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Next Level Pinball Shop & Museum is one of the largest local spots for pinball, in an area that is world famous for it.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jordan Carlson and his wife, Whitney, owners of Next Level Pinball,  play two of many pinball machines at their business in Hillsboro.While it opened in Hillsboro in 2017, Next Level Pinball Shop & Museum is celebrating a de facto "grand reopening" this year now that pandemic restrictions have finally been lifted.

The owners say they've weathered the storm of COVID-19 closures and are ready to hit the ground running in 2022. The store is one of the largest local pinball palaces, which is saying something for the Portland area.

The Pacific Northwest is a beacon for the international pinball community. There are more pinball machines in Oregon than anywhere else in the country, according to PinballMap.com, and the Portland area has the highest concentration in the state.

This status as "the pinball capital of the world," as they put it, is why Next Level owners Jordan and Whitney Carlson — along with Jordan's father, Fred — have decided to go big in the pinball gaming world.

The arcade opened at its location at 1458 N.E. 25th Ave. in Hillsboro back in 2017. It expanded to the other half of its current space in 2020, just a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Oregon in full force.

From humble origins and through these bumps in the road, it's been an interesting journey to becoming one of the premier pinball locations in a state that's known for its tight-knit pinball community.

Jordan Carlson and his father always fostered a love for pinball growing up. They started with just a machine or two, but the passion to collect rare pinballs soon grew, and Carlson began making inroads with others in the pinball community. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jordan Carlson, co-owner of Next Level Pinball, gets his business ready for the day.

To be a licensed pinball retailer, one must be approached by reps in the industry. Jordan Carlson had a friend who was propositioned by one of them to be a retailer and passed, but he recommended the Carlsons for the gig.

It's a good thing, too, because part of what kept Next Level afloat during the pandemic was the ability to sell these new pinball machines despite no one being able to come inside their store. That, coupled with selling off certain pinball machines they keep in their inventory for the store, helped the Carlsons keep their workforce employed — and helped Next Level stay in business.

"Surprisingly, the market for pinball machines was pretty high during the pandemic," Whitney Carlson said.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jordan Carlson and his wife, Whitney, are owners of Next Level Pinball in Hillsboro.

With over 450 games inside of Next Level's 20,000-square-foot space, about half are pinball machines and half are other arcade video games — with classics like "Ms. Pac-Man" and newer games like "Halo" and "Jurassic Park."

The business hosts weekly pinball tournaments and even uses some of the revenue generated as fundraisers for the Project Pinball charity, a nonprofit that brings pinball machines into children's hospitals.

Next Level has helped raise about $2,200 for one project to get a pinball machine for Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland.

But where does the "museum" part of Next Level's name come from?

Each machine has a little information card posted to it, detailing the origins of the game and some unique facts about the pinball. That's part of what makes pinball such a lasting pastime — every game is different than the last.

It's a way of celebrating the impressive collection that the Carlsons have amassed, while also paying homage to the rich history of the gaming industry.

And there are plenty of other kinds of collectibles at the venue, too. Absolutely every square foot of the walls inside the store is covered with collectibles and memorabilia that invariably bring on the nostalgia.

"That's the whole point," said Jordan Carlson. "We find stuff that reminds you of your childhood and makes you feel happy. … That's always been our dream, in a sense."

Next Level Pinball Shop & Museum is open every day of spring break this week, though its typical days of operation are Thursday through Saturday from noon to 11 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. Customers pay $20 to play all day long, with no need to feed coins into the machines.


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