Building business one quarter at a time

John Gambacorto is celebrating 25 years as an independent business owner. His company: United Vending Services. His first account: the DeWitt Firehouse on West Genesee Street.

"They got a Ms. Pac Man and a Phoenix pinball machine," recalled Gambacorto like it was yesterday.

Since his first contract with the firefighters, Gambacorto now owns approximately 200 vending machines -- and they're not limited to amusement games anymore.

"I do almost anything that takes a quarter," said Gambacorto, also known as "Big John" to his clients; he stands a mere six feet, eight inches tall.

Gambacorto's list of services includes ATM machines, massage chairs, snack, soda and gumball machines. His customers business's range from pizza shops to banks to bars and restaurants, such as Trapper's in DeWitt and Quaker Steak and Lube in Baldwinsville.

"I do business with people I like," Gambacorto said, when asked what he most enjoys about his job. "They're open-minded [and] they're proactive instead of reactive."

Games get rotated on a popularity basis -- as the money starts to slow down, the games change out. According to Big John, one of the newest and most popular machines on the market these days is "Guitar Heroes." The game gives players the chance to select their favorite song from some 50 hit titles, choose either lead or bass guitar and jam with their favorite band; a monitor even allows the player to "join" the band on stage.

"Because home computers can replicate games so well now, we have to be more interactive," Gambacorto said. "Prize games are very big right now, too" - and they're not just for children, he added.

Gambacorto remembers a time when he saw a bus load of people who made a pit stop at a thruway station on their way to Canada. A child who was part of the bus group was playing a game, and all the adults circled around him, feeding the machine with dollar bills so they could watch him play some more.

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