Bowling’s heyday in Maine was the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Figures have been flat in recent years, and the pastime has its challenges — schools and cable TV among them — but bowling will endure, says Rick Jones, co-owner of the Big 20 in Scarborough and president of the Maine Candlepin Bowling Association.
Players have candlepined in New England and the Canadian Maritimes since the 1880s, he said. Larger 10-pin — or big ball — bowling came around later. Because of those roots, Maine has more candlepin lanes than 10-pin.
“(Used to be) you could open a bowling center and people would be in the parking lot waiting to bowl,” he said. “Now you have to work at it. The business is a little smaller, but that core is still there.
“We blame that on video games,” Jones said. “A lot of the bowling centers, every Saturday morning they were full with kids learning to bowl, but you didn’t have video games and you didn’t have 400 channels of TV to watch, so you had to get out and do stuff.”
Another, less obvious culprit: Less support from school systems, which have trimmed extracurriculars at budget time and started to view bowling as more business than sport.
Jones didn’t have statewide figures on the decline of the industry, but he sees recent closures as more reflective of local economies than a statewide trend. Auburn Lanes, which closed several years ago, had a lease that got too costly for the lanes’ owners, Jones said. “Lisbon’s taken some pretty good hits, economically. It finally got to a point they (the owner of Good Time Lanes) couldn’t keep the place open. They needed a lot of repairs, it’s an older building and they just couldn’t afford it.”
Despite the challenges, Maine has seen new additions in 10-pin — Moose Alley in Rangeley and Easy Day in South Portland among them. In both cases, the emphasis is on all sorts of entertainment, not just bowling.
That’s a roots issue as well.
“Candlepin is struggling a bit, our association, because we are regional and 10-pin is worldwide,” Jones said. “The 10-pin suppliers of equipment and bowling balls and all of that stuff that goes around it, they have a whole marketing arm that will come in and just design the place for you. They have experts that do that; candlepin doesn’t have that.”
At the end of the day, bowling is good, low-cost family fun, Jones said.
“It still has its place for recreation and entertainment, and it’s still a sport — it’s a very competitive sport,” he said.
Thar she bowls!
Where to scratch your bowling itch around central and western Maine:
* Brunswick: The Bowling Bowl — Candlepin
For rates and hours: 725-5241
* Brunswick: Yankee Lanes — 10-pin
For rates and hours: 725-2963
* Fryeburg: Saco Valley Sports Center — Candlepin
For rates and hours: 935-3777
* Lewiston: Sparetime Recreation — 10-pin
For rates and hours: 786-2695
* Rangeley: Moose Alley — 10-pin
For rates and hours: 864-9955
* Rumford: Oxford Lanes Bowling and Recreation Center — Candlepin
For rates and hours: 364-7800
* South Paris: Hobbs Luck Lanes — Candlepin
For rates and hours: 743-9863
* Wilton: Meadow Lanes Bowling Alley — 10-pin
For rates and hours: 778-6078