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Windsor Bowling Center changing with the times

Friday, February 22nd, 2013 | Posted by

Ed Turner, left, and Tim Meiburg high-five each other after a good frame during League Night Bowling at Windsor Bowl. (Photos by ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

By JIM LANARAS / Windsor Correspondent

Even with the renovation that is  underway at the Windsor Bowling Center, the reassuring blue collar ambiance of the bowling alley remains standing like a 7-10 split:

*The thuds of airborne bowling balls, launched by beginners, as they crash land on the blond pine and maple wood lanes.

*The gliding,  four-step ballet of experienced bowlers releasing the ball without a sound and tucking it into the sweet pocket of another strike.

*The smell of beer and of French fries drowning in ketchup, and the constant sound of exploding and clattering pins from lanes near and far.

Justin Parr pauses to watch his ball roll down the lane during League Night Bowling at Windsor Bowl.

Like Jaime Pattison’s 24-lane  “bowling center,” the game is changing, including the name for the venue in which it is played.

“The bowling industry wanted to get away from using the word ‘alley.’ It had a negative image, like a ‘dark alley,'” Pattison said. “They like to call them ‘bowling centers.'”

When the $500,000 renovation at the Windsor venue is complete around April 1, the wood lanes will have been replaced by a synthetic, hard plastic-like material.  There will be a new reception desk and a restructured snack bar  area with a few different items on the menu.

The bar and the country and western and 1970s and 1980s rock and rhythm and blues music in its jukebox are safe for now.

“We’ll do the bar later,” Pattison said.

Replacing the wood lanes means Pattison won’t have to spend $17,000 every three years to sand them down and refinish them.

Gutter balls will be kicked to the curb. The new lanes’ bumper guards that prevent them will rise automatically when it is a young bowler’s turn, then recede for adults. It’s all programmed into the automatic scorekeeping computer that’s in sync with the bowler’s name.

“It will be a huge improvement. Adults don’t want the bumpers, kids do. They’ll both get what they want on the same lane,” Pattison said.

It also will allow more people to bowl on fewer lanes, thereby freeing up more lanes and increasing revenue.

Shelves stocked with rental bowling shoes at Windsor Bowl.

There was a time when bowling leagues contributed 60-70 percent of a bowling alley’s gross revenue. Today, recreational bowlers and walk-ins are the majority.

“Bowling is more of a social thing, but it’s still competitive,” Pattison said.

With the Holiday Inn Express and the Hampton Inn and Suites near the bowling center on Conde Lane, walk-ins are assured, especially on rainy days.

The Windsor Bowling Center still has winter leagues between September and April and summer leagues. Between 18 and 24 teams compete, and  Pattison is hoping the new lanes will attract more.

There is also a seniors’ league, and Windsor High School students bowl as part of their physical education class. Pattison also wants to revive junior leagues to promote interest in bowling.

“They build success. As they get older, they join adult leagues,” Pattison said.

Like other bowling centers that want to increase revenue, the Windsor center holds Rock N Glow on Friday, Saturday and Monday nights. The lights  go down, except for black lights and LEDs along the lanes,  and the “mom-friendly” music comes up. Two hours of  bowling  is $9 per person on Monday nights. The lanes remain a popular place for parties.

Pattison, 42, a Novato native who now lives in Redwood Valley, says he has bowled every place he has lived in California.

He became owner of the Windsor Bowling Center in 2007. There are 20 employees, and in a good year, the bowling center grosses $1.5 million. He said he would love to see a 10 or 15 percent profit.

Not that he remembers it, but Pattison says after World War II bowling alleys proliferated.

“In its time it worked, but when the league business dropped, the centers closed,” he said.

New bowling shoes and balls are in the renovation mix.

“A pair of shoes might last one season. We’ll have 400 pairs of shoes and 250 bowling balls after the renovation,” Pattison said.

Some things won’t change at The Windsor Bowling Center. The camaraderie among older bowlers and the courtesy they extend to each other is evident as they delay their turn when a bowler in the next lane is trying to  “pick up a split or a spare.”

Bowlers also avoid  throwing the ball at the same time as the bowler on their immediate left or right.

It’s a “hat trick” in hockey when a player scores three goals in a game, but a bowler trying for a third consecutive strike is going for a “turkey.” And when that happens, courteous bowlers in the area wait and watch. That’s one advantage of the automatic, overhead score keeping screen. You can see when someone is bowling “the game of their life.”

And where else but in bowling is perfection so precisely defined and so tantalizingly  attainable as the perfect 300 game, 12 consecutive strikes, one in each of the first nine frames and three in the 10th frame.

You will know this if you,  the designated scorekeeper, have ever chewed a new point on your pencil as you sat leaning  over the paper score sheet watching someone approach bowling’s Holy Grail. All other bowling stops.

For Pattison, this and other moments make owning a bowling center, or an alley, still fun.

“I’m not a desk guy. I’m here six or seven days a week,” he says.

As the league games wound down one night this month, Judi, who was  too shy to give her last name, said she has been taking her children bowling since they were 6 or 7. They are now adults.

“It’s a good clean sport, and you can compete in it with your kids,” she said.

And when the kids are hanging out in an alley, she’s confident they’ll stay out of the gutter.

Windsor Bowling Center is located at 8801 Conde Lane, 837-9889, windsorbowl.com.

Read these fun facts about bowling in Windsor.


Writer Spotlight

James Lanaras is our Windsor correspondent.
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