us that, "we act as if everything we do is for us".
But I also noticed the way that Jack interacts with his employees. From shoulder pats to teasing rubs on the head, he walks through the factory not like a boss overseeing a high tech operation, but like a coach showing off his team. As we got to each station, he introduced each technician by name and let them to explain what they do.
And Jack's enthusiasm is obvious. If I didn't have to get to the office, we probably could have talked pinball all morning.
In this day and age, where you don't see arcades at malls anymore, the arcades that do exist have to keep a clientele with ever decreasing attention spans coming back. Stop by any arcade in Seaside Heights, Point Pleasant Beach, or LBI and you'll see all sorts of flashy games with HD screens and interactive features competing for your attention (and quarters).
While the pinball industry all but stagnated in the 2000s, "Jersey" Jack Guarnieri saw the writing on the wall - if you want to keep the pinball industry alive, you had to innovate while still keeping the classic feel that we all grew up with. And that's exactly what they're doing right here in Ocean County.
You can play Jersey Jack's Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit at The Silverball Museum on the Asbury Park boardwalk.
Click here to check out part two, where Jack spills the beans (well, he at least teases a bit) on what we can expect for their much anticipated next project!