The cycle of setting ‘em up and knocking ‘em down has been repeated countless times at Elmira Bowl. From novices to national champions, bowlers of all stripes have played at the five-pin alley since the doors first opened in 1961.
This month, Elmira Bowl is celebrating 50 years of service.
First owned and operated by Roland Ruppel, the First Street business exchanged a few hands before current owners Karl and Mary Jordan bought it in 1986.
For the last 25 years the Jordans have been maintaining the alleys and improving the quality of the sport for Elmira’s bowlers.
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An avid bowler himself, Karl decided to buy the business after spending time doing lane certification for the five-pin association in Bolton.
“I don’t know what made us decide to own a bowling alley. I just got it into my head that is was something that I wanted to do; when this came up I thought we would give it a shot. It’s a decent living if a family wants to work at it, but it takes a lot of work,” he explained.
The Jordans have put a considerable amount of time into the place, and like many who run their own businesses they have seen the plus and minuses of working for themselves.
“At the end of the day the one in charge is you – if you want to succeed you just have to keep motivated,” said Mary.
Many changes have occurred over the last five decades. Gone are the pin boys who would be stationed at the end of the alley way to reset the old original wooden pins, replaced by automated equipment. Even the pins are gone, giving way to plastic ones.
New advances in technology introduced computerized scoring to the lanes in the 1980s. Just last summer the Jordans spent well over $100,000 on upgrades, including new décor replacing the old yellow fiberglass benches and wooden chairs and tables with new carpets, seating, tables and a synthetic floor on all the lanes.
“Every year we added something new to the business like computers, pins, floors and eventually we redesigned the look of the alley,” said Mary. “It was a way to keep the place fresh and inviting.”
Although the upgrades have been costly, Karl said it was a step in the right direction.
Through the years the husband and wife team have seen a decline in the interest of the sport from the younger generation in Elmira.
“Our league nights are still popular but the demographics have changed. It is the kids that are hard to get out to bowl nowadays. There is so much for them to do, we are competing with all the other sports in town,” said Mary.
Keeping with the times the alley introduced glow-in-the-dark bowling to keep children entertained while participating in the sport but has seen a decline in recent years as well.
“It’s not as popular as it once was. It is more popular in college towns: we only have glow-in-the-dark for birthday parties or by request now,” said Mary.
Even with a slight decline in young bowlers the Jordans still have a few families from grandparents to grandchildren that come out to bowl on a weekly basis. Though they don’t keep track of exact figures, they estimate that the alley see nearly 500 bowlers a week.
“It is a shame that we have seen a decline because it’s a great sport for kids. In the youth leagues, a kid can go all the way to the national finals and it really doesn’t cost them anything,” said Karl.
As a benefit to owning the alley, the Jordans have toured the country because of all the national competitors that have practiced on the Elmira Bowl lanes.
“We have been from sea to sea, all because of the bowling alley,” said Mary. “We have been to Saskatoon, Lethbridge, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Newfoundland and Quebec and have gone as coaches and as cheerleaders and as support for our national participants.”
As part of the celebrations marking 50 years, the Jordans are inviting all past national and provincial competitors for the unveiling of the National Photo Quilt handmade by Mary. The final square of the quilt will be a photo of everyone together taken on Aug. 26 at the bowling alley.
“I just want to get as many people together as we can,” said Mary. “I have kept scrapbooks and newspaper articles from over the years and I will be putting together a display of the history of the bowling alley for the celebration.”
Having marked the facility’s anniversary, the couple has decided it’s time to retire, putting the bowling alley up for sale.
“We are ready to retire. I will be 66 at the end of August and I have been bitten by the travel bug. We are hoping to spend some time in our trailer and head south for the winter and then tour North America for the next three years. I think it will be great,” said Karl.
Whether or not the Jordans continue to operate the business it is a sport that Karl will never be able to leave behind.
“I still bowl twice a week. It’s a sport that anyone can do. We have league players as young as four years old to players in their late-80s,” he noted. “It is very easy to do and you can have a lot of fun doing it.”
There will be a party held at Elmira Bowl on Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. to mark the milestone.