FREELAND — Time is running out for a Freeland icon. Freeland Lanes, a piece of South Whidbey history, has closed its doors.
South Whidbey’s only bowling alley ceased operations last week after 50 years in business and several owners.
Owner Roger Simmons cited financial concerns as the reason for closing.
“It’s the old, original building and it costs a lot to heat in the winter, and the wiring is old,” Simmons said.
Simmons said the electric bills were more than $1,000 per month during the coldest months.
The equipment is also old and in need of repair, Simmons said.
“Finding people to repair this old equipment is a struggle,” he said.
Still, even after a busy winter, the bowling alley wasn’t making enough money.
“I can’t fault the community because they really supported the bowling alley,” he said. “We were busy on the weekends with parties and late-night bowling from September through May.”
“But it’s a seasonal business. I am closed for the three summer months, but I still have the expenses,” Simmons said.
“This is a problem for all rural bowling alleys,” he added.
Simmons said the alley had three leagues that played on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“We needed a couple more leagues,” he said.
Many in the community are bemoaning the loss, since the business was a great place for kids to hang out and be safe. But the cost of liability insurance, and other operating costs, just got to be too much.
Simmons is the former owner of Teddy’s Restaurant in Freeland, now China City, and he grew up learning the bowling alley business from his parents.
“My parents owned Green Lake Lanes for 20 years. I was 7 when they bought it,” he said.
“This is a sad day. There are a lot of people attached to Freeland Lanes,” he said.
Simmons is leasing the building from Steve Myers.
Myers, owner of Sound Electric in Freeland, developed the new commercial buildings next door at the corner of Main Street and Harbor Avenue.
Myers said he was shocked at Simmons’ decision to close.
“I grew up on the island and have a history of going to the Freeland Lanes. They had pool tables in those days. That’s where we all learned how to play pool,” Myers said.
“Now there are many more things for people to do on the island,” he added. “Bowling used to be more popular, but it’s tough to compete with video games, and everything else there is to do.”
South End bowling enthusiasts are sorry to see the bowling alley close. Nancy Nowlin, who helped plan bowling league play for Freeland Lanes, believes the lanes are a South End tradition that should be continued.
“It’s a good place for adults to socialize and it offers a place for teens to go,” Nowlin said.
“The bowling alley has been part of the community for 50 years. The bowling alley not only supports the social aspect of the leagues, but it was an important South End business offering alternatives for teens on Friday and Saturday nights,” she said.
“It should be allowed to operate as a bowling alley until Steve Myers is ready to develop the property,” Nowlin added.
Freeland Lanes had its grand opening 50 years ago this month.
In the June 12, 1958 edition of The South Whidbey Record, a story announced the grand opening. Owner Andy Andrews cut the ribbon and bowling pro Lou Elision, a University of Oregon coach, conducted bowling clinics and demonstrations. Pictures depicted the state-of-the-art ball return equipment.
Myers said he doesn’t have any plans for the property.
“I am in the business of leasing commercial property, not operating a bowling alley,” Myers said.
“I guess I am looking for someone to run a bowling alley. Somebody needs to step up,” he said.
Myers recalled that when he bought the property, it had been closed for three years.