Well, the politicians managed to find a buyer to preserve the last movie theater in the community, but another unofficial landmark of the neighborhood is history: the bowling alley.
My brother used to take me there all the time; it’s where I learned how to bowl and keep score. Despite being right-handed, I bowled better with my left; I have no idea why. Was I imitating my lefty brother? Maybe. As I got older, I used to go with my friends from school; I’d meet them at their house, hang a while, then we’d walk over. They had their own equipment, and that encouraged me to beg my dad to buy me a bowling ball, bag, and shoes, which I really did use, even after we moved out of the city.
I remember well the half-mile walks taking whatever twelve-year-olds talk about, and even doing goofy stuff like walking up to people, pointing at our wrists and asking, “KAGALAZOO?” to see if anyone would actually tell us the time (one dude did). When I returned as an adult and became an uncle years later, I took my nephew there. And when my youngest was born, I used to pick my nephew up at school and take him and my oldest to the alley – she was too young to really play then, but she’d help me all the time. As my oldest has begun to bowl, she bowls with us, and we three musketeers have a great time, but soon we’ll have no choice but to drive to the nearest alley. It’s not that far, but it’s not walking distance.
The wildly successful discount department store, which rules the block, plans to take the bowling alley over and use it as a parking garage. The store owns the land, I believe, and was willing to extend the lease to the alley owners until about November – they wanted to get the garage up and available for the Christmas shopping season.
The owners of the bowling alley said no. Their leagues run from September to June, and since most of their revenue comes from leagues, the owners of the place did not want to inconvenience their core market. The owners operate another bowling alley in a different neighborhood, and they will move as much of their business and staff as possible to this location, while looking, bleakly, for a place in our community to open up. With real estate being what it is, there are lots of spaces around, but the rents are becoming very prohibitive, and a bowling alley needs a lot of room.
Movie theaters and bowling alleys are important to the cultural life of the community. Bowling leagues and parties are ways to gather friends and family around a fun social activity (though, as I’ve indicated in a previous post, I’m not sure that bowling is the right kind of party for 6-year-olds). As we continue to move into our fragmented world – a trend that Robert Putnam noted in his famous book Bowling Alone – we need places like bowling alleys to exist and to be patronized. It’s one of the great ways to strengthen family and community ties. I hope the owners are able to find a place, somewhere I can walk to with my children.