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Preserving the last "Age of Jive" Bowling Alley in Central Ohio
|For The Fans, By The Fans. Look Beyond The Mainstream.
Written By E.K. Holden
Published: July 7, 2011
When one thinks of edgy sports, bowling is probably not the first thing that
comes to mind. Even so, the otherwise mild-mannered game does enjoy a cult
following among certain underground types. A segment of indie-rock hipsters
enjoy bowling ironically, thanks to the now classic film, The Big Lebowski.
Rockabilly revivalists are drawn to virtually anything from the 1950’s, and bowling
certainly possesses that type of retro charm.
Both types would probably appreciate Grove City Lanes. The tiny eight-lane
bowling alley in the heart of the Columbus suburb is part of a dying breed. It is
one of the few remaining neighborhood bowling venues in Central Ohio, one that
has not succumbed to changing economics nor the shifting tastes of the general
public. Virtually unchanged since it’s founding in 1948, Grove City Lanes boasts
vintage equipment, including genuine wooden lanes, over-the floor ball returns,
and first-generation AMF pin-spotting machinery. All of these features give
Grove City Lanes a retro charm that would appeal to both Lebowski and
Out Of The Blue Publications
None of this preservation would be possible without the efforts of new owners Archie Mills and J.R. Rucker. When the two learned late last year that
previous owner John Besst was planning to retire and fold the business, Rucker and Mills recognized the historical importance of the bowling center to the
community. The pair secured financing and bought the venue outright in March.
As Archie Mills explained, “When we heard the whole story about things they wanted to do here in Grove City, they wanted to take down buildings around it
and possibly even the bowling alley. Being that it has been here for so long, we did not want to see it go away. Our mission is to try to save the bowling
alley and to give kids a safe place to come and do some bowling, to give adults a safe place to come at night and have a good time.”
Both Rucker and Mills readily admit that the historical nature of the lanes was a driving factor in their acquisition. J.R. Rucker elaborated, “Our vision will
be to keep it retro, ‘cause we still have wooden lanes and stuff—just try to keep it a neighborhood-type place.”
“Retro” certainly describes of Grove City Lanes. The venue is reminiscent of small neighborhood establishments that once dotted Central Ohio, but have
been whittled into near-extinction. In an era when larger suburban bowling centers have shifted to the garish décor of “cosmic bowling” by black light,
Grove City Lanes keeps things simple and somewhat timeless. In addition to the aforementioned lanes made of genuine wood instead of synthetic
laminate, the ball return units are vintage over-the-floor models. Specifically, they are of the Brunswick Gold Crown variety; chrome-decked with a mid-
century modern design reminiscent of the tailfins on a ’57 Chevy. It is believed that they were installed around 1960.
One of the few concessions made to time have been the pin masks, the decorative panels above the pins that hide the machinery. Some time in the
‘eighties or ‘nineties, previous owners installed inexpensive foam core masks with now-dated graphics. As funds become available, Rucker and Mills plan
to replace these masks with ones that are more period correct, probably AMF Streamlane models with gold anodized trim or Brunswick Gold Crown types,
as seen in “The Big Lebowski.”
“It’s 1950’s retro. That’s what we want,” stated Mills. “We don’t want this to look like the new places where they spent millions of dollars to put new things in.”
“And they charge a million,” quipped Rucker. “They’ve got to charge a lot when they’ve got all of that overhead. None of that stuff is cheap.”
Grove City Lanes continue to keep it retro since 1948
Turning the conversation more earnest, Mills explained, “We keep things cheap
because we want people to use this place. If we put all new equipment in, that’s not
going to be possible, because we’ll have to raise prices and we don’t want to do
that. We want it to feel and to look like you came into the place where your
grandparents used to bowl. That was one of the reasons we decided to buy it.”
This past spring, Grove City Lanes added free live music to their entertainment
mix. On Tuesday evenings, local teen bands are showcased. Various other
weeknights have featured Jimmy Razor (see pictured), a veteran Columbus musician
who specializes in solo acoustic versions of rockabilly and roots-rock tunes by the
likes of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones, Rockpile, and Chris Isaak.
The de facto house musician, Razor’s retro music perfectly compliments the 1950’s
feel of this vintage bowling venue.
Whether you call it “retro” or “classic,” Archie Mills beautifully summarized the
spirit of Grove City Lanes, “It’s not about the money, it’s about community.
Bowling alleys were once the social center of the community, and that’s what we
try to be. Like The Little Engine That Could, we want to be The Best Little Bowling
Alley That Could.”