Final frame: Village Lanes rolls toward closing
By Stephanie Hacke
Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Village Lanes once was a hopping place.
South Hills residents gathered on the weekends for conversation with friends and to roll off a game of duckpin bowling. A conversion to ten-pin — and the addition of strobe lights — turned the bowling center in the basement of Caste Village Shoppes into a hot spot for cosmic bowling in the early 2000s.
The mirror-paneled ceilings, glass-block front desk and above-ground ball-return system now provide an unintentional vintage feel at the 24-lane bowling center, managers say.
Add that to the outdated equipment — with computers that still use a Disk Operating System — and the lack of a liquor license, and Village Lanes is in need of an upgrade to stay operational, owners say.
The Caste family, which owns Village Lanes, has decided to close it this spring, said Tom Caste, president of Caste Commercial Real Estate and Royal Mile Asset Management. Saturday is set to be the last day of open play at Village Lanes; the bowling center officially will close early next month at the end of this league season.
“It's been coming for years,” he said. “It's been profitable, but if we were to keep it open, we would need to make improvements.”
Instead, the owners plan to invest as much as $200,000 to upgrade their 44-lane bowling center, Princess Lanes, which also is in the shopping center, Caste said. How the upgrades will take shape has yet to be determined, but there will be at least cosmetic improvements.
“It's nice now, but we want to upgrade it and make it feel modernized,” Caste said.
The Caste family opened Village Lanes in a 14,000-square-foot basement space along Weyman Road inside the Caste Village Shopping Center in 1952 as a duckpin bowling center, Caste said.
“That's back when you had a person sitting at every lane setting up every pin,” assistant manager Steve Sobkiewicz said.
In the 1970s, Princess Lanes opened just a few doors away.
“They're both bowling centers. Outside of that, they don't have much in common,” Caste said. It has been several years since either bowling center has been upgraded.
Village Lanes later was upgraded to ten-pin bowling and was one of the first centers in the area to offer cosmic bowling, said Sobkiewicz, who grew up in Baldwin Borough and has worked at the alleys on and off for 12 years. Calls, though, still frequently come in asking for the old duckpin bowling.
Cosmic bowling was in its heyday in the early 2000s, and teens lined up to spend a Friday night at Village Lanes, Sobkiewicz said. Wristbands were needed to keep the crowds organized.
“Back then, it was like, ‘Hey, have you been cosmic bowling?' ‘No. Well let's go. I want to try it,'” Sobkiewicz said.
Bowling leagues, too, enjoyed bowling at Village Lanes for its “Bring Your Own Beer” status, Sobkiewicz said.
Village Lanes — which is only open Thursday through Saturday — also is used for children's parties and other events.
The closure of the center will affect about 150 people who use the bowling center on average each week, Caste said. Most of the patrons, though, will be able to move their bowling to Princess Lanes.
Changes in the bowling industry are mirrored at Caste Village.
“You'd never build 68 lanes in one shopping center today,” Caste said.
“That's a lot of lanes to try and keep full,” general manager Bruce Wright said.
Bowling leagues have become less popular — with a decline in leagues at Caste from 140 in the 1990s to about 90 today — and open play now dominates the industry, the managers said.
“Leagues ruled the day through the '80s, '90s and early 2000s,” Caste said. “It was in the mid-2000s things began to shift toward open play.”
Bowling alleys today, too, have become entertainment centers, where people can enjoy multiple activities at one time, Sobkiewicz said.
“They've become more of a family center,” Wright said.
Closing Village Lanes allows the owners and managers to focus on making Princess Lanes an ideal entertainment location in the South Hills, they said.
“Any business has to keep up with the times,” Sobkiewicz said. “We have to really invent ourselves again.”
While owners and managers have not made a decision on what improvements at Princess Lanes will look like, they say they hope to modernize the center, while not alienating their longtime patrons.
“A lot of our league bowlers have been in these leagues for 10 to 20 years. We don't want to change it so much that it's no longer theirs,” Wright said.
“I want it so that when you walk in and you haven't been here in a while, there's that ‘Wow!' factor — you know something's different,” Sobkiewicz said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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