Bingo economy fails to swing back for U.P. supplier

Bingo industry dies down in the U.P.

Bingo industry dies down in the U.P.

Justin Van't Hof

Jim Higgins, 55, emerges from stacks of boxes the second a customer walks in the door. The store is filled to the brim with bingo supplies ready to ship out to customers passionate in the world of bingo. He has owned Higgins Bingo for six years after he inherited the store when his parents decided to retire.

“I started working for my father’s store back in 1992 which was the peak of bingo worldwide, even in the Upper Peninsula,” Higgins said.

Higgins Bingo is the only bingo supply store in the U.P. and one of only two in Michigan, is located at 327 W. Washington St. The store currently distributes
supplies to over 80 clients all across the country.

Higgins works with bingo halls to make sure they get the supplies to keep their halls fully stocked—just as his parents did prior. He has shipping routes going across the U.P. and Northern Wisconsin.

Higgins parents opened the store in 1981 in response to a low bingo supply market. Marquette had a robust bingo scene at the time with over 16 halls bingo players could go to. Churches, dance halls and schools were all used as places to play bingo on the weekends.

“My parents opened the store the year before I graduated high school. I would help my Dad with the business because it was really growing and he needed help to keep up,” Higgins said.

While running a bingo hall at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Higgins parents noticed the lack of places to purchase the supplies to keep their hall stocked. The closest store was in Detroit, which made it difficult to get supplies all the way to the U.P.

Only one bingo hall now remains in Marquette and thousands of halls across Michigan have slowed down due to lack of interest.

 “Over 100 halls have closed across the U.P. alone. In Michigan over 20,000 halls have closed in the past 20-30 years,” Higgins said.

Higgins estimates that his profits have dropped over 20% since 2009, which he attributes to the Michigan indoor smoking ban.

“I could look at the financial records and tell you exactly what year the smoking ban was because it was the exact same year profits started to fall. They haven’t rebounded since,” Higgins said.

The building the store resides in has been in his family for five generations and dates back to the 1880s. It now lays filled to brim with bingo supplies stacked in boxes waiting to be shipped out.

In his spare time he coaches the NMU Women’s club hockey team, which is currently one of the top in the nation. This is the first year he has coached the team and under his leadership they are only a few games away from winning the championship. After the season winds down Higgins hopes to renovate the front of his store in hopes of attracting more business.

“I never even imagined that I would be in the bingo business but here we are,” Higgins said.