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3/16/2003

Don’t call them alleys: Local lanes stay out of gutter

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — The sound is at once familiar and somehow comforting: the plunk of the ball as it strikes the hardwood, a long, steady rumble followed by the payoff — urethane colliding with wood.

For the two remaining bowling alleys left in Boulder County, this is also the sound of a cash register ringing.

Sorry, did I say alleys?

“In this time of political correctness, the term ‘alley’ kind of has a negative connotation,” Robert Clayton said as he worked the counter at Centennial Lanes. “People get mugged in alleys. We’re a center, and we have lanes.”

Fair enough.

Like bowling centers all across the nation, Centennial — and its Lafayette counterpart, Coal Creek Bowling Center — has had to roll with the punches over the years to keep up with the world’s ever-expanding entertainment options.

“What I’ve seen in newer centers is they’re getting bigger and better arcade areas,” said Don Angstead, Centennial’s manager. “I went to a center in Utah last year that had about $800,000 worth of (video) games.”

While Angstead said his place has seen a decline in league participation consistent with nationwide statistics, open bowling continues to climb.

“Our business has increased every year for the last 12 or 13 years,” Angstead said.

One of the reasons, of course, is lack of competition. When ground was broken for Centennial in 1979, in what was then an empty field, there were three other bowling alleys — back then it was OK to call them alleys — operating in Longmont.

Now, Centennial’s only competition in the county is Coal Creek. Bowling competition, that is.

“There’s so many more options out there today. There’s so many more things for me to do,” said Greg Robinson, Coal Creek’s general manager. “Fifteen years ago, there were five things competing against bowling centers. Today, there’s 50 of them.”

While Coal Creek doesn’t have the lengthy history of Centennial — it’s been around a little more than a decade — Robinson himself has 25 years in the business. Over that time, he said, the business has experienced a lot of peaks and valleys.

“The way proprietors are approaching it now, you won’t have those peaks go as deep,” he said.

Keeping up with the latest video games and offering birthday parties for the kids are two of the ways Robinson and Angstead augment their main offering and target that ever-important youth audience. “Some Saturdays, we have as many as 10 parties,” Clayton said.

Robinson said belonging to the Colorado State Bowling Proprietor’s Association helps keep him up to date on the latest trends and promotions.

“There’s strength in numbers,” he said. “It used to be you’d work two seasons a year (summer and fall) and then go to sleep. Now we look at the business monthly. We look at it daily.”

Purists who want a return to a simpler time — when an ashtray, a bottle of Bud, a polyester shirt with your name on it and plastic shoes were all a person attending a bowling alley needed — just have to accept that those days are probably gone forever.

And remember, even in the old days, any decent bowling alley still had pinball machines and a pool table or two.

“In order for the bowling centers to remain competitive, you’ve got to make those changes,” Robinson said. “When it’s all said and done, (the purists) want their bowling center to still be there.

“People get married to a bowling center. They get married to a box — that’s what we used to call it.”

And as for pins that fall more easily and balls manufactured to have a “gyroscopically precise spin” — those have to be just rumors, right?

“You could say that there is some fact to that,” Robinson said. “There is some truth to that statement.

“Let’s just say the ability to strike is a lot more attractive than it used to be.”

Angstead agreed. “The number of perfect games is significantly higher,” he allowed.

But regarding a comment by Jerry Robertson, editor and publisher of Bowling News, that “the ball does it for you,” Angstead begged to differ.

“If you’re not willing to develop skill, (new technology) is not going to help you,” said Angstead, who has bowled a perfect 300 game 26 times. “You still have to have some skill level.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.