A Bethlehem man plans to open an "arcade museum" inAllentown to showcase his collection of electro-mechanical games, those coin-operated, cabinet-sized relics that pre-date digital gaming.
The Allentown Zoning Hearing Board unanimously approved Joseph Shiller's proposal for what will be the "Back to the Past EM Arcade Museum" at 701 North 8th Street.
It will consist of his private collection of roughly 50 games from the 1950s to the 1980s, which include pinball, shooting games with fake guns, shuffleball and mechanical horse racing games.
Shiller, who currently keeps his games in storage in Easton, started collecting the games after buying a single pinball machine four years ago.
"It just brought me back to when I was a kid and reminded me how much I love these games," said Shiller, who buys most of his games on Craigslist and other websites.
He hopes to open the museum by September. It will be open to the public by appointment only, not to walk-in traffic.
Although he envisions it as a museum, not an arcade, Shiller said visitors will be not only allowed to play, but strongly encouraged to do so.
"They need to be used," he said. "They're electro-mechanical. If they're not used, they stop working."
Zoning board member Michael Rosenfeld said he believes the proposed museum will be far less intrusive than most other businesses that could be established there.
However, some neighboring residents had problems with the proposal.
Leslie Talago, who has lived on the 700 block of Tilghman Street for 32 years, said parking is often an issue there, which she believes will only worsen with this museum.
Milagros Canales Ramos of the Old Fairgrounds Neighborhood Association, said she feared it would turn into a "teen hangout," something zoning board members doubted.
"Why do you think teenagers here in the 21st century would want to play games from the 20th century?" said zoning board Chairman Daniel McCarthy.
The 701 North 8th Street building was previously a social hall and had long ago been a fire station. Shiller said it is ideal for his museum because the games require a lot of space, and two of the rooms are 5,800 square feet.
The museum will be open Fridays through Sundays, and admission will likely be $5 or $10 per hour. He will also repair the games on site.
The zoning approval comes with conditions that there be no loitering and no outside storage of any items.
Shiller will live in the building himself at least part of the time, which zoning board member Michael Engle says provides further assurances that he will prevent a negative element from establishing there.