Centers Shuttered

by Bob Johnson 0

From Springfield, Mass., to Woodland, Calif., AMF has been busy this summer — closing bowling centers.

One report put the number of shuttered centers at 15, leaving the chain with about 285 still operating nationwide. One AMF-operated center is scheduled to remain open, but with a different owner.

The center in Springfield was Airway Lanes, an 8-lane candlepin operation that had been in business for more than 40 years. It was one of 67 centers — in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and the Canadian province of New Brunswick — serviced by the International Candlepin Bowling Assn.

The other centers were tenpin facilities, and included the 24-lane Woodhaven Lanes in Woodland, Calif. Less than a week after the abrupt closing, the pinspotters and automatic scorers were being removed and packed for shipping.

In Chattanooga, Tenn., AMF closed Tri-State Lanes, forcing local bowling association official Scott Vandiver to scramble to find a new host for a 500-team tournament he had been organizing.

Two other venerable centers shut down were Bowland Lanes in Granite City, Mo., which had been in operation for nearly 55 years, and Rolling Meadows Lanes in Illinois, which opened in 1959.

“The emotions range from shock to anger,” said Tom Bennett, who had been the general manager of Bowland. “We have a lot of customers that have bowled here their entire lives.”

Valerie Dehner, community development director for Rolling Meadows, said the closing of the center in her community “came as a complete surprise to a lot of people. We consider it a great loss for our downtown,” added Linda Ballantine, executive director of the Rolling Meadows Chamber of Commerce: “It’s one less entertainment or recreation venue in our community. Anytime something significant closes, it leaves a hole in our community that needs to be filled.”

Merrell Wreden, Vice President of Marketing for AMF, said the decision to close the centers came down to dollars and cents.

“Like any chain, we monitor the performance of our individual locations,” he told the Daily Democrat newspaper. “From time to time, if we feel they are not performing up to financial standards, we have to make a difficult decision.”

Bowlers at AMF Twin Star Lanes in Kent, Ohio, got a reprieve when local proprietor Bill White, owner of Bill White’s Akron Lanes, struck a deal with AMF. Before long, the sign on the Kent center will read: Bill White’s Twin Star Lanes.

Some shuffling of employees is planned, and numerous improvements to the property already are in the works, including the installation of 26 security cameras and new parking lot lights.

White said all of the planned improvements may take up to two years to complete — a clear signal that he’s in the business for the long haul.
“Patience is the key word,” he said.

Meanwhile, back in Woodland, Calif., chef Charlie Chu hopes that the closing of Woodhaven Lanes won’t adversely affect his adjoining Corkwood Restaurant, which has been serving Chinese and American food for 31 years. He plans to continue leasing space from property owner Salvatore Muzzi.

Even though the bowlers have been displaced, one of the more popular items on the Corkwood menu remains the half-pound hamburger, served with fries and a salad, all for $7.45. It’s still known as the “Bowler’s Special.”

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.