Gutter ball

Harry Otey bowls at Erie Lanes on 1310 E. Erie Ave on Sunday, June 5. Kev­in Cook/for the Times

Jon Kroljic has been in the bowl­ing busi­ness for 30 years and knew Adams Lanes had a bad repu­ta­tion when he as­sumed own­er­ship 10 months ago.

One of his first meet­ings was with Mark Mroz, com­munity re­la­tions of­ficer in the 2nd Po­lice Dis­trict, who pro­duced a thick file of crime re­ports from the bowl­ing al­ley, at 649 Foulk­rod St., in Cres­centville.

The city wanted to re­voke the fa­cil­ity’s busi­ness priv­ilege li­cense but agreed to al­low it to stay open, provided there be a mid­night curfew and a met­al de­tect­or at the front door.

Kroljic, 48, knows that a met­al de­tect­or would prob­ably dis­cour­age fam­il­ies from schedul­ing a fun out­ing, and he sought to re­build the busi­ness based on or­gan­ized leagues and cas­u­al bowl­ers, not private bowl­ing parties where young people would do more party­ing than bowl­ing.

“A bowl­ing cen­ter is sup­posed to be all about bowl­ing,” he said.

At the same time, he learned that AMF Boulevard Lanes, at 8011 Roosevelt Blvd., was about to close.

Vir­gin­ia-based AMF did not re­turn a call for com­ment, but the loc­al bowl­ing com­munity is a tight-knit one, and the word in bowl­ing circles was that the build­ing own­er wanted to in­crease the rent. AMF left upon the ex­pir­a­tion of its lease.

Once Boulevard Lanes — which also housed the Arena Sports Bar — an­nounced a May 15 clos­ing date, Kroljic paid a vis­it to his com­pet­it­or, meet­ing with league com­mis­sion­ers to en­tice them to re­lo­cate to Adams Lanes. He met with com­mis­sion­ers rep­res­ent­ing 1,500 bowl­ers, but only two leagues agreed to make the move.

“That wasn’t enough,” he said.

Boulevard Lanes closed, as sched­uled, on May 15. The win­dows have boards on them, and a sign dir­ects bowl­ers and those who need to re­deem gift cards and coupons to AMF Bris­tol Pike Lanes in Croy­don. That’s a big fall for a place that opened in 1958 and once hos­ted a Pro­fes­sion­al Bowl­ers As­so­ci­ation tour­na­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to Kroljic, Boulevard Lanes was do­ing well, and AMF wanted to re­new its lease. Ru­mors had an­oth­er bowl­ing al­ley or a loc­al hos­pit­al in­ter­ested in the prop­erty, but no agree­ments were reached.

For the most part, league mem­bers have re­lo­cated to Bris­tol Pike Lanes, the Brun­swick Zone in Feasterville and Thun­der­bird Lanes loc­a­tions at 3081 Holme Ave. and 5830 Castor Ave. in Ox­ford Circle.

Adams Lanes, which opened in 1960, closed to the pub­lic on May 28. It re­opened on June 1 for a pre­vi­ously sched­uled school out­ing and on June 5 for the fi­nal time for a Battle of the Sexes Tour­na­ment.

A sign on the ex­ter­i­or wall reads, “Adams Lanes now closed. Thank you for years of sup­port. Vis­it us at Erie Lanes,” and gives the ad­dress, tele­phone num­ber and Web site for Erie Lanes.

Kroljic has owned Erie Lanes, at M Street and Erie Av­en­ue in Ju­ni­ata Park, since Au­gust 2009. The fa­cil­ity is already do­ing well and should be­ne­fit from the clos­ing of nearby Adams Lanes.

The own­er is op­tim­ist­ic about the fu­ture of Erie Lanes, which has a loy­al base of league and neigh­bor­hood bowl­ers. It has 48 lanes and plenty of free off-street park­ing, and Kroljic has an af­fable re­la­tion­ship with pat­rons. It’s home to a bar, pool tables, air hockey and pop-a-shot games and video ar­cade games. The pub­lic is in­vited to join a league, enter a tour­na­ment, take ad­vant­age of daily spe­cials or hold a birth­day party on site.

Kroljic man­aged Erie Lanes in 1994 and ’95 be­fore Brun­swick took over. Now that Adams Lanes is closed, Erie is the only one of the so-called “Big Three” — which in­cluded Cottman Lanes, near Cottman Av­en­ue and Large Street — re­main­ing open.

Adams Lanes and Boulevard Lanes both had 48 lanes. So does Erie Lanes. Thun­der­bird Lanes of­fers 36 lanes on Holme Av­en­ue and 16 on Castor Av­en­ue. Dave & Buster’s, at Frank­lin Mills mall, fea­tures 20 lanes of bowl­ing.

Kroljic said bowl­ing al­leys used to gen­er­ate 90 per­cent of their busi­ness from leagues, but they now rely heav­ily on parties, fund-raisers and fam­ily out­ings.

“Get­ting an open lane was un­heard of, but the busi­ness of bowl­ing has changed over the years,” he said.

Kroljic isn’t es­pe­cially op­tim­ist­ic about the fu­tures of the two empty build­ings; bowl­ing al­leys are built to spe­cific­a­tions. He formerly man­aged a bowl­ing al­ley in Cherry Hill, N.J. It closed in 2007 and re­mains va­cant.

Still, he be­lieves the clos­ings of Adams Lanes and Boulevard Lanes can strengthen ex­ist­ing bowl­ing al­leys.

“It’s a thin­ning of the herd,” he said. “There were too many lane beds and not enough people.”

Kroljic thinks it’s a shame that a per­fectly nice fa­cil­ity such as Adams Lanes had to meet its de­mise.

“It’s loc­a­tion, loc­a­tion, loc­a­tion,” he said Sunday morn­ing as he pre­pared the place for the fi­nal tour­na­ment. “If you pick this build­ing up and put it on the Boulevard, it’s an in­stant gold mine.”

When Kroljic tried to con­vince Boulevard Lanes league bowl­ers to come to Adams Lanes, he, of course, had to tell them the loc­a­tion.

The busi­ness­man said he was told re­peatedly, “That way on the Boulevard? We’re not go­ing there.”

In ne­go­ti­ations with the man­agers of one league, he ex­plained how they could save $17,000, a nice chunk of change to hand out in end-of-the-year prize money, if they de­cided to re­lo­cate to Adams.

“They did not blink an eye,” Kroljic said, adding that they took their busi­ness else­where. 

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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