CEDAR RAPIDS — The video sign at the street rapidly flashes pop culture references — Indiana Jones, Avatar, Wheel of Fortune, Family Guy, Guardians of the Galaxy and AC/DC among others.
They represent a few of the themes of pinball machines and video games for sale through Amuse Me Games and Vending. The business owners have sold those and other such items, including jukeboxes and casino-style gaming machines, since 1987.
Steve Bray founded Amuse Me just a year after closing his well-known Record Realm store in December 1985. At Record Realm, Bray had begun selling vendor-refurbished pinball machines and jukeboxes to the public, and saw the electronic amusement industry as a way to kick-start his business career.
Bray developed a fascination with jukeboxes and pinball machines in his childhood, and used his broad music knowledge to get a job during high school at the Sanford music store in downtown Cedar Rapids.
In 1983, he said became the first music dealer in a five-state area to offer compact discs, which he purchased directly from record labels. And when the first CD jukebox emerged, Bray immediately jumped on board.
“I told myself, this is how I’m going to get back in business,” Bray said. CD jukeboxes “were just such a tremendous advancement over 45 rpm jukeboxes.”
Bray started jukebox vendor routes with area pizza restaurants, and later expanded into bars and bowling alleys. Since then, he’s added more restaurants to the mix, and former competitor Rod Hunt became a co-owner of Amuse Me in 2001.
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Today, most jukeboxes are “downloaders,” playing digital music on demand, and some also feature video playback.
“We’ve gone from 200 songs with 45 rpm jukeboxes to 1,200 songs in a CD jukeboxes to literally millions of songs today,” Bray said. “The exponential advancement has been astounding, actually.”
Commercial clients still are the base of Amuse Me’s business, with pool tables and dart boards also available. In addition, Bray sells refurbished video games, pinball machines and jukeboxes to the public by appointment.
Modern high-tech versions can be pricey — as many pinball machines are themed to coincide with TV shows and movie franchises, a new machine can cost $10,000 or more.
Bray said he expects the electronic amusement industry to remain lucrative, but he can’t predict where the next advancement will come.
“I struggle to imagine, for example, how (jukeboxes) can be any more efficient at delivering music than they are today,” he said. “Being able to get any music you want any time you want is really remarkable.”
At a glance
• Name: Amuse Me Games and Vending
• Co-owners: Steve Bray and Rod Hunt
• Address: 3017 Center Point Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids
• Phone: 431-7856 (call for appointment)
• Website: www.AmuseMeGames.com
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