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Tough times strike bowling

Published: Mon, April 4, 2011 @ 12:01 a.m.
  Kay Lanes To Close

Kay Lanes in Girard, Oh. will close April 30. The bowling establishment opened in 1962.

Kay Lanes in Girard, Oh. will close April 30. The bowling establishment opened in 1962.


The Vindicator (Youngstown)

Chris Hood, a long-time employee at Kay Lanes in Girard, aims for the pins at the bowling alley which is closing. Hood started bowling there as a 7-year-old boy.


The Vindicator (Youngstown)

Shoes that likely have been worn by thousands of feet line shelves at Kay Lanes bowling alley in Girard. The long-time business is closing after several years of struggle in a sluggish economy.



Industry revenue yearly:

$6 billion

Average income of bowling household: $67,965

Yearly participants:

70 million

Bowling alleys in U.S.: 5,400

Bowling alleys in Ohio:


League bowlers:

2.17 million

High school bowlers: 52,653

Source: Sandy Hansell &

Associates, Inc., bowling appraisers and financial advisers

Weak economy, new lifestyles spare no mercy on Valley’s alleys

By Karl Henkel



Mickey Kay likens bowling, something that’s been a part of his life forever, to golf.

“Anyone can participate,” he said. “You don’t have to be a pro.”

The problem for Kay, owner of Kay Lanes on U.S. Route 422 in Girard, and many other alleys in the Mahoning Valley, is that people aren’t bowling as often as they used to. Kay has seen firsthand how bowling, previously considered a recession-proof industry, has quickly and quietly assumed a diminished role.

“Bowling has its peaks and valleys,” he said. “Right now, we’re in a deep valley.”

It’s a valley Kay won’t ever climb out of. Owner since 1985, 23 years after his father opened shop, he recently announced the closing of the alley at the end of the month, after nearly a half-century in business.

Kay is reluctant to say goodbye, but conceded “it’s time,” and he’s decided to cut his losses.

Ohio has the second-most bowling alleys in the nation, according to bowlingcentersusa.com, trailing only New York. In Trumbull County, Kay Lanes is just three miles from McKinley Lanes in Niles, which in turn is only a 10-minute drive from Niles Lanes.

With the population of the Valley rapidly falling, Kay said the greater Youngstown area may have an overabundance of alleys (more than a dozen), and his happened to be one of the casualties.

“We have more lanes than we need,” he said.

Flash back to 1999, a time Tom Eframedes, owner of Holiday Bowl in Struthers, rejuvenated his alley, a brown brick building easily mistaken for a simple dining hall on state Route 170.

He had just installed automatic scoring throughout his 36-lane establishment and said the move boosted revenue by $50,000 that season. It’s what a recent industry report by Global Industry Analysts Inc. outlined as one way alleys can diversify and attract larger crowds and one of the easiest technological upgrades alleys can make, though many bowlers today take electronic scoring for granted. If an alley doesn’t have it, they aren’t likely to bowl there.

Eframedes said there’s not a lot an alley can offer a customer besides a clean establishment, equipment and food, but with the scoring system, more player-friendly ways to oil lanes and resin balls that help inflate scoring, the technical side has received more attention.

“If people are scoring, they’re happy,” Eframedes said. “They don’t want to score poorly and leave frustrated.”

Though alleys have tried to stay ahead of the tech curve, some say they’re falling behind because of video games.

The rising popularity of Wii, a Nintendo gaming system that offers a recreational game “Wii Sports,” allows gamers to bowl (using controllers) in their homes at a one-time cost of $50.

“You used to see kids outside playing all the time,” Kay said. “Now you don’t see anybody. They’re all inside playing video games. It’s a shame, but it’s a fact of life.”

The average cost for one line, or game of bowling, is about $3 in the Valley.

Another fact of life hit alleys hard in late 2006, when a statewide indoor-smoking ban took effect.

Eframedes said alleys’ profits depended on a trifecta that included sport, beverage and lifestyle: bowling, beer and cigarettes.

Immediately after the ban began, Eframedes said attendance remained somewhat steady, but it was his food and drink sales that took the biggest hit.

Revenues decreased by nearly $46,000 the first season after the ban.

As Eframedes said, if patrons can’t smoke at the bar, they aren’t inclined to buy food and are less likely to buy beverages.

Gina Colla, 35 of Youngstown, who bowls on two leagues each week, said the smoking aspect may be overblown. “I don’t think people liked it at first,” she said. “But I think people have gotten over it.”

The loss in revenue led to decreased profits, but Holiday remains slightly profitable.

The same can’t be said for Kay, who, after “a little more than breaking even” a decade ago, has “not even been close” the past handful of years.

Coupled with the souring economy, and less pocket money to go around, it’s been tough. Even so, Eframedes hasn’t increased open-bowl rates in more than three years.

Kay said he’s placed advertisements in the past, and more often than not, he’d break even on the enhanced publicity, but it simply isn’t possible with little extra money available.

Eframedes, on the other hand, said he’s never placed any form of advertisement, relying instead on word-of-mouth.

Michael Pontikos, an advertising and marketing professor at Youngstown State University, said word-of-mouth publicity is an older way of thinking, and that it likely has contributed to bowling’s falling adoration.

“No matter what, you have to have a mix of traditional and non-traditional [advertising],” Pontikos said. “Sometimes it can be a waste of money, but using social media websites ... coupled with smaller advertisements going straight to the homes, will work better in combination.”

But instead, owners opt to house high school teams (Holiday houses Struthers) or charity bowling fundraisers, such as an upcoming April 10 event for the American Cancer Society at Camelot Lanes in Boardman.

Camelot has Cosmic bowling (glow-in-the-dark), to attract younger crowds, a type of diversification Pontikos said is necessary in all walks of business.

“You have a bowling alley? That’s great, but what are you going to do for everybody else?,” he said. “What are you going to do for the kid who doesn’t like to bowl but has to go with the parents?”


1Annie53(21 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

We quit bowling because of the smoking ban.

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2UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Who except for public employees can afford a night of bowling and beer every week? People are barely getting along with the cuts in pay and ever increasing healthcare costs plus ever increasing taxes. Sorry to see it go, but that is today's economy.

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3Iwannamove(61 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

well with our new governor selling everything off in Ohio I am sure our taxes are only going to increase to pay for all the revenue the Ohio lottery and toll money we are going to lose

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4Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Where is the TEA GOV. , he was supposed to help small business .
Think he may be looking for more ways to hurt the workers . It is their fault, right or that's what the bedwetters are saying

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5NilesOhio(926 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Annie53 - We actually started bowling again because of the smoking ban. Kay Lanes was by far the worst as far as ventilation went before the ban. How can you bowl if your eyes won't stop watering up from all the cigarette smoke? It certainly wasn't a kid-friendly environment.

All of this is water under the bridge anyway. The Valley has been dead for decades and won't ever get back to the way it was before the collapse of the steel industry.

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6walter_sobchak(2507 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

This is generational, that's all. The youth of today have many more outlets to spend their times, from youth athletics to school organizations. Plus, with the way people must have flexible work schedules, weekly league nights become difficult. Factoring in the computer age and video gaming, bowling will never have the same place in society.

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7peacelover(828 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I agree Niles. We stopped going bowling on Sat. nights at Camelot Lanes before the smoking ban, it was so foggy in there when you stood looking at the pins down at the end of the alley they were in a haze of smoke and yes it did actually make your eyes water. Definitely not kid friendly! or friendly to anyone's health for that matter! After the ban it was so much more pleasant. I am sorry to see Kay Lanes close down, though.

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8ts1227(137 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

It's definitely a mix of everything. The smoking ban may have run off the middle aged to elderly league bowlers (and even all bust the most stubborn of them got over it), but the younger generations and families prefer it and should have easily filled the void.

However, oversaturation of alleys as people continue to move away, coupled with the fact that the price to open bowl has doubled or tripled in the past 10 years is the real death blow.

I don't think video games affect bowling as much as other sports. as kids still love to bowl, and it's not that physical of an activity (compared to going and playing some pick-up games of basketball or something).

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9MattMarzula(109 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I bowled more times in one month than I have bowled altogether since the smoking ban.

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10candystriper(575 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

bowling is a great sport...just look at the new lanes they opened at the Syracuse Convention Center...

enjoy your retirement

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11ValleyNative(174 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Having grown up in McDonald, I went to Kay Lanes a bit. It was nice to bowl a couple frames and then head over to Jib Jab. Now, if they ever closed Jib Jab, then that would warrant a riot lol.

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12north_side_girl(214 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Big Lebowski themed bowling parties = save bowling. bowling alleys in cleveland feature bowling-and-a-movie nights to bring in the younger crowd.

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