Things to Do

This Small Virginia Town Has Become a Gen-X Playground

Perhaps it's the pinball and roller skating that draws day-trippers to Purcellville.

Photograph courtesy of Visit Loudoun.

Western Loudoun County has built a well-deserved reputation in the past couple of decades as an equestrian and wine destination. Purcellville, a town tucked between rolling fields and hills about 50 miles from downtown DC, is home to several wineries, breweries, and the Catoctin Creek Distillery.

But over the last few years, the town has also increasingly become attractive to day-trippers who identify as Generation X—those born between 1965 and 1980— because for them it’s a trip down memory lane. Those planning to attend the annual Purcellville Music and Arts or Wine and Food festival in April and July, respectively, can explore the Gen-X nostalgia if they stick around the town for an extra day or two. 

“Purcellville’s identity is no longer that tiny town on your way out west,” says Eric Basile, who at 48 is a Gen-Xer. “It’s definitely now a place to head west for.” Basile has an interest in staying that: He opened  Jackpot Pinball with his brother, David, in February. Eric had previously opened Hit N Run Sports, next to the arcade, which trades in the nostalgic practice of collecting sports and novelty cards. The new arcade is across from the eclectic Nichols Hardware Store, in the heart of the historic business district. 

Catoctin Creek was founded in 2009 as the first legal distillery in Loudoun County since before Prohibition. Photograph courtesy of Visit Loudoun.

Brunch at the Purcellville Pub, where classic episodes of Tom and Jerry and Scooby Doo introduce today’s children to retro Saturday morning television programming, is a good place to start a Gen-X immersive experience. 

“My wife began putting the retro cartoons on the one TV for the kids that come in with the families during breakfast and brunch, but it seems we leave it on for most of the day and we end up catching a lot of adults our age watching it into the evening,” explains Kevin Bednarz, who owns the Pub and also Purcellville Eats, a local sandwich shop specializing in tomato soup and tater tots. 

In addition to the new pinball arcade, visitors can roller skate under a disco ball on old-time wooden floors at the Bush Tabernacle. They can peruse the retro storefront windows and wares at Nichols, which sells baseball equipment inside the Victorian-era shop in anticipation of the coming youth baseball and softball seasons. 

Fans watch the Babe Ruth Baseball World Series at Fireman’s Field in Purcellville, Virginia. Photograph courtesy of Visit Loudoun.

In the summer, visitors can catch a semi-pro Purcellville Cannons baseball game at Fireman’s Field (the Valley League All-Star Game will be played in Purcellville in June). After the game, there’s soft serve ice cream to be had at Gruto’s, or they can take a piece of Gen-X history home by searching for treasures and memorabilia at one of the many consignment boutiques in town such as Re-Love It or It’s Bazaar, both of which feature large collections of vinyl LPs and records among other retro wares, including vintage clothing.

All that’s missing is a drive-in movie theater, and that can be found a mere half-hour away in Stephens City near Winchester. Bowling with an ’80s feel can be found less than 10 miles away in Leesburg.

Most of the Purcellville attractions are within walking distance of one another and all feature what feels like retro pricing in these inflationary times. Roller skating, for example, is $7, including skate rental. Jackpot Pinball is $15 for an all-day pass and $50 for families (early-bird and late-night specials are also offered). A breakfast plate at the Pub can be had for as little as $8.  

The Pub frequently taps into nostalgia, offering a series of popular “dip and draw” nights where patrons learn to draw characters such as Batman. The Pub has also hosted trivia nights focusing on the 1980s and 1990s. The old-school cartoons underscore a Gen-X vibe that has slowly taken root in the town. “It’s still a neighborhood pub,” says Bednarz, 53. “We didn’t have any intention going into it to be ‘Gen-X’ but the demographic determines the energy in the room and  it’s definitely gone in that direction a little bit.”

All of these attractions dovetail with a resurgence of interest nationally in Gen-X amusements. Usher’s Super Bowl halftime performance, for example, has driven a huge surge of interest in roller skating. Stern Pinball, maker of machines including Jaws and Godzilla (both of which are in the Jackpot Pinball lineup) reported a five-fold increase in sales during the coronavirus pandemic. And the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA), the governing body for competitive pinball tournaments, says nearly 30,000 people played in some 8,500 tournaments in 2023. A tournament in January had a prize pool of nearly $200,000.

Eric Basile and his brother David opened Jackpot Pinball in the heart of Purcellville’s historic district in February. Photograph by Ryan Donmoyer.

Jackpot Pinball is tapping into the explosion in pinball popularity. Visitors pay a flat fee at the door and can play dozens of modern or vintage pinball machines, classic game consoles such as Nintendo and Sega, and other arcade staples such as air hockey and table soccer all day long. 

Basile said Gen-Xers are passing on their passions to their children and grandchildren: “The people who used to do these things as kids/teens are now grown up with kids of their own and sharing those same activities.”

Ryan Donmoyer is a freelance writer living in Purcellville. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.