East Hampton Bowl, where local residents and visitors to the South Fork have bowled competitively and recreationally for the last 54 years, will close next week.
“We are definitely going to close the doors,” Craig Patterson, who has owned the establishment for 36 years, confirmed to The Star. Reopening under new management is a possibility Mr. Patterson called “very remote,” as is its reopening as another business.
A fixture on Montauk Highway since 1959, East Hampton Bowl’s imminent closure comes as an unwelcome surprise to its patrons, who will have to travel to Riverhead or points farther west for their sport.
“The business has changed dramatically over the years,” Mr. Patterson said. While bowling as a family activity is a vibrant and growing phenomenon, he said, participation in organized leagues has declined precipitously.
“League bowling — what used to be the majority of participation — is now well under 50 percent nationally, and here it’s under 30 percent. Of the total business of bowling, when we first came into the industry it might have been as high as 80 percent league and 20 percent open, casual play. That is virtually reversed today.”
Mr. Patterson also cited what he called a difficult environment in which to run a business. “The approvals, and things like that, have been a serious challenge, and it’s become more and more difficult with restrictions from all levels of government. It’s everywhere in the country, and it’s excessive.” Operational costs, he said, were also hampering his ability to remain open.
Steve Graham, a record-holding league bowler who was a manager of East Hampton Bowl from 2001 through 2008, was surprised to learn of its closing. Yesterday, he recalled thriving leagues made up of 16 five-man teams, and rainy summer days in which bowlers might wait up to four hours for a lane. “I worked very hard,” he said of his years at the bowling center. “It’s sad to see all the effort that I put into that job go down.”
Mr. Graham also remarked on the fixed costs of operating a bowling alley. “A huge amount of electricity is consumed,” he said.
Pat Hand, the coach of East Hampton High School’s bowling team, said its members were “devastated” by news of the closing, which she believes will end the team’s existence. Southampton High School’s team, which used to come to East Hampton Bowl, now bowls in Riverhead. But that trip, Ms. Hand said, “is a whole 35 minutes shorter for them. For us to get on a bus at three o’clock, travel for an hour . . . we just can’t it make it work.” The team, she said, would have had many returning players this fall, including four seniors. “We thought we had a great chance at a league championship. It’s a tough blow for us.”
Ms. Hand bowled in a women’s league at East Hampton Bowl. “We’re out of luck. A lot of local people are now out of luck,” she said. “It’s really a sad thing for the community.”
Mr. Patterson, who told The Star in 2007 that he received a half-dozen to a dozen offers for the building every year, bought the bowling center from Leon Star, its original owner, in 1977. At the time, Mr. Star also owned a bowling alley in Southampton. Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in that town, in East Hampton, and on Shelter Island featured bowling lanes as well, and bowling facilities also existed at the Polish Hall in Southampton and the now defunct air force base in Montauk.
Along with leagues catering to men, women, youth, and senior citizens, in recent years East Hampton Bowl added “cosmic bowling,” featuring loud music and Day-Glo balls under a black light, reminiscent of contemporary bowling facilities found in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, where bowling has gained in popularity among young adults.
However, “I always worked more on the leagues, and trying to promote bowling,” Mr. Graham said. “Not to say that the bar and nightlife isn’t important, especially now, with everything out there for people to do — you see what goes on in Montauk now. People are not afraid to spend their money for a good time.”
But a still-sluggish economy, he suggested, meant fewer patrons at the bowling center. “When the cost of things go up — whether it’s your electric, food, heating oil, gasoline, insurance — the one thing you have to cut is recreational dollars.”
Ms. Hand pointed to East Hampton’s tourist industry as a possible explanation for bowling’s decline among youth. The high school’s athletic department has had “many discussions about it,” she said.
This year, she noted, “We didn’t have a [junior varsity] softball team, we didn’t have a JV girls lacrosse. What are kids doing? What we’re hearing a lot of is, they’re working. Out here, working on Memorial Day weekend at Rowdy Hall, you can bring home $1,000.”