Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop in Langley, hangs a purple neon star he made on the wall of his arcade. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group

Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop in Langley, hangs a purple neon star he made on the wall of his arcade. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group

Neon art show colorizes Machine Shop’s reopening

A cacophony of happy buzzers and bells and a riot of glowing lights signals the return of another Langley institution after a long pandemic slumber.

The Machine Shop, a popular arcade, reopened on April 1 with the addition of a rare pinball machine and a collection of bright neon art that owner Tim Leonard created during the dark isolation of the past year.

At least 25 neon pieces fill a back room of the arcade. They are smaller than other work he has done. He estimates that the pieces — which are in the shape of diamonds, stars and bubbles — each take about a week to finish.

“The challenge was to make pieces that were small that had the same kind of punch,” Leonard said.

He uses traditional methods of bending and shaping neon tubes and metal by hand or with tools that have been used for generations.

The neon art display will continue through the month of April. Prices for the pieces range from about $2,200 to $3,600 each. Leonard has sold some so far, but has plenty left.

Leonard also makes vintage bulb signs, sometimes in combination with the neon. A large sign within the arcade encourages visitors to “BE AMAZING.”

Gamers will notice a few new additions to the space, including a flipper-less pinball machine from 1947 that needs to be nudged in order to make the silver ball move. It is one of the oldest games that can be played in the Machine Shop.

Leonard said the machine came from Seattle and was donated to him.

With the help of friends, he refurbishes many of the pinball machines in the arcade, changing some of them out every so often. There are 12 new machines in the space currently.

Pinball machines are a mixture of classic and newer. His favorite machine is in the front of the arcade and is called “The Machine, Bride of Pin Bot” and features a voluptuous robotic-looking woman complete with stiletto high heels.

Leonard said he saw the turnout from the community was decent during the “soft opening” last week.

“The Machine Shop was well received,” Leonard said. “I was concerned that it was going to be too many people, and that wasn’t the case.”

Under current COVID-19 restrictions for Phase 3 counties, indoor entertainment venues can have up to 50 percent capacity.

According to Leonard, the spacious pinball haven has never had a problem with overcrowding.

During the pre-COVID days, there were about 12 to 15 people at a time in the arcade, and that number hasn’t budged much during current times.

No machine is blocked off, which means if people keep their six feet of distance, they can play whatever game they want.

Just five months ago, Leonard had been struggling to keep up with the arcade’s rent and bills while it remained closed to the public. A friend started a fundraiser through GoFundMe, which ultimately raised $27,545 for the Machine Shop.

Leonard said he has been amazed by the community’s support.

Donors exceeded the fundraiser’s goal within about a week.

The community has spoken, he said, and the Machine Shop will stay open, although it’s just Thursday through Sunday at the moment.

Just five months ago, Tim Leonard had been struggling to keep up with the arcade’s rent and bills while it remained closed to the public. A friend started a fundraiser through GoFundMe, which ultimately raised $27,545 for the Machine Shop. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group

Just five months ago, Tim Leonard had been struggling to keep up with the arcade’s rent and bills while it remained closed to the public. A friend started a fundraiser through GoFundMe, which ultimately raised $27,545 for the Machine Shop. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group

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