Buzz-a-Rama is one of those idiosyncratic New York City mom and pop shops you hope will never close. It has the added distinction of being the last slot car raceway in New York City, originally just one of several dozen operating across the five boroughs. Buzz-a-Rama was opened in 1965 by Frank “Buzz” Perri, the 83-year-old proprietor who still holds court behind the counter at the Kensington, Brooklyn institution. Like most native New Yorkers, he feigns a grumpiness at first but is quickly willing to tell his story. His wife, Dolores Perri, is a nutritionist but helps out at Buzz-a-Rama, showing children and adults how the slot cars work. Both grew up in the neighborhood.
Buzz Perri at Buzz-a-Rama
There’s no sign above the roll-down gates at 69 Church Avenue, so on the days that Buzz-a-Rama is closed, you would never know it was there. There are five slot car courses inside with eight tracks each. Colorful swivel benches and chairs (some with steering wheels!) are situated around each course. A big banner says “WELCOME RACING FANS!” Part of the space is dedicated to old school video games and pin ball machines, perfect for the birthday parties they host at Buzz-a-Rama. The “Refueling Center” in the back is a set of three vending machines for snacks and drinks.
Slot car racing dates back to the heyday of the auto industry in the middle of the 20th century, with school children souping up their miniature automobiles just like the pros. It’s hard to imagine without seeing it in action, but slot cars can go up to 100 miles per hour. Despite a decline in the hobby since the 1970s due to competition from radio-controlled cars and later, video games, slot car racing remains a hobby sport with organizations that sponsor and regulate competitions all around the world.
Dolores recounts the excitement of people who return to the Kensington neighborhood after many years and discover that Buzz-a-Rama is still open. “This fella from California — he was all excited that he was able to come from California and you’re still here! And the memories!” Other visitors aren’t New York natives but hear about it, like a man from Nigeria who had visited recently. Dolores loves how grown adults become giddy as children again when they play the racetrack. She also notes how the game creates bonding moments for people of different backgrounds, like the two Americans who grew up playing on the track and the Nigerian man who happened to visit at the same time: “They raced on each track and they just loved it.”
Upon mentioning that I would like to put Buzz-a-Rama in our guidebook Secret Brooklyn, Dolores says that the real issue is the “taxes pushing secret Brooklyn out of Brooklyn and New York, making it so that New York is not what it used to be.” Raising prices to account for higher taxes and higher rents “take[s] the flavor out of what New York was.” Buzz-a-Rama has been able to stay in business because Buzz and Dolores own the building. Buzz explains that when he opened the place, “the real estate tax was $900 per year. This year was $18,000, now I just got the bill for $32,000.”
This year Buzz-a-Rama will celebrate its 55th anniversary. Buzz and Dolores only open the spot on weekends and holidays so time your visits well. Besides their fondness for slot car racing, the couple are avid marathoners. “We’ve done 14 marathons. Both of us. All in New York and one London,” Dolores says. Buzz points out a photograph of himself at the 1996 marathon under a very impressive race time, and says, “That’s me! When I had brown hair.” It’s clear these two New Yorkers are poised to be here at Buzz-a-Rama for the long haul.
Next, check out the Top 10 Secrets of Green-Wood Cemetery, just nearby Buzz-a-Rama.