AMF Bowling to shut down another duckpin center Harford Lanes picked as fourth site to close

Sports entertainment

March 12, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

AMF Bowling Inc. will announce today that it will close its fourth duckpin bowling center in a year -- displacing thousands of league bowlers.

Harford Lanes in Baltimore County will close June 1, along with Joppa Lanes and Middlesex Lanes, whose closings were announced Tuesday and last month, respectively. Arbutus Lanes was closed June 1.

The estimated 52 affected employees will be transferred to other bowling centers, just as those from Arbutus were, company officials said. AMF has not decided what it will do with the bowling sites.

There are no further plans to close other area bowling centers, said officials from the Richmond, Va., company. AMF operates 15 other Baltimore-area centers, including five for duckpin bowling, and 394 sites nationwide.

AMF acquired the designated duckpin bowling centers in 1995 as part of a 106-center deal that gave it the controlling stake of the now defunct Fair Lanes Inc., formerly of Hunt Valley.

The acquisition made AMF the country's biggest bowling alley company. Lake Forest, Ill.-based Brunswick Corp. is the No. 2 chain.

The duckpin centers AMF targeted for closure have become decades-old community fixtures, but dwindling business and declining interest in duckpin bowling led to the decision, said Paul Barkley, AMF's vice president of operations.

"Business did not warrant the continued operation of the bowling centers," he said. Each of the closing centers had about 1,500 league players each, but very few walk-ins, AMF said.

Duckpin bowling is popular in the Baltimore-Washington area, Virginia and New England, Barkley said. The sport differs from the more popular tenpin bowling because it uses short, chubby pins and a ball the size of a shot put with no holes.

It is widely believed that the game, which had its heyday in the '60s and '70s, was created in Baltimore.

"It's very regionalized, and that has caused a problem for us in trying to promote it," Barkley said. "Duckpin bowling is practically foreign outside of certain areas, and the current duckpin population has aged. There's not enough new activity in the sport."

Barkley said he personally understands the community entertainment value of duckpin bowling, but said closing the centers was purely a business decision.

"We're not running away from Baltimore. We are growing here," Barkley said, adding that AMF last year acquired the Country Club Lanes on Pulaski Highway and Crown Lanes on Kingston Road.

Joan Holthaus, secretary of the Kings Ridge Belles, a 32-member league that has met at the Joppa center every Wednesday for 37 years, said she hasn't noticed any decline in duckpin bowling. She has been a member of the league for 27 years.

"Duckpin bowling is a Baltimore tradition," Holthaus said. "But I guess the bottom line is money."

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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