Richfield's Lariat Lanes, a no-frills neighborhood bowling alley for more than a half-century, will be racking the pins for the last time next month, bowing to changing consumer habits and increasing costs.
"The bowling industry, it's either going to more of a boutique place, or to the big supercenters that offer laser tag and other games," said John Powers Jr., who owns Lariat Lanes with his father and two brothers.
Lariat was caught in the middle — too small to compete with the big boys, not fancy enough to be boutique. Powers said declining participation in league bowling also pushed the family to this decision.
The family tried to sell the business as a bowling alley, but found no takers, Powers said. So the land and the building are being sold as a commercial property. Powers said he can't reveal the buyer until the deal closes, and isn't certain what the new owners' plans are for the property.
The alley's last day will be May 10.
Lariat Lanes is the latest in a long list of Twin Cities alleys that have closed in recent years, including the Maplewood Bowl, the Burnsville Bowl, Golden Valley Lanes, West Side Lanes in West St. Paul, City Limits Lanes in Rosemount, and Maple Lanes in Fridley. Nationwide, the number of commercial bowling centers has dropped dramatically over the past few years, linked to a plunge in the number of certified league bowlers, once the lifeblood of bowling alleys.
Lariat's blond brick building at 6320 Penn Av. S. has stood seemingly unchanged for decades in a largely blue-collar area of Richfield that's undergoing a socioeconomic transition. An upscale Pizza Lucé opened recently, and Lakewinds Food Co-op is setting up shop nearby.
But Lariat Lanes remained as a neighborhood business where family memories were formed across generations.
Dave Decker said that when he was young, "my mom bowled in leagues there in the '60s and '70s. I got dragged along and plopped in the nursery they used to have back in the day. Lariat Lanes also had a good junior program for many years, and that's where I took lessons and learned how to bowl as a teenager."
Decker continued bowling in leagues there as an adult, as have many of his family members.
"We just celebrated a family birthday there, [and] when we walked into the place, it was literally like walking into a time warp," Decker added. "From the murals of the cowboy and cowgirl on each side wall, to the locker rooms, to the signs for the restrooms and the restrooms themselves — everything looked just the same."
As news of the closing spread Wednesday, friends of the lanes shared their thoughts on the Lariat's Facebook page.Wrote Laura Bischoff: "Sad — a legendary loss! First Nye's, now this."
The Powers family is the third owners of the lanes. There used to be a number of bowling alleys in the area, Powers said, but most of them have now closed. Customer traffic at the lanes has actually held up pretty well, Powers said, but all expenses have been rising: wages, insurance, food, electricity.
"The income side of it really hasn't changed," he said. "But the expense side has."
According to Lariat lore, celebrity visitors over the years have included Mick Jagger, whose Rolling Stones will be in Minneapolis for a concert about 3½ weeks after the final frame is bowled. It's confirmed that Garth Brooks knocked down the pins in 1998, rolling an impressive score of 201. But his wife, Trisha Yearwood, couldn't break into triple digits.