The South Fork’s only bowling alley, East Hampton Bowl, will close its doors on the last day of June, according to Craig Patterson, who has owned and run the business with his wife, Pat, for 36 years.
He said this week that while business was good, it was not good enough to pay the bills.
For many, it will be the loss of a fun pastime, but the loss of the bowling alley means more to those who are serious about the sport. Once East Hampton Bowl closes, the nearest bowling alley will be The All-Star in Riverhead, which opened last summer.
Joseph Vasile-Cozzo, the athletic director at East Hampton High School, said the school’s bowling team will cease to exist without the lanes in East Hampton.
“Unfortunately, I can’t run the program without a bowling alley—I can’t have our varsity bowling team compete,” he said. “Bowling is a lifetime activity. This will a big loss for the kids who love the sport, and the community as a whole. My hands are tied—it’s a tough time for everybody.”
Mr. Patterson pointed to electricity bills, taxes, health insurance, storm damage and other expenses, and said now is the time to retire.
“Customers are coming in, business is up right now, but the cost of operation is through the roof,” he said. “It makes no sense to try and stay open.”
He is currently looking for a buyer but wouldn’t disclose the asking price for the building. He said his “fervent desire” is that the buyer keeps the property as a bowling alley, but he said he cannot control what a new owner does.
According to East Hampton Village Administrator Larry Cantwell, the property is zoned for commercial use.
East Hampton Bowl is a fixture in the village, with roots dating back more than a half century.
In 1959, Dr. Leon Star, who was the director emeritus of surgery at the Peninsula General Hospital in Far Rockaway, opened the alley as the Star Lanes. In 1977, Mr. Patterson, who was a physicist and a U.S. Navy aviator, and his wife, Pat, purchased the bowling alley, their first commercial venture. Even though there are anywhere from five to 25 employees during the year, managing the alley is a seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year job, Mr. Patterson said, and at least a 60-hour work week.
His hard work at the alley paid off, however. East Hampton Bowl attracted nearly every demographic: adult league bowlers, teenagers on dates, students practicing for bowling tournaments, and little kids celebrating their birthdays with a “Cosmic Bowling” party under black lights. Various leagues held play at the alley—not only the East Hampton High School team, which has 14 to 16 players, but, at various times, AARP and gay leagues as well.
“It’s the most popular activity—over 65 million people in North America went bowling last year,” Mr. Patterson said. “But it’s not the same old bowling. League bowling has gone way down. It’s practically nonexistent, and it’s declining every year.”
Despite the smaller number of leagues, East Hampton Bowl does pretty well for itself, Mr. Patterson said. His biggest customer base is the “resort community,” but he said that he has always considered his business as an “amenity to the community.”
“Some leagues have done fundraisers and car washes in the parking lot,” he said. “For the last many years, I’ve provided free bowling for school kids out here all summer long in an attempt to keep them off the street and give them a positive activity to do, so they don’t get in trouble,” he continued. “I’ve held the Special Olympics here for over 30 years and did it for no charge. I’ve always felt a responsibility to the community.”
When he heard the high school bowling team will be disbanded, he called it “a heartbreaker.” “They had a lot to do with us holding on,” he said, “but, sadly, that will not support the place.”
Bowling costs $55 an hour, and typically averages $10 to $15 per person in a group of six, according to Mr. Patterson. There is no shortage of customers, he said—but the figures simply no longer add up. “We’re making no money,” he said. “The fact that there are customers right now and business is growing in volume doesn’t make success. Most people don’t understand that.”
He said for the first time in 26 years he had to stop providing health insurance for his employees. “I was the only bowling alley that gave health insurance,” he said.
Additionally, the Pattersons have been under pressure from the community about the building over the years. “It’s sad. I’ve tried very hard to keep this as a bowling center and keep it operating, but there’s been a lot of resistance,” Mr. Patterson said, explaining that people have told him they’d rather see the building used for another type of business, or that they don’t want children or young adults around.
In December 2012, a brawl involving 40 people erupted in front of the bowling alley, ending in two arrests. Xlusive Entertainment was renting the alley at the time for “Mayhamn’s hot new mixtape release party.” Police used pepper spray and a Taser to disperse the crowd.
Mr. Patterson said he’s faced the “normal animosity” that comes with running a business that caters to all kinds of different people.
At the same time, the pending closure was greeted by many with expressions of sadness. A Facebook group, “Goodbye to the East Hampton Bowl,” says that there will be a goodbye karaoke and dance party at the alley on Saturday, June 22, at 9 p.m.
Shannon Wethy, who has worked at the alley for nearly a year, said, “The general reaction is, ‘You can’t close—there’s nothing else to do!’” She added, “Everyone is sad.”