Local bowling alley strikes 50th year in business

By Julia Green
Scattered around the interior of Margaretville Bowl on Route 28 are a number of items that nod to its history: a plaque for the senior high series dedicated in memory of longtime bowler Howard Fairbairn by his former teammates; a clock on the wall that reads, “In loving memory of Jackie Robinson – her spirit and dedication to the sport of bowling will never be forgotten:” a trophy from the 76th Annual New York State Bowling Association Tournament Division 2 tournament, won in 2001 by a five-man team of Brad Maxim, Jim Gohlke, Ray Kole, Len Maxim and Randy Van Keuren.
Present in all corners of the alley are pieces of its history – a history that marks its 50th year this year. Margaretville Bowl will celebrate its anniversary on Saturday, Aug. 28 at 2 p.m. with 50-cent bowling games, 50-cent shoe rentals, 50-cent hot dogs and 50-cent sodas.

Built in 1960 as Evergreen Lanes by Hilt Wilber and Bob and Betty Veit, it took over as the area’s primary bowling facility from Frisco Sanford’s Margaretville Bowling Center, a five-lane alley located upstairs in the current Granary Building. The Veits ran Evergreen Lanes for 25 years before selling to Mike Finberg and Joel Weinberg in 1986.

“It housed a number of leagues, a lot of participants and a strong junior program,” current owner Mike Finberg said of the alley in 1986. “I had never worked in a bowling alley and was not a league bowler, and I remember that because smoking was allowed then and it was a closed space, I remember a smoke haze over the lanes.

“I remember it also as a friendly place,” he added. “It was and is a place where the community gets to mix. People who don’t know each other otherwise get together for league and fun and recreation, and that has been part of my time here that I’ve enjoyed the most: getting to know people through the bowling alley itself.”

Upon taking over in 1986, the new ownership augmented the original footprint with an addition to include lockers, a game room and an entrance. The business also acquired a beer and wine license.
Another big change, according to Finberg, has been in bowling itself.

“When we got here in 1986, there was one 700-series score, a 701 bowled by Darryl Atkin,” he said. “I’m pleased to say that in the years since, we’ve had many, many 700 series. We have a house record now of 788 by Rick Gaffney, and our women’s high series is a 708 by Bea Hull and we’ve had eight 300 games – there were none when we bought it in 1986.”

Another fond memory Finberg holds of his years at the lanes is the role Margaretville Bowl has had in the community, both as a business and as a community recreation venue; in particular, the use of the lanes by the ARC.

“It allowed the clients of the ARC to come bowling, and, on a personal note, my sons meeting them and interacting with them,” he said. “I think that’s another positive way the bowling alley is used.”

A permanent fixture at Margaretville Bowl has been the league play that has been in place since its opening as Evergreen Lanes. Boys and girls under 16 compete in the junior league on Saturdays while women bowlers compete in leagues on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Men compete Mondays and Wednesdays, and mixed leagues bowl on Sunday nights. In addition, a number of years have featured school bowling teams, and a local high school tournament featuring teams from Margaretville, Roxbury and Andes has taken place in past years.

“Times have certainly changed, but when a family or an individual wants to get out and do something in a social way, there are very few things in our area that will accommodate that, and I think that bowling is a sport that’s easy to learn, and depending on the effort the bowler puts in, he or she can rapidly improve,” Finberg said.

And, at a time when a number of local businesses of all stripes are struggling financially, Finberg said that customer loyalty has been key to the success of Margaretville Bowl.

“There are men and women who have bowled here for close to if not all of the 50 years of its existence, so customer loyalty, without question,” he said.

One such bowler is Barbara Funck, who began as a junior bowler in 1961.

“If people in the area bowled as junior bowlers, often they’re in there as senior bowlers,” Funck said. “It’s neat to see the generations come through.”

As to its long-term success, Funck attributed a great deal of it to the nature of the alley.
“I think in the small town we live in, when you list things to do there aren’t a lot of them, and it is a venue that allows people to compete rather inexpensively, get together, compete and just have fun,” she said.

Funck laughed as she mentioned the equipment she used during her early days at the alley.
“I have bowled on Thursday nights forever as an adult, and it’s so funny, I started bowling as an adult in 1971 and I was still Barbara Blish, and I got my first bowling ball and engraved it ‘BB,’ and it’s gone full-circle – I’m back using that ball. There’s not very many of us left over there that have that kind of time in, but it’s just neat to compete a little bit as an adult for something, and it’s fun.”
Funck also alluded to the camaraderie that exists among the longtime bowlers.

“Betty Griffin, Dorissa Smith, my mom… they were the heart of some of those ladies’ leagues, they were the team to beat and they were gung-ho bowlers,” she said. “They were who we all looked up to. We used to laugh and say, ‘How can you not see that No. 5 pin standing there?’ Now I’m squinting and going, ‘Is there one pin there, or two?’”

Funck said she thinks the fact that it is a locally owned and locally run business is part of what has contributed to its long-term success, and praised the work Finberg has put in over the years.
“In Michael’s case he does all the work himself, and he works hard,” she said. “I know the Veits always did when they ran it, and it’s a lot of hours you’ve got to put in. It’s the only place we can go in the area to do it, it is something to go do and it’s still relatively inexpensive, so by opening his doors, he offers us that every year.”