COLUMBIA, S.C. — Columbia is known for a lot of things: The Gamecocks, the State Fair, famously hot temperatures, and now pinball can be added to that list.
One of the largest pinball groups in the nation, a two-time pinball tournament world champion, and the leading pinball parts seller in the world, all call The Midlands home. And still, pinball remains one of the capital city’s best kept secrets.
Pinball’s popularity in the Midlands starts with Marco Specialties which was founded in 1985 by Marc Mandeltort. This Lexington-based business offers over 30,000 individual pieces for thousands of pinball machines to customers all over the world.
“My dad was a visionary,” Paul Mandeltort, Marc’s son, recalls. “He saw the beauty and the collectability of these pinball machines. He recognized that all of them are rare and unique.”
During pinballs peak in the 90s many arcade operators would scrap out their old machines so that their competitors wouldn’t be able to use them.
Marc and Paul would regularly dumpster dive for parts to repair the machines they operated. This determination and passion, coupled with the ability to sell parts online, allowed Marco Specialties to grow into the global distribution company it is today.
“My dad used say we were an overnight success in 40 years.”
Sadly, in December of 2021, Marco’s founder, Marc Mandeltort, passed away, leaving a huge hole in both the company and the pinball community nationwide.
Even with a large pinball supplier in the Midlands, it wasn’t until 2020 when pinball rolled onto the playfield.
As of 2022, you can find pinball machines in a variety of restaurants like, Granby Grill, Transmission Arcade, or Craft and Draft. But the jackpot goes to Bang Back Pinball Lounge, which houses over 20 machines in the heart of Columbia’s Five Points neighborhood.
Frederick Richardson, a two-time pinball world champion, founded Bang Back in March of 2020.
“The best part of pinball isn’t the games, it’s the people.” Says Frederick. “That’s why on our front door it says ‘Come in, make friends’”
Staying true to the slogan, Bang Back is now home to a popular pinball club known as the Belles and Chimes Cola. This women’s pinball group meets every Thursday night at Bang Back and ranks as one of the largest Belles and Chimes divisions in the nation.
In addition to pinball, the Belles and Chimes Cola prioritize getting to know each other outside of the classic arcade game.
“If you ever move to a new city, a pinball league is a great way to meet folks," Leah Cannon, a regular member of the Belles and Chimes Cola remarks. “Now, I have friends all throughout the bar.”
“Pinball opened up a world of meeting new people and being a part of something I never knew was out there,” Brittney Matto, a Bang Back bartender adds.
Pinball is more than a game, it’s a way to connect with people you otherwise wouldn’t meet. Whether you want to become a competitor, need a place to relax, or just want to rediscover a childhood classic, there is a place for you in Columbia’s secret world under glass.
Interested in playing pinball?
Head over to the pinball map to find a place to play near you.