45 years after opening, SS Billiards saved by customers' generosity

For nearly 50 years Lloyd Olson has been in the pinball and billiards business.

"It's been here since November 1970," Olson says of his Hopkins-based SS Billiards.

And for all of that time the machines have been like his children and all the memories, both good and bad, have been as clear as the ringing buzzers and bells that are part of his games.

Much like the game Olson loves so much, the business has seen its up and downs.

"Well the economy in about 2005 took a huge downturn. Started coming back from that a bit, then I get hit with the smoking ban in 2006 and 2007 and that really, that knocked me down about 90 percent," he says.

Push had come to shove, so Olson got creative to keep his business alive. In response to the downturn, Olson threw himself into online pinball communities and started sharing everything he knew.

"I've been helping people online fixing their pinball machines since 1996, so I've got a pretty wide following in the U.S. and across the planet," he says.

Longtime customer Mike Claphake credits Olson with helping to foster the community he cares about so much.

"Lloyd's a big deal in the pinball world. He's… I think Lloyd's done a lot to keep pinball alive when it was nearly dead. He has a passion for it, he can fix them, he loves them, he knows them," Claphake says.

At one point, it seemed not even Olson's online popularity would be enough to keep his business alive. Nearly 45 years after opening, the ceiling and floor of his shop were in terrible disrepair.

It was then that Olson's loyal customers stepped in and started a fundraising campaign to help.

"I was always scared because they're not always successful and I thought, geez if you fall on your butt you're gonna look stupid, but when Kris (the customer that started the fundraiser) approached me and wanted to do it I thought, why not, if you fail at least the guy tried," Olson says.

The campaign was far from a failure. Trying to raise $8,500, the online campaign came back with over $14,000 -- enough to fix the ceiling, the floor, and to spruce up everything that goes in between.

"It's funny, when times are tough you really find out who cares and who don't. I think you get handed tragedies once in a while to sort some stuff out," Olson says.

That life gave Olson a fighting chance in the game he thought he lost.

"I'm not crying. A lot of people had it tough in the last decade. I just never dreamt I'd be 60-years-old and starting over. I'd rather die here. I don't know if I can walk away after so many years, " he says.

It's thanks to the help of so many that the games at SS Billiards will go on.

"I don't know if people know. Lloyd maybe doesn't know how many friends he really has. It's awesome to see people step up and say, here, let me help you. You know as a community. This is a staple of this community forever," Claphake says.


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