Crawford County’s two remaining bowling alleys keep on rolling along.
Both alleys have a long and rich history in the community.
Suburban Lanes, 975 Hopley Ave., in Bucyrus was founded in 1962. Gala Lanes, 739 Portland Way S. in Galion was founded by Pat Pangallo in 1956. Both Suburban and Gala have undergone several ownership changes.
Pat also founded Pangallo Lanes in Galion 1968 and his family owned the venue until it was sold in 1991. That bowling alley eventually burned down and was replaced with a church.
But bowling in Crawford took a brief hiatus when previous ownership closed both businesses nearly a decade ago.
In 2008, Cleveland businessman Mark Sashko revived Suburban Lanes, while Ken Bodkins took over Gala and renamed it Victory Lanes.
Three years later, Sashko appointed Butch Pangallo, Pat’s son, and his wife, Robin, in charge of running Suburban Lanes. The 24-lane bowling alley is opened seven days a week but Pangallo said he has less bowlers now compared with what the venue brought in prior to its temporarily closure.
“It was hard to get them bowlers back,” he said.
Suburban Lanes now has eight leagues that bring out 60 bowlers. Pangallo said bowling allies in smaller communities such as his took a hit when interest in the sport dropped.
“Bowling is down compared to what it was in the 70s and 80s,” he said. “It started to decline in the 90s.”
There were 3,976 bowling centers in 2013 compared with 5,400 in 1998, according to available data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Ohio, there were 243 bowling centers in 2013 down from 371 in 1998.
“The sport has seen its fair share of contraction and consolidation in the United States over the past few decades,” said Andrew Cain, former president of the United States Bowling Congress, in his 2014 annual report.
The national governing body of bowling, as recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee, had 1.69 million members and 57,472 certified leagues during the 2013-14 season.
Pangallo said they need to look at the younger generations to secure the future of bowling.
“We got to get the kids interested now,” he said.
Pangallo offers a Saturday Morning Youth League, asking families to pay what they can afford. But he said the schools and parents need to encourage kids to participate in the recreation. His business would thrive, he says, if families came out to bowl once a month throughout the year.
“It’s cheaper than taking your kids to the movies,” he said.
Aside from bowling, Suburban Lanes offers live entertainment, bands and a full service restaurant to attract more people.
“That’s what we do to keep the place going,” he said.
The recession didn’t help Bodkins after he bought Victory Lanes. He runs the 16-lane alley with limited hours to keep costs down.
“I wish it was better,” he said. “The big cities don’t have this problem.”
Bodkins said it started doing more parties for birthdays, churches and schools. The bowling alley now has three leagues and will have its eighth professional bowling tournament in March – last year’s tournament brought in 58 bowlers from 11 different states.
He remembered when his uncle took him out bowling three nights a week, each one at a different bowling alley in Galion during the 1960s.
“It’ll never be like it was,” he said.
Due to health issues, Bodkins comes out to Victory Lanes once a week for the Tuesday Morning Mixed League. Among them includes Betty Spade, who’s bowled for more than six decades and has noticed the many changes in the recreation.
“We were in a dip for awhile,” she said. “It’s getting back up there.”
Reach Klein at 419-468-1117, ext. 2048 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.