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Elmira Bowl serves up a strike

When a bowler steps up to take their shot, odds are they’re thinking more about the ball in their hands or the pins at the end of the lane than the floor they’re standing on.

But Karl Jordan has just made a big investment in the ground beneath the bowler’s feet at Elmira Bowl.

Karl closed up shop for the entire summer and spent more than $100,000 on upgrades to the 50 year-old five-pin bowling alley on First Avenue, installing brand new flooring in all the lanes, as well as new carpeting and tables.

Mary and Karl Jordan were happy to re-open the doors of Elmira Bowl on First Avenue in Elmira, which they’ve owned for 25 years.

“It’s not wood,” he says of the new lanes, “they’re all synthetic now. It’s called phenolic, but it’s actually crushed glass.”

The new floors offer a wide range of advantages over the old wooden floors, he says. Over time, wooden floors become uneven and dented from bowlers walking in the same areas over and over again, and from the impact of the bowling balls.

“It’s the wave sensation,” Karl explains, moving his arm up and down in a wave motion. Wooden floors need to be sanded down every three years, he adds, in order to remove those dents and bumps, which can cost more than $20,000 per lane.

But with the new synthetic lanes, those problems are solved.

“You can’t damage them,” he says, “I never have to sand again.”

The three parts of the lane which see the most traffic – the area that bowlers typically walk on, which is called the approach, the first six feet of the bowling lane itself, and the spot where the pins are set – had to be completely rebuilt from the concrete up, Karl says, to ensure the entire lane was straight and true.

The synthetic material is a combination of resin and woven fiberglass, and is known for its high tensile strength and ability to absorb impact – making it ideal for bowling alleys. It’s almost a centimeter and a half thick, and helps reduce the amount of maintenance necessary. Karl says he won’t even have to oil the surface of the lanes anymore.

“They’ll get a little dirty, but maintenance is a lot less than on wooden lanes. The only thing is I have to keep the temperature between 68 and 74 degrees, because it contracts and expands.”

Mary Jordan agrees that the new synthetic lanes are far superior to the old ones.

“They’re more accurate,” she says. “You have to get the lanes certified every year, and we just had ours certified last week. An agent came in and was checking the lanes with levels and said ‘this is just ridiculous, they’re perfect.’”

The floors were specially designed to interact with the black lights used during glow-in-the-dark cosmic bowling as well, which Mary enjoys.

““The glow-in-the-dark is great, I don’t know how they do it but there are lights all embedded in the lane that light up with the black lights, and each arrow in the lane lights up.”

In addition to the new lanes, they have installed new carpeting and new tables, which can turn and swivel to form tables for large groups, such as birthday parties.

There are even brand new gutters – “they’re called channels now,” Karl explains – and all eight lanes have inflatable bumpers to help new bowlers stay out of the gutters… er, channels. Prior to the renovations, only four lanes had bumpers.

“The bumper system is attached to a pump, so you just hit a button and they all pop up [out of the channel],” says Mary.

While he doesn’t keep exact figures, Karl estimates that the alley sees nearly 500 bowlers per week, and even though the new lanes are going to make Karl and Mary’s lives much easier, they may wreak havoc on the bowler’s scores – for the first few weeks, at least.

“It’s going to take them a while to get used to the synthetic. Probably two to three weeks of bowling,” explains Karl.
“[The ball] doesn’t move as much, and you’ve got to learn to throw a slower ball. A slower ball is going to work a lot better than a fast ball because of the way the pins fly.”

The renovations also come at a time when Karl – who turned 65 this year – is considering retirement.

“If someone wants to take it over, they don’t have to worry about putting any money into the place. It’s here, ready to go.”

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