Bowling alleys compete with ‘family fun centers’

By David Delloso
Special to The Communitarian

Bob Pescatore, son of the late Harry Pescatore, who owned and operated Sharon Hill Lanes, owns and operates Macdade Bowl of Holmes, Pa. Along with his wife, Anne, and four daughters, Pescatore said he has been committed to creating a safe and fun environment for his customers of all ages and sporting ability over many years.

The Delaware County area once flourished with numerous bowling centers catering to the league bowler. Some houses, including Macdade Bowl, hosted morning, afternoon and late hour leagues, creating a platform for competition and social interactions.

However, this popularity has greatly declined as centers, such as Ridley Bowl, Sharon Hill Lanes and Stoney Creek Lanes, have closed indefinitely.

Bowling, at one time, was a game many would take part in weekly, but this trend has greatly declined, Pescatore believes.

“We used to have leagues that would fill the house,” said Pescatore, in reference to the early 2000s. “There would only be open bowling one night a week.”

With technology becoming more advanced, what was once a game of competition and skill is fast becoming an irregular, luxury outing. This trend is closing the doors of locally owned and operated bowling centers funded by local clientele.

League bowling was also an activity many would participate in regularly, with spouses and/or with friends. The United States Bowling Congress, the nation’s foremost bowling association, reported 4.1 million members in the 1997/1998 season. However, they recorded a 36 percent drop to 2.6 million members in 2006/2007 season.

Despite numbers declining in the national organizations, bowling is still recorded as the third most participated recreational sport nationally, behind biking and walking, by White Hutchinson, a group devoted to leisure entertainment. In Delaware County, out of a large population of children above the age of 6, Hutchinson reported only two out of three were reported to have bowled in 2007.

However, the largest contributor to the termination of the next generation of league bowlers is the next generation of bowling alleys, often referred to as family fun centers. These centers, such as Arnold’s Family Fun Center and AMF’s Round 1, cater to the open bowler or non-league affiliated bowlers.

“These next generation, technologically advanced, corporate alleys [convinced] 67 million people to go bowling at least once in 2014,” said Sandy Hansell, a former center owner, during an interview with USA today in May 2015.

These facilities are driven to produce mass turnouts and cater to those willing to spend more money for a luxury experience, experts say. Therefore, according to sources, Bowlmor, the largest corporate bowling company, is planning to eradicate most league bowling from their centers in the near future.

The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA), is regarded as the leader in bringing back a once national game. In early 2018, Fox sports resigned the PBA to their broadcasting network for the first time since 2000.

Under the new contract, Fox and the PBA will work to find a time slot for weekly bowling. Fox Sports reported as many as 90 million home viewers in 2013.

At one time, bowling telecasts were very popular in many towns. A show named “Bowling for Dollars” was televised by local stations and featured bowlers from the immediate area. Philadelphia based broadcasting stations had rights to the show and would often televise bowlers from the Delaware County area.

Today, Pescatore recognizes that the previous lack of televised advertising and events hurts the sport’s ability to reach a younger player even though Pescatore notes, ironically, that with the rise of social media, the game could potentially reach more kids globally rather than just nationally.

Macdade Bowl is what most bowlers consider a bonafide league house with 24 lanes, no fancy technological age equipment, and a faithful owner and staff. For proprietors like Pescatore, it is a matter of allowing all skill, financial and age levels to enjoy the game, he said.

“People go to Sproul or Wynnewood and will spend more than $4.00 a game[after daytime hours] and more than $3.00 on shoes,” Pescatore says. “Then they come here and see we want $7.00 for two games and shoe rental, flat fee. People don’t want to spend $50.00 to go bowling with their kids.”

Pescatore also understands bowling is kept alive by league goers who annually fund the alleys owners and operators, so he encourages two, three or four friends to form a team and join a league. The ability to watch one’s bowling average rise, win games and watch pins fall always brings the customer back, he believes.

Furthermore, although he realizes the game is hurting, he also acknowledges there is always a chance for improvement by attending the Bowling Expo yearly to learn of the new items and options available to the consumer.

When bowlers want to pursue more than the family fun centers rendition of bowling, they retreat to houses, such as Macdade Bowl.

“We’re seeing more people come through the doors more than ever,” Pescatore said. “It is just developing more ways to keep them coming back.”

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