Make us your home page
Instagram

It's game over for St. Pete Beach Amusement Center

For the St. Pete Beach Amusement Center, where generations of children flicked pinballs, whiplashed friends in bumper cars and blew apart fields of asteroids,, the game is finally over.

Nearly 40 years after it opened in an old evacuation center, the all-you-can-play center wasn't drawing the families it used to. Owner Lenny Stamos, 61, said a drop in tourism and newfangled games have hurt business to the point where the space is more valuable than the income.

So this morning, the childhood favorites go to the highest bidder.

"The consumer is going to set the price," said John Harris of Randy Kincaid Auction Co. as he stood amid the chaotic beeping of more than 200 games.

When the Amusement Center opened on July 4, 1969, it had all the latest crazes in Florida vacation fun. Indoor miniature golf. Bowling. Ski Ball.

Founder Jerry Rodgers opened two other amusement centers in the area and pioneered indoor bumper cars, which rolled around with poles scraping the metal roof.

Sunburned kids would finish off a day at the beach with some air conditioning and button-pounding. They snacked on soda, junk food and ice cream. There were never tokens or quarters to worry about. Just an admission fee and hours of fun.

Before they moved to the area, Lenny Stamos and his grade-school-age son visited as tourists from New Jersey. Derrick Stamos sat on his dad's lap and drove a bumper car for the first time.

"It had the biggest collection of pinball machines I'd ever seen in my life," Derrick Stamos said.

In the 1980s, the cars gave way to the golden age of stand-up video games — Galaga, Asteroids and Pac Man.

In the '90s, Rodgers trimmed down the building to make way for a widened Blind Pass Road. He thought it would be good for business.

About six years ago, Lenny Stamos bought the building from Rodgers, who was in his 80s. Stamos had been leasing the space for his bike and surf shop, next door to the center.

But Xbox, PlayStation and Wii haven't been kind to the pixelated games of yore.

Linda Stamos, 60, who ran the center many days, said kids would come in and comment that they had all the games on their computers.

Now, their value lies in nostalgia, in capturing a piece of a long-gone childhood. The cavernous hall was filled Friday with rapt men hunched over machines as they previewed their purchases.

"They make new pins, but the age of the pinball is in the past," said Ben Chertok, 41, who was scouting out the goods. With six machines in his game room and even more pinball glasses decorating the walls, he knows something about it.

Lenny Stamos looked around at the activity and commented, "If they had to pay to get in here, there'd be nobody."

Stamos, who plans to focus on his surf shop and lease the other space, said Rodgers, now in his 90s, understands why the center has to close. The clientele for retro video games has shifted from the general public to a select group of avid fans.

That's whom he expects at the auction today.

Derrick Stamos, now 37, will be there too, but he doesn't think he'll buy. His wife has advised the Air Force pilot against it.

"Who knows?" Derrick Stamos said. "If I get a sudden strike of nostalgia, who knows?"

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727)892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.

>>fast facts

If you go

The auction begins at 10 a.m. at the center, located at 7525 Blind Pass Road on St. Pete Beach.

A nostalgic look

To view an audio slideshow of the St. Pete Beach Amusement Center, go to pinellas.tampabay.com.

It's game over for St. Pete Beach Amusement Center 04/25/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 8:58am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Exploratory Lab Boot Camp provides real-life technology training to students

    Science

    CLEARWATER — At this graduation ceremony featuring some of the brightest local minds in tech, it was the youngsters who stood out.

    Laszlo Leedy, 17, a senior at Shorecrest Prep, presents part of his team's project for SPC's Exploratory Lab Boot Camp. Students presented their ideas at the end of the SPC Exploratory Lab Boot Camp. The program provides real-time business training to students. This year's graduation celebrated 15 students that finished the program. 
[JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  2. Appointments at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and World of Beer highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers

    Business

    Non-profits

    Tampa Bay Watch, Inc., a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of the marine and wetland environments of the Tampa Bay estuary, has announced two new employees. Pamela Arbisi is the new development director. Her responsibilities include …

    Scott Bendert has joined the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay as the non-profit organization's Chief Financial Officer. [Company handout]
  3. Tampa's Homeowners Choice seeks to offer flood insurance in other states

    Banking

    Tampa-based insurance company HCI Group Inc.'s subsidiaries are trying to expand their flood insurance offerings beyond Florida. HCI has filed with regulators to offer flood coverage in Arkansas, California, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas.

    Tampa-based HCI Group is trying to expand its flood insurance offerings to other states. Pictured is Paresh Patel, CEO of HCI Group. | [Courtesy of HCI Group]
  4. Home of Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman hits market at $3.45 million

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is back on the market for $3.45 million after a brief hiatus.

    The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is on the market for $3.45 million. [Courtesy of Hi Res Media]
  5. Trigaux: Halfway through 2017, a closer look at six drivers of the Tampa Bay economy

    Business

    We're nearly halfway through 2017 already, a perfect time to step back from the daily grind of business and ask: How's Tampa Bay's economy doing?

    Is there one theme or idea that captures the Tampa Bay brand? Not really but here's one possibility. The fun-loving annual Gasparilla "Invasion" of Tampa is captured in this photo of 
The Jose Gasparilla loaded with pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on its way this past January to the Tampa Convention Center. In the future a vibrant downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg may be the better theme. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]