Thursday, May 18 will be a sad day for Willowbrook Lanes owners, Bob and Cheryl Randall.
That’s the day the Langley bowling centre, that opened Canada Day, 1981, closes its doors for good.
The land, as well as the building that houses the 20-lane bowling alley, has been sold.
“A Korean specialty grocery store will be using our building,” Bob Randall said last month.
Technically, the final day of public bowling will be Sunday, May 14. Willowbrook Lanes closes at 10 o’clock that night.
“It’s the last day that anybody will be able to bowl here,” Randall said.
The Randalls have owned Willowbrook Lanes for much of its existence, taking over operation on July 1, 1986.
But for a number of reasons, the couple decided to sell – leaving Alder Alley in Aldergrove as the last bastion for Langley bowlers. There is also a bowling alley in Cloverdale.
The decision to sell was a combination of it not being the best current use for the property and “us aging out,” said Randall, who is about to turn 69.
While the sport is relatively inexpensive for kids to participate in — only $250 a year, with no equipment to purchase — the upkeep of bowling facilities is very expensive. The first 20,000 to 25,000 games that are bowled at Willowbrook Lanes every year cover just the property taxes.
Randall said Willowbrook Lanes is, “100 per cent community supported.”
“There was no government or group that subsidized us, and we’re one of the few sports that do that,” Randall said.
Randall said selling the property and closing the bowling centre – the first in B.C. to implement ‘extreme bowling’ geared towards youth, as well as automatic scoring for five-pin bowling – was “very tough for us.”
“It gives us purpose, it gives us satisfaction, it gives us responsibility,” said Randall, the former president of Bowl Canada, Bowl BC, and Bowling Federation of Canada.
Selling Willowbrook Lanes wasn’t a snap decision. The idea had been bandied about for the past eight years.
The Berezan Group proposed high-rise apartments for the area around Willowbrook Lanes back in 2009. “At that time, we felt we had a window of three, four, five years… so we started organizing an exit strategy.”
Randall gave the group right of first refusal if they received another offer to sell.
“We had levels of interest from other parties – people would phone me from Vancouver saying, ‘Are you interested in selling?’” Randall said.
The buyers who eventually finalized the offer told Randall that they were interested in using the building as well as the property.
“That was the only opportunity we ever had to use the building; the building is of quite some value so we’d at least listen to these folks.”
Alder Alley keeps bowling alive
While an era ends in mid-May in Willowbrook, it doesn’t spell the end of bowling in the Langleys.
“We tried to find a place for our bowlers to go, because the organized leagues are very important to us and the kids and the coaches are very important to us,” Randall said.
“Alder (Alley) opened their doors and said that we could re-employ our staff and bring our bowlers down there, and run a youth bowling program. That was agreed upon before we even agreed to sell – that we wouldn’t be displacing the people who truly wanted to bowl.”