Owner of Collapsed Bowling Center Speaks with BJI

by Gianmarc Manzione 0

To say that Wayne Lanes owner, Shawn Lavender, is going through a lot right now is to dramatically understate his present circumstances. "I am talking to you in my car. That's my office now. I have no office," he told BJI earlier today. As we reported over the weekend, Lavender's Waynesboro, Va., center collapsed under the weight of more than two feet of snow on Saturday night. And as the below interview we conducted with him earlier today indicates, his center was a vital, loved and significant part of the Waynesboro community for decades.  Many BJI readers have been asking whether he will rebuild, whether insurance will take care of him, or how he and his employees are holding up. We asked him those questions, and he was gracious enough to answer many more at a very hectic time for him. Here is what he told us:

It feels a little ridiculous asking you this, but, how are you doing?

I mean, I am good, I guess. It really has not set in yet. It’s a little overwhelming when you don’t have much time to really take it all in. It sent me into complete shock. Now, it is more like, ‘What are we going to do? Where do we go? How long does it take?’ No one is in a hurry, other than myself. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say that. The insurance company is moving as quickly as they can. But, when you’re in business for yourself, a small, independent proprietor, you have to learn to be a person who wears many different hats. This is not something I’ve ever had to deal with. One thing I can tell you is that, in the past few days, I’ve learned an awful lot about insurance.

How long had Wayne Lanes been in existence?

Wayne Lanes had been in existence since 1958. My parents bought it from the owner in 1981; he was an elderly man who had just had enough. So, my dad, who was friends with him, ended up buying the business. I was 11 when he took it over. And I have been a bowling alley rat for the past 30 years.

When did you become owner?

Well, I became partners in the business with my dad in 2000. I had worked there since 1991 as a kid after school. Bowling has been my calling since long before we became partners in the business.

How big a part of the Waynesboro community was Wayne Lanes?

When we first came here, Waynesboro was an industrial town. There were three large industrial companies here, and lots of local people who worked for those companies also bowled. They were a big part of our business. Now, some of those industries have closed or downsized, of course, but there still was a huge amount of bowlers in Waynesboro and in this general area, really, within Augusta and Rockingham Counties. There are a lot of people who grew up in Wayne Lanes. Being the only entertainment in town, there are a lot of people and their families who grew up there. So, this community definitely has been behind us.

How long had your longest-tenured employees been working there?

Wow, the young man who has worked there the longest has been with me for over 20 years. He is like a son to me. That’s what makes it really tough. I will say this: The community has come out and made some offers just recently about jobs for him, and some of my other employees. I only have three full-time employees, besides myself and my wife. I am actually meeting with someone today for offers for them. Hopefully, we can get them employed soon.

But how about you, Shawn? How has this changed things in your life?

Well, I don’t even know if I can tell you. I am talking to you in my car; that is my office now. I have no office. That makes it a little difficult going forward. But, I have a couple other pro shops, one in Harrisonburg and another in Staunton, and I am moving my third shop out of Wayne Lanes to a new location in Waynesboro so I can accommodate those customers. Until I get things sorted out with Wayne Lanes, my time will be focused on the pro shops.

Will Wayne Lanes ever be rebuilt?

I think the chances each day continue to be much stronger. It is just a wait-and-see situation right now. There are so many factors involved with when you might rebuild. We have to see what the city has to say about it, and what the insurance company says about what portion they’re going to pay. I am in the process of looking at buildings that can accommodate me.

Did you ever think that the building Wayne Lanes occupied could be vulnerable to something like this?

Any time you put two feet of snow on a flat roof you always take that chance. But, no, this building has been through more weather storms than you can imagine. The roof was the last thing I thought would have caved.

So, when you finally saw the damage in person, what was your reaction?

I was just in shock and disbelief. It just completely shocked me. My emotions even now are up and down still. They’re just everywhere, because so many people are tied to this center. I have been around it my whole life. The bowling industry is a different animal in that regard. We are with our customers 40 weeks out of the year when they bowl league; we see them every week. There are not too many businesses where you get that. It is like a big family. I can’t even tell you how many times my phone has rung from guys inside the PBA world and from local people to people that had just been to Wayne Lanes once or twice. It has been incredible. The Southern Region was always like that for me, a close-knit group that was like family. This proves that. Guys might gripe about lane conditions, or whatever, but at the end of the day they are like family.

How much snow did you guys get in Waynesboro?

Over two feet.

Is that unusual for Waynesboro or are big snowstorms somewhat common there this time of year?

We get snowstorms but not like this. The last time we had one like this was about five years ago, when we had almost as much, maybe a little less. We had a PBA event get cancelled because of that one.

You seemed to be doing great things at Wayne Lanes, hosting a PBA regional trios tournament there as recently as November.

We started by hosting a senior regional. Then we came up with the idea of an over/under 50 doubles tournament. That’s something [former PBA South Region Director] Harry O’Neale and I came up with. Then Sam [Zurich] and I came up with the trios idea. I’ve always wanted to be unique, let’s put it that way.

It sounds like you are close with Harry O’Neale.

Harry and I became friends back when I bowled a lot of regionals in the south. He has been really good to me over the years. Harry is the kind of guy who could walk into your living room and fit right in right away.

You also hosted a clinic with Amleto Monacelli and Bob Learn Jr. last year. How did that come about?

Well, I bowled against Bob in a big scratch tournament they used to have around here. I used to bowl a lot of scratch tournaments earlier in my life, and I bowled against Bob somewhere in match play. He probably doesn’t remember, but that was a huge scratch tournament. So, I have known those guys over the years just bowling regionals. They approached me about doing a clinic, because I am on staff with Turbo, and they were going to be close by bowling a regional at George’s [Pappas] place in North Carolina.

Were events like PBA regionals and clinics beneficial for the bottom line at Wayne Lanes?

Well, here is what I will tell you: A couple years ago, my pro-am for a regional had over 200 entries. For a 12-lane center, that’s pretty incredible. We’ve had the support not just from our community but also from the Virginia bowling community. Also, having relationships with guys like Tommy Jones, who I have known a long time, and with guys that show up like Tom Baker, Richie Allen, Jason Couch, Patrick Allen. Having those big names show up never hurt. They came out and supported us because I knew them and we were friends. That was a big help with the pro-am.

It’s pretty unique for a 12-lane center to host a PBA tournament.

Well, Harry O’Neale stayed after me for many years before I decided to do it. It has been a great thing for the community and for bowling. At the end of the day, I want people to bowl. I want them to understand what it is to be able to compete at the national level. I want people to realize there is no specific shape or size you have to be to be a pro bowler, unlike other sports like basketball or football. And, these guys are good guys. They’re personable. They hang out with you. You don’t get that from pro athletes in other sports.

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