In its heyday, Azalea Lanes was filled with league and recreation bowlers drawn by the sound of crashing pins and good food. Curry County’s only bowling alley will close next month after 35 years of business.
Brookings’ Azalea Lanes, Curry County’s sole bowling alley for the past 35 years, will be closing it’s doors for good on May 8.
“We want to thank the community for a great 35 years,” said owner Gary Kerr. “We’ve enjoyed ourselves but there comes a time when all good things much come to an end.”
Kerr plans to close the lanes after the current league play ends. He states that it was a tough decision, but due to a dwindling customer base it was time to move away from a bowling alley and to pursue another venture.
“It’s a good building and can still be used. Its just ran its course as a bowling alley,” said Kerr. “We’ve got to stop now before it sucks us dry and we still have the means to convert it to something for the community to use.”
For many in the Brookings-Harbor community, the bowling alley holds several fond memories, from the fun they had bowling to enjoying the great food and atmosphere, and there is a sadness in seeing its doors close. Several of them provided their thoughts on the Curry Coastal Pilot’s Facebook page.
“So sorry to hear this is closing. Best hamburgers around,” said Wanda Hughes.
“Azalea Lanes is the place my husband asked me to marry him,” said Jaydlyn Cunliffe-Owen. “It will be hard to visit home and not be able to go there. I have some of the best memories at those lanes.”
“The bowling alley was not just another place in town to go out to eat, for me and I’m sure most of my family members will agree, it was, in a way, part of our family,” said Megan Boardman.
The closure also affects several longtime league players, many of whom have been bowling at Azalea Lances since it opened in 1979.
“They’re disappointed, but I think they generally understand that they’ve seen the leagues decline,” said Kerr.
“For a lot of them, this is their home away from home, and that’s what we’ve always tried to create for them. “A lot of these people, when they come in you truly enjoy them coming through the door. They’re here to have fun and we always had a great time seeing them.”
Though no future plans are set at this point, Kerr said that he is pursuing other options for the building, including the possibility of converting it into a retail space.
The Azalea Lanes closure is another of the many examples nationwide of what is happening to the bowling industry during the current economic recession. Bowling alleys, once thriving with patrons and league players, are closing at an alarming rate.
According to Kerr, the United States Bowling Congress, the governing body of 10-pin league bowling, has seen declining numbers in league membership for at least the past decade.
“The trouble now is we aren’t creating enough revenue to keep it running the way we want to keep it running,” said Kerr. “Keeping the machines and the alley up and running well is something we’ve always taken pride in. There’s a lot to maintain and it takes a lot of hours to keep things running. It’s time to move on now rather than run it into the ground and upset people when the machines stop working,” Kerr said laughingly.
Kerr also said the closure doesn’t mean he and his co-owner wife Karen will be leaving the area.
“Its not like we’re going anywhere, but it will be a different venue for sure. We had 35 good years, its just the time has come to move on,” he said.
Bowling in Crescent City
Hank Northrip, Crescent City Bowling Association president, estimated that 25 to 30 Del Norte County residents regularly bowl in Brookings.
With the closing of Azalea Lanes, he anticipates an uptick in bowlers at Crescent City’s Tsunami Lanes.
“Hopefully, it is really going to open things up down here,” Northrip said. “The nearest bowling alleys will be in Grants Pass, Coos Bay or Tsunami Lanes.”
He said Tsunami Lanes needs some repairs, but “if done properly, we should be able to almost double our business.”
He estimated an additional 10 to 15 teams and close to 100 people may come to Crescent City from Brookings.
“We may be able to fill up the house with 16-team leagues or close to it,” he said. “People who bowl want to bowl. They won’t just stop bowling and start skipping stones. Most people are pretty competitive about it. They will be able to come down here and still bowl in the state tournament in Oregon.”
Tsunami Lanes, owned by the Elk Valley Rancheria, has been up for sale for several years, according to Dale Miller, rancheria chairman.
“There are people who are interested in it, but it has been that way for quite a while,” Miller said. “The normal schedule is still active. We intend to keep doing that unless somebody takes it over.”
— Triplicate Sports Editor Michael Zogg contributed to