Harry Otey bowls at Erie Lanes on 1310 E. Erie Ave on Sunday, June 5.
Kevin Cook/for the Times
Jon Kroljic has been in the bowling business for 30 years and knew Adams Lanes had a bad reputation when he assumed ownership 10 months ago.
One of his first meetings was with Mark Mroz, community relations officer in the 2nd Police District, who produced a thick file of crime reports from the bowling alley, at 649 Foulkrod St., in Crescentville.
The city wanted to revoke the facility’s business privilege license but agreed to allow it to stay open, provided there be a midnight curfew and a metal detector at the front door.
Kroljic, 48, knows that a metal detector would probably discourage families from scheduling a fun outing, and he sought to rebuild the business based on organized leagues and casual bowlers, not private bowling parties where young people would do more partying than bowling.
“A bowling center is supposed to be all about bowling,” he said.
At the same time, he learned that AMF Boulevard Lanes, at 8011 Roosevelt Blvd., was about to close.
Virginia-based AMF did not return a call for comment, but the local bowling community is a tight-knit one, and the word in bowling circles was that the building owner wanted to increase the rent. AMF left upon the expiration of its lease.
Once Boulevard Lanes — which also housed the Arena Sports Bar — announced a May 15 closing date, Kroljic paid a visit to his competitor, meeting with league commissioners to entice them to relocate to Adams Lanes. He met with commissioners representing 1,500 bowlers, but only two leagues agreed to make the move.
“That wasn’t enough,” he said.
Boulevard Lanes closed, as scheduled, on May 15. The windows have boards on them, and a sign directs bowlers and those who need to redeem gift cards and coupons to AMF Bristol Pike Lanes in Croydon. That’s a big fall for a place that opened in 1958 and once hosted a Professional Bowlers Association tournament.
According to Kroljic, Boulevard Lanes was doing well, and AMF wanted to renew its lease. Rumors had another bowling alley or a local hospital interested in the property, but no agreements were reached.
For the most part, league members have relocated to Bristol Pike Lanes, the Brunswick Zone in Feasterville and Thunderbird Lanes locations at 3081 Holme Ave. and 5830 Castor Ave. in Oxford Circle.
Adams Lanes, which opened in 1960, closed to the public on May 28. It reopened on June 1 for a previously scheduled school outing and on June 5 for the final time for a Battle of the Sexes Tournament.
A sign on the exterior wall reads, “Adams Lanes now closed. Thank you for years of support. Visit us at Erie Lanes,” and gives the address, telephone number and Web site for Erie Lanes.
Kroljic has owned Erie Lanes, at M Street and Erie Avenue in Juniata Park, since August 2009. The facility is already doing well and should benefit from the closing of nearby Adams Lanes.
The owner is optimistic about the future of Erie Lanes, which has a loyal base of league and neighborhood bowlers. It has 48 lanes and plenty of free off-street parking, and Kroljic has an affable relationship with patrons. It’s home to a bar, pool tables, air hockey and pop-a-shot games and video arcade games. The public is invited to join a league, enter a tournament, take advantage of daily specials or hold a birthday party on site.
Kroljic managed Erie Lanes in 1994 and ’95 before Brunswick took over. Now that Adams Lanes is closed, Erie is the only one of the so-called “Big Three” — which included Cottman Lanes, near Cottman Avenue and Large Street — remaining open.
Adams Lanes and Boulevard Lanes both had 48 lanes. So does Erie Lanes. Thunderbird Lanes offers 36 lanes on Holme Avenue and 16 on Castor Avenue. Dave & Buster’s, at Franklin Mills mall, features 20 lanes of bowling.
Kroljic said bowling alleys used to generate 90 percent of their business from leagues, but they now rely heavily on parties, fund-raisers and family outings.
“Getting an open lane was unheard of, but the business of bowling has changed over the years,” he said.
Kroljic isn’t especially optimistic about the futures of the two empty buildings; bowling alleys are built to specifications. He formerly managed a bowling alley in Cherry Hill, N.J. It closed in 2007 and remains vacant.
Still, he believes the closings of Adams Lanes and Boulevard Lanes can strengthen existing bowling alleys.
“It’s a thinning of the herd,” he said. “There were too many lane beds and not enough people.”
Kroljic thinks it’s a shame that a perfectly nice facility such as Adams Lanes had to meet its demise.
“It’s location, location, location,” he said Sunday morning as he prepared the place for the final tournament. “If you pick this building up and put it on the Boulevard, it’s an instant gold mine.”
When Kroljic tried to convince Boulevard Lanes league bowlers to come to Adams Lanes, he, of course, had to tell them the location.
The businessman said he was told repeatedly, “That way on the Boulevard? We’re not going there.”
In negotiations with the managers of one league, he explained how they could save $17,000, a nice chunk of change to hand out in end-of-the-year prize money, if they decided to relocate to Adams.
“They did not blink an eye,” Kroljic said, adding that they took their business elsewhere.
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org