In March, a Vancouver-based developer announced that the AMF Pro 300 Lanes on Southeast Powell Boulevard would be closing sometime this summer to make way for a Target.
When you visit Pro 300, it still seems like bowling as usual. A sign on the front of the building reads: “Summer passes on sale now.”
This facility is considered one of the last traditional bowling centers in Portland. It attracts customers who are really serious about the sport.
KimAnn Erdelyi is president of the PDX Pride bowling league. Her group is the largest sanctioned league in the state with more than 100 bowlers who meet every Friday night from September to April.
Some members have been bowling with the group for nearly two decades. On the last day of the league this spring, two players planned to get married on the lanes.
“This is their one night out,” Erdelyi said of her league’s members. “They’ll go, and they’ll spend the money to bowl even though they really can’t afford to do it. They’ll do it just because this is their family, they see these guys once a week.”
Pro 300 is one of only two bowling centers in Portland still offering leagues — but not for long.
With Pro 300 closing, PDX Pride will move to Kellogg Bowl in Milwaukie. Erdelyi said the group will need to drop 40 people from the league to fit into the smaller suburban space.
“We have 120 bowlers, so right now we have 36 lanes,” she said. “We’re going to have to go down to 24 lanes, so we’re going to lose a lot of people.”
Although this league has no trouble filling lanes, serious bowlers say that fewer people today are interested in leagues.
Sam Hull, a longtime league bowler, said bowling centers have to do more now to attract players.
“Leagues isn’t the push anymore, it’s more about having game rooms and adding something to the bowling experience rather than it just being bowling,” he said. “You have to have flashing lights, you have to have more stuff, because bowling for a lot of people just isn’t enough anymore. They haven’t been taught the sport of bowling.”
From an owner’s perspective, balancing league play with expanded game rooms and restaurants is just good business.
Don Allen owns Allen’s Crosley Lanes in Vancouver. His father and grandfather were both in the bowling business.
He said he believes the decline in league bowling is due to the way technology is changing the entertainment industry.
“There’s just more things out there now for people to do,” he said. “There used to be four TV channels, and no internet, no home computers, no phones to look at and no Facebook. And so league bowling was very popular. It got you out of the house for a couple of hours each week.”
Allen can rattle off the names of 10 Portland bowling centers that have closed since the 1980s, including Interstate Lanes in North Portland, which his family owned.
“Bowling centers generally have a large piece of property, and in Portland that’s hard to come by,” he said. “So bowling centers have been a target for developers because they have acreage, build-able acreage. We have three acres here. Some developer some day is going to go ‘That’s a really nice piece of ground,’ and maybe make me an offer I absolutely cannot refuse.”
Allen said the business he’s lost among league players has easily been replaced by casual bowlers.
But for serious bowlers like Erdelyi, the loss of another bowling facility isn’t a good sign.
“I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have bowling,” she said. “I’d have to go to church.”
AMF still hasn’t said when it will close the Powell Boulevard center’s doors. They did not respond to requests for comment. Target is expected to open in the old bowling center building in July 2018.