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Up their alley? AMF Timonium Lanes reinvents itself in effort to attract new customers

Forty-two-year old Curt Kuchta had not set foot in the AMF Timonium Lanes on York Road in almost 10 years when he got a text message from a childhood friend over winter break asking if he wanted to take their respective sons bowling.

Remembering the “outdated” venue the two frequented during their college years, the Millers resident said he wasn’t up for the trip until Dan Smith, 40, of Parkton, told him the alley had gotten a new look — and a new name — last fall.

Now called Bowlero, the rebranded bowling lane is still owned by the company behind AMF, Bowlmor AMF, but was renovated in November to overhaul equipment and update its decor and other offerings to make it more attractive to younger customers and families, according to company officials.

The merger between AMF Bowling and its affiliates and Bowlmor makes Bowlmor AMF, which also operates as the Bowlero Corporation, the largest operator of bowling centers in the world, according to company officials. The company operates 272 bowling centers under the brands AMF, Bowlero, Bowlmor Lanes and Brunswick Zone.

Bowlero, which offers guests a “hip alternative to traditional bowling entertainment,” is the company’s latest spin on bowling and social entertainment, Bowlmor AMF spokeswoman Jillian Laufer said.

The new concept has been installed in more than 40 locations in the United States, including one other in Maryland, in College Park, Laufer said. Some of the more than 200 AMF locations across the country are being converted to Bowleros, while others will continue to operate as AMFs, Laufer said.

In keeping with what Laufer called the concept’s “retro-modern decor,” an old bar behind the lanes in Timonium has been turned into a neon-lit arcade, while orange mood lighting has been installed everywhere, from the lanes to the bathrooms, replacing brighter fluorescent lighting and video screens have been placed at the end of each lane.

Bowlero differentiates itself from a traditional bowling center with its ability to cater to multiple audiences, including families, children and private parties, Laufer said, adding that, while some members of the family can choose to bowl, others can play in the arcade, sit at the upgraded bar or order a nicer meal than what was available before the renovations.

The changes comes as industry trade groups say bowling center operators are changing in an attempt to appeal to a larger demographic.

Though bowling is still popular as a participation sport, center operators are finding that locations that offer more than just one product do better, said Bart Burger, director of membership and educational services for the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, an industry group that represents bowling center operators across the U.S.

“From a participation standpoint, bowling is still very attractive,” Burger said. “What we’re seeing is locations taking the opportunities to mix together different product offerings within the same venue.”

Bowlero offers an updated menu in the hope of appealing to a larger audience and keeping customers at the centers longer, so that they will spend more money, Burger said.

In place of pizza, hot dogs and fries, the new menu at the Timonium facility includes a made-to-order menu with items such as the Pretzel Dog, a foot-long hot dog served on a pretzel bun; the Ultimate Grilled Cheese, a sourdough take on the original classic packed with bacon and tomatoes; and the Behemoth Burger, a $54 five-pound, 14-inch burger meant to be shared with a group.

“The consumer drives the demand, and people with the recreation dollars are looking for one-stop entertainment,” Burger said

‘It was dated’

On a recent night, as Smith and Kuchta watched their sons bowl and awaited their turns, employees sliced jalapenos for their nachos and a bartender stood ready to pour Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, the flagship beer from the Halethorpe-based craft brewery, into cold, pint glasses for the two men.

A few lanes down, twins Jack and Julia Deise, of Lutherville, celebrated their ninth birthdays with an emoji-themed bowling and arcade party—the first time the Deise family has visited since the twins turned 4, said their mother, Rose Deise.

“It was dated,” Deise said of the bowling alley’s former decor. “Now it’s modern and nice. There’s distractions and things to look at for the kids and they get all pumped up.”

Customers such as Smith, Kuchta and the Deises are just some of those the management of the rebranded Timonium venue are seeking to attract and retain, according to Bowlero Corporation district manager Bob Moore.

“We’re obviously trying to attract that younger demographic, but we’re also looking at this as a family entertainment center,” Moore said. “We have the bowling, the arcade and the adult beverages, but we still do the parties and the leagues.”

To market its new look, the company is relying on email campaigns and social media, said the Timonium alley’s general manager, Anita Pulliam.

Chamere Carney, 29, of Towson, who stopped at the Timonium lanes to bowl on a recent Thursday night with Parkville resident Bozie Osuwa, 29, said she appreciated the new look.

Both said they visit the lane as a family-friendly alternative to lanes in Baltimore, which Carney said can be more expensive. The upgrades were an unexpected but welcome change that will get them in the door more often, she said.

“I like it,” Carney said. “The staff has always been friendly and the specials are similar but I’m looking forward to experiencing the other upgrades.”

However, some longtime customers of Timonium Lanes said they aren’t certain they welcome the changes.

Timonium resident Ed Fissel, 81, has been bowling duckpins at the Timonium alley on the same night for many years as part of a league that previously had met on Friday nights. He’s been a patron of the bowling center since the late 50’s when he first joined a 10-pin league.

“It looks good and it’s nice but it’s different,” Fissel said of the renovated space.

Fissel said he was asked by management to move the league to another day of the week in anticipation of increased business on Fridays, when Bowlero now offers $12.89 unlimited bowling after 10 p.m.

Though he said he will be happy if the changes are good for business, the new television screens added to the end of the center’s lanes are “distracting,” and the black ceiling and orange lighting makes it difficult for the group to see, he said.

The changes, he said, are meant to appeal to a different, younger crowd, adding that he understands why.

“We have a few young people, but let’s face it, us old folks are dying off,” he said.

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