After the announcement that the 77-year-old Colonial Bowling Lanes in Westbrook would be closing, the owner and avid bowlers are planning to end their run the only way they know how – more bowling.
On Saturday, May 7, the last day that the business will be open, Colonial Bowling Lanes is hosting an all-day “Clear the Cooler” party and “Last Shot” bowling tournament at 4:30 p.m.
Owner Kevin Sparks, who bought the facility in 2004, says he’s hoping to see some familiar faces.
“We just want people to come in and share some memories,” he said. “We’re hoping there’s a large crowd.”
Following the tournament, he said, a DJ will be playing music for the rest of the night.
Sparks said Monday that running the business has become too stressful.
“It wasn’t looking like there was a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Sparks previously turned down two offers to buy the building, located at 399 Main St., hoping that he could lure a buyer who would keep the bowling alley. However, after three years, he finally took the most recent offer.
He said the new owner would turn the building into a warehouse.
“This time I had no choice but to say yes,” he said, adding that he had been trying to get creative in an attempt to bring in more revenue for the bowling alley. “It was time to go.”
He said he owes tax money to both the IRS and the city of Westbrook.
Sparks said he had been bowling at Colonial for at least a decade before he bought it. Sparks has a collection of titles and trophies from candlepin bowling championships.
Candlepin bowling (the small balls) is a New England tradition. It is known to attract a tight-knit group of followers, but many candlepin bowling alleys have closed due to aging technology and competition from larger 10-pin bowling centers.
However, according to Liz Moore, the executive director of the International Candlepin Bowling Association, based in Massachusetts, candlepin has seen a revitalization.
In Westbrook, which also has the candlepin Westport Bowling Lanes, a new, state-of-the-art center is under construction now. Tod’s, which will offer candlepin bowling and bocce, will open on Elmwood Avenue in the Prides Corner neighborhood.
Sparks said the many bowling leagues that operate at Colonial will most likely decide on their own whether to relocate to Westport or Tod’s. While under construction, Tod’s has not yet released an opening date.
“Both of them are willing to take what people want to bring down to them,” he said.
Following the announcement that Colonial is closing, longtime customers and league members began sharing thoughts on social media. Many Westbrook residents said they grew up bowling at Colonial, or at one time played in a league there.
Wade Depalma, who won the 2016 house championship at Colonial just a few weeks ago, said the victory was bittersweet, knowing that he will be the last champion there. Depalma, 30, said he began bowling at 16, and fell in love with candlepin and Colonial.
Depalma, who is Sparks’ stepson, said he looked up to Sparks and other people there.
“He (Sparks) is who got me going in the sport and he also taught me how to fix and operate the machines,” he said this week. “I’m saddened it’s closing, I’ve made a lot of friends at Colonial and it’s become like a second family down there.
Sparks expects the deal on Colonial to be finalized May 10. In the meantime, he’ll be selling off the candlepin gear to other businesses. He said he has a list of parts two pages long that he’ll sell.
The “Last Shot” tournament is $25 per person, and those interested should call 854-8936 to sign up.
Sparks said after all the work is completed to close the business, he may begin bowling again.
“If I do decide to bowl again, I want to just come in and bowl,” he said.
Colonial Bowling Lanes, operating in downtown Westbrook for the past 77 years, will close May 7 after an all-day closing celebration and candlepin bowling tournament.
Wade Depalma, right, the 2016 house champion at Colonial Bowling Lanes in Westbrook, stands with runner-up Zach Emerson just a few weeks ago following the tournament. Longtime customers of Colonial Bowling will participate in a “Last Shot” tournament May 7, the last day the lanes will be open.