Bowling alley will be reborn as rock spot

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Nate and Jami Offerdahl were looking for a place to open a music venue for local and touring bands. They wanted a place with a cool atmosphere that could hold at least 300 people.

They found exactly what they were looking for – and more – at Strikers Lanes, a bowling alley and barroom on the West Side.

Strikers has an authentic retro look that is the real thing. It’s not trying to look like a 1950s bowling alley and lounge because it is one.

It’s the kind of authenticity you just can’t buy.

The Offerdahls’ took possession of the facility last week. They intend to renovate it and remove about a third of the bowling lanes to accommodate a stage and viewing area.

The goal is to have it ready by June or July.

The new venue will be renamed West Side Bowl. Although the bowling lanes were not part of their original plan, the Offerdahls are glad they got them.

Bowling alley-music venues are part of the landscape in trendy neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and other large cities. They focus on recreational bowlers – not leagues – and rock music, a nightspot combination that has proven successful. Arsenal Lanes in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood and Mahall’s in Lakewood, near Cleveland, are two examples that the Offerdahls are using as models.

“We wanted to start a music venue when we first started searching for a place two years ago,” said Nate, who, like his wife, is an Austintown native and a Youngstown State University graduate. “We looked at several places, one deal fell through, and then we looked at more places.”

The former Kuzman’s in Girard and the Uptown Theater in Youngstown were among the places they considered.

Their search “worked out for the best,” said Nate, when they found the Strikers property.

As a model for their business, the Offerdahls originally looked to Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, a former ethnic social hall and bar that has been turned into a live music venue.

“We talked to the owners for advice,” said Nate. “We didn’t know them but they agreed to meet with us. We admired them.”

After their search turned to bowling alleys, Nate recalled saying to his wife, “It’s too bad Strikers isn’t up for sale.” After a little bit of online research, Jami responded “It is.”

The 30,000-square foot building at 2617 Mahoning Ave. was built in 1957. It was called Gran Lanes when it first opened, and would later be known as A Plus Bowling and Mahoning Valley Lanes.

Because it has been in continuous operation, it’s in good shape, save for some wear and tear and a dated look that adds to its charm.

The building has a 200-car parking lot behind it, with the option to use a neighboring lot with room for up to 150 more cars.

The idea is to marry bowling and a bar with food and live music. “We’re still trying to wrap our arms around it,” said Nate. “It’s a new business to us.”

A bit of work must be done before it comes to fruition, and the Offerdahls say it will begin in a week or so.

The building’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system must be upgraded, and some electrical equipment will need updated.

Three bowling leagues meet at Strikers, and when the season ends, the Offerdahls plan to remove eight of the 24 lanes and transform that space into a music venue with a stage that can accommodate up to 500 people.

“We will add leagues that are recreational in nature,” said Nate, “with more emphasis on just getting friends together, and maybe having a party when league play ends after 10 weeks or so.”

The leagues might have themes that add to the fun. Nate cited a left-handed league at Mahall’s as an example.

As for the music, the plan is to book four to eight touring bands every month, supplementing that lineup with local bands.

Comedy shows, dance parties, community fundraisers and DJ nights are other potential programming.

The smaller barroom, which will remain largely untouched, will also book bands. First on the agenda is Cincinnati band Tooth Lures a Fang on March 30.

The kitchen will continue to serve pizzas and bar food, and the arcade area, which currently has a pool table and an air-hockey game, will get some additional games.

There will also be a room that will sell merchandise from the bands that are playing as well as local artists.

Downstairs, a large room that has a bar will be used for live music until the upstairs is ready. It will also be rented out for private parties.

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