Bowling at one time throughout the 1950s and 1960s and for a few more decades following was the most popular participation sport in America. Today it still remains popular among Americans, but not nearly at the level it once was. For whatever reason a town’s bowling alley or alleys in some cases close, the community loses a little piece of its identity. Individuals within that community lose some of their own sense of belonging to a community. Also in this natural chain reaction people become less involved in their respective towns.
Before long the part of town where the bowling alley once was becomes either deserted or the building is torn down and becomes a Walgreens. Shaun Moss’s photograph of the abandoned bowling alley in the Scranton Lace factory is a perfect example of how a community is negatively affected by the closing of major employers and how closely related that is too many bowling alleys closing. This also results in less involvement in the community once bowling is no longer available. His photo shows four bowling lanes that appear to be a part of some much larger building.
Indeed they are, Scranton Lace Company once functioned inside a massive maze of buildings and hallways with a bowling alley right in the center for the employees to enjoy. This photo shows used score sheets and bowling shoes that seem as if they were left, right in the same spot they were last used. When looking at the picture you can smell the damp, dusty remains of what once was a major part of people’s lives. The fact that it was located near the center of the complex signifies on a larger scale how important a bowling alley is to the town it’s located in.
Bowling was such an important social activity in the town even a major employer could not ignore the importance of social interaction. You then wonder what must have happened to all of these people. These people had a steady job with a good income and the day the company closed thousands of families lives changed. You would have to know bowling extremely well to know that the sitting area and the ball returns are from the 1950s, when bowling was at or near its height of popularity.
Since then the number of bowling alleys has declined and the number of stereotypical stories like Scranton Pennsylvania has increased. The story goes in this order, every time major businesses close, or downsize, people move away, the bowling alley closes, and the community struggles to function as well as it once did. According to an article written by Patrick Clark on Bloomberg’s website since 1998 to as recent as 2012 the U. S. has lost nearly 1,500 bowling centers.
Yes some of them have closed due to economic decline, lack of interest, or the increase in options people have to spend their entertainment dollar, but that is not always the case. Bowling center proprietors can and should hold themselves responsible for evolving their business to keep up with the times. In other words don’t get left in the 50s and 60s. Some owners have just simply not reinvested any capital back into the business. Several bowling centers close because the building is in ill repair and outdated. The money it would take to repair and update becomes so large that the only alternative is to close.
Within a matter of time the property goes up for sale but is not attractive to anyone who wants to operate a bowling center in it due to the initial big investment needed just to have a sound structure. Bowling center owners do not always make the best businessmen. Another reason for the decline is mismanaging money, such as not paying taxes and falling behind on mortgage payments. Not all bowling center owners are terrible businessmen though, some have sold their businesses and property as they have appreciated in value over time.
Regardless of which scenario directly applies to why a place closes, the community is negatively affected. Robert D. Putnam a professor of public policy at Harvard University would most likely agree with the assertion that the photo illustrates almost perfectly how bowling alleys have been deserted since 1950. The connection that he makes, in his nonfiction book titled Bowling Alone is that as bowling alleys have closed involvement in community organizations and civic involvement have declined as well. His book documents the decline in league bowling while stating that the amount of people who going bowling has actually gone up.
The reason league bowling was and is so important to a bowling center is that it typically accounts for the majority of business. Also, league bowling provides a team atmosphere, one in which you would have the ability to meet people from all walks of life. From my own experience I have met anyone from the mayor of the town, to mechanics, lawyers, real estate agents, and the list goes on and on. Bowling in a league is a great way to connect with people in the community that you normally would not get a chance to meet otherwise.
Clearly as the decline continues people become further disengaged with the very people in their community and the civic-organizations within it. Bowling alone or with a group of friends and family who you already know does not provide the same advantages you have when you bowl in a league. In the St. Louis metro area you don’t have to look very far for one or more of these examples. Take for instance AMF Bowland Lanes that was open for nearly 40 years in Granite City, Illinois. Granite City’s major employers consist mostly of steel plants and other industrial type businesses.
In the past 15 years the steel industry has become increasingly volatile and the steel plants have undergone major layoffs and shutdowns undoubtedly contributing to a decline in business at Bowland Lanes and eventually resulting in another bowling alley closing. The exact same scenario exists with the Ford plant closing in Hazlewood, Missouri. The Ford plant was opened in 1948 and closed in 2006. Hazlewood Bowl, which was located right across the street struggled to keep the doors open immediately following the closure of the Ford plant and since has closed within the past few years.
Ferguson, Missouri is a perfect example of a community’s people, government, and local businesses having little to no interaction with each other. The people living in the town had become so misrepresented and unheard they were begging for an opportunity to be heard. In my opinion the events that occurred in Ferguson would have been less likely to occur if the town’s citizens had an opportunity to partake in the important social interaction that occurs on a nightly basis at the local bowling alley.
Ironically two bowling alleys one located in Ferguson and the other just outside Ferguson have been closed for decades. The significance of this photo is that represents not just an empty bowling alley inside a once thriving business, but the first step in the potential collapse of an entire town. It represents what so many people don’t realize is a very important part of a community. As more and more bowling alleys are left behind so suddenly as this picture shows so are all other obligations we all have to be active upstanding citizens in the area we live.