Havre Daily News
Bowlers gathered to gripe and grab mementos Wednesday evening after hearing Tuesday that the owners of Hi-Line Lanes are closing the bowling alley at the end of the week.
“We were going to win,” Bob Blazer joked. Blazer's Men's City League team would have been unopposed if the league had played Wednesday night. Instead of winning a game, he went home with his bowling gear and a 1971 photo of himself and his mixed doubles partner, Dixie Evans.
The men could have bowled anyway, but why bother, they said. The season was already ruined.
Thursday Morning League secretary Marlene Pizzini estimated that about 500 people are in the leagues that started last month and were scheduled to run through April or May. Aside from league bowlers, there are plenty of non-league bowlers who will miss out on their pastime, she said.
President of the Sunday Keglers, Gayla George, said there's also the problem of lost fees paid to the United States Bowling Congress, $15 per bowler, and team sponsorship dollars that will have to be returned. She said she isn't sure what the leagues will do with the prize money saved for the end of the season.
A Red Ribbon Week bowling tournament organized by the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line for Friday was canceled after the club was told the bowling alley would not host the event. Youth development specialist Randy Domire said the club will organize another event down the road and end Red Ribbon Week with activities at the club Friday.
“The biggest disappointment is that (the owners) couldn't hold off two more days,” Domire said today.
Finally, the bowling alley manager, the mechanic, and part-time help are out of jobs with almost no notice. Hi-Line Lanes co-owner Phil Carter said the owners plan to keep the bar open, but they had not decided what the hours would be.
Two bartenders at the alley Wednesday night said they hadn't heard that and said they considered themselves laid off.
All this came about after bowlers thought some problems at Hi-Line Lanes had been solved. The Havre Men's Bowling Association had told the owners they wouldn't start their season until the owners hired a mechanic and cleaned up the place, association secretary Shawn Mariani said. It meant a late start to their season, but eventually things got going.
“They hired a mechanic, they cleaned the place up, and the women's association did a big cleanup also,” Mariani said. “I thought things were going well, and then they pulled the plug.”
Hi-Line Lanes is owned by four Sidney residents and one Lewistown man. The owners bought the business in 1982. About six months ago they listed it with a local Realtor, Carter said in a telephone interview from Lewistown.
Carter would not say why the owners decided to sell, or why the closing was so abrupt.
“I assume there's a couple people in Havre sad to see it closed. I wouldn't say there was a bunch of them,” he said.
Mariani was at the bowling alley along with the Men's City League on Wednesday night gathering his belongings. Also there were his father and grandfather. Bowling is a family tradition, Mariani said. He is planning to start his 4-year-old son next year, making it four generations of Mariani bowlers.
The bowlers who were at the alley Wednesday and those who could be reached by phone all said they are ready to support a new owner as soon as possible.
Several people had aspirations of running the place if an owner could be found. But unless someone comes forward soon, regular bowling is over for this season.
Nearby alleys at Rudyard and Big Sandy will open their doors to Havre bowlers, the owners there said. But not everybody is willing to travel, with high gas prices and winter conditions coming, so the relocation won't be whole-hog.
“It just kind of hit me last night, so we're just trying to see what they're interested in doing,” said owner Tom Stokes of Big Sandy's Pep's Bar and Lanes. “We'll sure try to work it in so they can get to bowl again.”
Stokes said he's heard from several teams already.
Chris Kline, owner of K-Lines in Rudyard, said he's also heard from several teams.
“It's pretty early. We're just trying to figure out what we can do to help out those bowlers that have already started. We're thinking about starting a new league for them. It depends how much interest there is,” Kline said. “Big Sandy is closer. We just don't want to lose the bowlers that are up there because there are some big leagues.”
Harlem and Chinook also have bowling alleys.
Havre bowlers acknowledge the leagues used to be bigger. Twenty years ago, the league had about two times as many players, said Pizzini, who is a bowling columnist for the Havre Daily News.
For those who still bowl, it's one of the few winter activities they can do.
“There are some of them that just went out and bowled and that was it,” Pizzini said, wondering what those people will do now.