An upscale bowling center similar to other nearby establishments such as Bayside Bowl in Portland and Easy Day in South Portland is coming to the Prides Corner neighborhood in Westbrook.
Tod’s, which will also offer a bistro and indoor bocce, will have a slightly different take on the model. Where Bayside Bowl and Easy Day have 10-pin bowling, Tod’s will feature candlepins.
While there are already two candlepin centers in Westbrook, Tod Lyter, the owner of Tod’s, says his business represents the first new candlepin bowling operation in Maine in decades.
The project is under way now at 33 Elmwood Ave. in Westbrook, the former home of the Prides Corner Flea Market. The building, more than 20,000 square feet, at one time housed a bowling alley.
Scott Watson, the director of operations for Tod’s, said Tuesday that the building has been under heavy demolition since November, but that work has been quick. The crew was completing multiple jobs Tuesday.
“We’re full speed ahead,” he said, declining to give an estimate for when the business will open. He said the developers will most likely spend some $1.5 million on the project.
The bistro at Tod’s will be a large restaurant and bar in the center of the building. The design follows a growing trend in the industry, an atmosphere that provides both recreation and more high-end dining.
Bill Baker, Westbrook’s assistant city administrator for business and community relations, called the announcement of Tod’s “more good news for Westbrook.”
He said the business is a sizeable investment in the community.
“I think that demonstrates the confidence and enthusiasm people have in the commercial real estate market in Westbrook,” he said, also adding that he recently got a flavor of the business model by visiting Easy Day.
“I can attest to the popularity of these positive indoor recreational sites and I look forward to Westbrook having another,” he said.
The main difference at Tod’s will be the combination of candlepin bowling and indoor bocce. It will feature 14 bowling lanes and four courts for bocce, a competitive game of skill in which players roll a bocce ball as close as possible to the pallino, a smaller ball that is rolled down the alley first.
Watson said the business will employ about 25 full- and part-time staff. The setup follows a model also used by a chain called Pinstripes, which has bowling and bocce locations in Illinois, Minnesota and other states.
But, candlepin bowling (the small balls) is seen as a tradition in New England, and Tod’s plans to provide a larger, upscale take. Lyter said the business will also launch a new type of pinsetter for candlepin bowling, which he called rare for the industry. The most recent machinery was built in 1965, he said.
“Candlepin bowling has been on the downswing, and it’s the first time someone will be building a new candlepin bowling center, that I know of, in the last 20 years,” he said.
The two other candlepin bowling locations in Westbrook are Westport Bowling Lanes and Colonial Bowling Center, both on Main Street.
Liz Moore, the executive director of the International Candlepin Bowling Association, based in Massachusetts, said this week that candlepin bowling is “regular bowling for people on the East Coast,” referring to candlepin as a New England tradition.
“The game is steeped in tradition, with families who have been bowling for generations, and many even have grandparents who used to work as pin boys before automatic pinsetters were installed in the 1950s,” she said.
Moore said that candlepin is going through a revitalization period, and that “boutique” bowling centers offering food are gaining popularity.
Watson estimated that the bar at Tod’s will accomodate 23 seats, while the kitchen will be an open concept, featuring a brick oven for pizza.
On Monday, the Westbrook City Council unanimously approved the liquor license for Tod’s, but not without concerns from neighboring residents, who still have lingering memories from past uses of the building, which included what many said was an unruly bar.
Allen Doherty, who is the closest abutter, at 31 Elmwood Ave., said during the meeting Monday that he’s concerned the business will create similar noise issues.
“I’m not opposed to this, and that building deserves a nice business,” he said, while pointing to concerns over the business hours, parking lot lighting and outside dining.
A resident of 409 Bridgton Road, Pauline Barrows, said the neighbors have been “hit hard in the past” by noisy businesses, and said she’s hoping this will be different. She said the former pool hall and restaurant were a “nightmare” for neighbors.
“We’re not looking to alienate any of our neighbors,” Lyter said. “We don’t want to do anything but build a community here.”
Watson said the management team of Tod’s has been proactive in inviting neighbors to stop into the building to talk about the project.
Mark Malone, of Malone Commercial Brokers, and Jack Soley, of the East Brown Cow real estate and development company, are the owners of the building. Lyter is leasing the building with an option to purchase.
On Tuesday, Watson said he remembers coming to the building to bowl when he was a kid, when it featured both candlepin and 10-pin bowling, and a mini-golf course upstairs. Watson said Lyter got turned on to the building when he heard the bowling lanes were still under the floor.
“There they are, they’re ready to go,” he said.
The approaches to what will be the bowling lanes at Tod’s in Westbrook were already in place Tuesday. The business, which will offer a restaurant, bar, bowling and indoor bocce, is now under construction. This large space will eventually be the bistro at Tod’s, featuring a bar and restaurant.