This story needs to be told. It doesn’t include a near miracle, a surprising twist, nor a set of special challenges overcome. It’s a simple story of a newcomer’s welcome, of starting friendships and of appreciation for a characteristic of Opelika’s business community.
Some background first. My fiancée and I moved here from Montgomery in June to open a pinball arcade. It’s my first stab at owning a business, being my own boss. I grew up on the west coast, in what I thought was a small town, population 36,000, a suburb of San Diego. The US Air Force took me away and I spent 7 years in Germany, most of them residing in small villages, but never really feeling a part of the community. Washington DC and Montgomery were my only other two assignments during my 20-year career. After retiring in ’96, I spent the next 24 years as a computer programmer with a state job. Not feeling like I needed a restful life, and having the finances to take the risk, I decided to start a pinball business, Rock ‘N Roll Pinball.
My support team lives in Auburn, so the search for an arcade location included Opelika. “Embrace the retro of pinball” was a mantra, and the Mayberry like feel of downtown O-Town made it seem like a perfect fit. One of our business strategies had two parts, (1) don’t be perceived as a competitor to other local businesses, and (2) enlist some them to get the word out about Rock ‘N Roll Pinball. We wouldn’t be cooking meals, so we could recommend local eateries when our players get hungry, and perhaps those restaurants would allow us to position discount business cards on their counters. The reaction to this request is what I feel merits appreciation.
Without exception, every business in downtown Opelika said yes, “please provide a stack of cards and we’ll gladly display them”. Jefferson’s, Niffer’s, La Cantina, Red Clay Brewery, John Emerald Distillery, Butcher Paper BBQ, 10,000 Megahertz, even as far away as Tiger Town’s Huddle House, all said yes. They began recognizing me as “Hey, you’re the pinball dude!” and asking when we’d be opening. Our Pop-Up Pinball events, where we’d position a few machines for several days, were big hits, and we hope to have one more before opening this fall. The support from patrons could only be possible with the support from the business community.
Even during the pandemic our Pop-Up Pinball attendance was dramatic. Jill Sanderson, the GM for John Emerald Distillery thanked us and remarked about revenues increasing during our stay. Red Clay Brewmeister Craig Collins volunteered to create a special Rock ‘N Roll Pinball beer. I feel like these won’t be fleeting friendships but fulfilling ones for years to come. In this age of social distancing, these words and actions are like emotional hugs for me.
Perhaps those of you who have called Opelika home for many years take this for granted, as just a way of life. I’ve heard it, and perhaps you’ve said it, “People are friendly here.” It is perhaps a subtle superpower that insiders just feel comes naturally. For someone like me, a newcomer unsure what he might find, this feeling of welcomeness is heartwarming. Opelika may be small, but this widespread characteristic of your people is great. I want all who read this to know it is not something found everywhere, and it is a positive sign, an inspiration, to see it displayed over and over again.
Every time you support a local business you are in essence placing a vote for their continued existence and an endorsement for the hard work of their employees. Our local businesses deserve these votes of support. Thank you, Opelika, for welcoming us even before we’ve opened and helping us to feel more than comfortable and confident the Opelika choice was the very best it could be.