Parkville Lanes, a neighborhood mainstay for decades and seemingly a recent casualty in the continuing attrition of duckpin bowling centers in the Baltimore area, will be roaring back to life later this month.
"We saw an opportunity to jump in," said Chris Roth, a one-time DJ on WQSR radio who is one of four partners who bought the water-damaged facility that has been closed for about nine months. After spending more than $50,000 on its rehabilitation (Roth declined to say how much they paid for the alley itself, save that it was "a decent amount of money"), the partners are almost ready to reopen the 26-lane duckpin center for business.
Roth said plans call for a grand-reopening on Aug. 12, although a less grandiose soft opening could take place even earlier. There's still some electrical work to be done in the Harford Road building, he said, and the partners are awaiting delivery of pinball machines, a jukebox and a soda machine, among other finishing touches.
The plan to purchase Parkville and take a chance that the public is ready to re-embrace duckpins, a Baltimore obsession for more than a century that has seen waning interest in recent years, arose from group discussions that would follow an evening of league bowling in Silver Spring, Roth said.
Thirty years ago, there were hundreds of duckpin lanes scattered along the East Coast, scores right here in the Baltimore area, where popular (although probably not accurate) legend says the sport originated. But regardless, duckpin bowling, with smaller pins and balls than the more traditional tenpins, was a regional obsession, played by thousands who flocked to their neighborhood lanes at seemingly every free moment. Today, all but a handful of those lanes are gone, and the number of professional duckpin bowlers is down by more than 90 percent, to about 3,500.
All four partners are long-time bowlers, Roth said — one of them, Steve Rowley, even manages White Oak Duckpin Lanes in Silver Spring. Roth's connection to that alley go back generations, he said.
"Forty-two years ago, my mother went into labor there," he said. "Duckpin bowling is in my blood because of that."
The other partners, Roth said, are Chris Jacobs and Carmelo Chiedi.
"We knew that this bowling alley was loved by a lot of people," Roth said of Parkville Lanes, which had operated since the 1970s in the Parkville Shopping Center building. "We went in and said, 'Huh, we don't want to see another bowling alley close.'"
Roth is confident there's a future in duckpins; the problem, he believes, is one of marketing. Make more people aware that the lanes are out there, introduce them to how much fun the sport is, and they'll come running.
"We're going to have a big marketing campaign on social media, use direct mail, radio spots, just to let everyone know that we're here," he said.
Once the work on Parkville is done, Roth said, the lanes will include a full snack bar; the partners are awaiting final approval of a license to serve beer and wine.
"It'll be restored to what the previous owners had," he promised.