Reusse: Bowling season kicks off, but turnout has dropped

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 31, 2013 - 11:10 PM

It’s not the same business it once was, so operators have learned to earn money elsewhere.

The athletes have gone through their preparations. The big thing has been to avoid injuries and be ready for another season opener. And this week the competition gets serious.

“Most of our leagues wait until after Labor Day to get started,” said Dave Bohn, overseeing the late-night recreation bowling at Elsie’s on Friday night. “They go about 30 weeks.”

Elsie’s has leagues that fill most of the 16 lanes at 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. There are couple of other leagues that bowl earlier in the day.

The era when the neighborhood alleys had two shifts of league bowling — the guys that wanted to be home for the news at 6:30 p.m., the rowdier folks at 9 p.m. — are long over.

Elsie’s remains named for Elsie Nelson, the first owner and an accomplished bowler. It opened in 1956 on Marshall Street, across the street from the small, wonderfully named Northeast Yacht Club bar.

A decade later, I was among the copy boys charged with typing the bowling scores for the Minneapolis Morning Tribune. An inordinate number of very high scores were being recorded at Elsie’s.

Later, it was reported that Elsie’s was being looked at by the American Bowling Congress to find out if Ms. Nelson’s cohorts were oiling the lanes as to improperly assist in hooking a thrown ball toward “the pocket.”

Now, reactive resin is the ball of choice for serious bowlers, and it will hook with minimal effort from the thrower — meaning, Elsie’s lane keepers were just ahead of their time.

Tim and Mike Tuttle own Elsie’s, along with Memory Lanes at 26th and 26th in south Minneapolis, and Tuttle’s in Hopkins. The small operators have been disappearing in favor of “Family Fun Zones” from Brunswick and other corporations.

What used to be called North Star Lanes on South Robert Street in West St. Paul went under recently. That’s where I participated in a Wednesday afternoon league in the ’70s, with a number of accomplished bowlers and more accomplished drinkers.

Throw a frame, walk back, take a slug of beer, and maybe a hit off your cigarette that was secured in an oversized ashtray … that’s when league bowling was at its most popular in the Twin Cities.

Today, you don’t drink more than two beers and drive home, if you’re wise. You can’t smoke in indoor establishments. And Dad or Mom isn’t going to miss a 10-year-old’s soccer game for bowling.

Lorill (Bye) Bylander opened Lowry Central Bowling and Trophies in the mid-1950s. Tom Reed bought the small store at the intersection of Lowry and Central Avenues in 2002 and became its third owner.

“It was a Polish neighborhood and everyone was in a bowling league for the first 20, 30 years of the store,” Reed said. “Now, Central Avenue is an international bazaar and you can buy bowling balls on the Internet at prices that are dirt cheap.”

There are a few bowling balls and supplies still on display. Mostly, there are trophies, plaques and mementos, all of which can be personalized quickly.

Reed, 65, is at the VA Hospital, battling diabetes. His daughter Christine Miller is running the business, along with her three kids: Kyle, 15; Reagan, 11; and Sydney, 8.

“They all can make a trophy,” said Christine, with both a smile and pride, on Friday.

There was no lament from Reed in referring to Central Avenue as an international bazaar. “By far, the biggest part of our business is providing trophies and other awards for the Hispanic youth leagues in soccer,” he said.

On Friday morning, Charles Peterson, formerly of the West Indies, was finalizing his order of awards for this weekend’s USA Cricket Invitational at the Bryn Mawr fields.

Peterson and the local cricketers have been using Lowry Central’s service since before Reed bought it.

“I always say, ‘I will give you the final order on Monday,’ ” Peterson said. “And then I’m in here on Friday, saying this is what I need, and even with a special mold, they will have them ready for us by that night.

“These people are the greatest.”

In this case, it’s called survival in post-bowling league America.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.

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