OAKHURST – The sounds of kids laughing and pins falling and parents cheering was bittersweet at Sierra Lanes on Wednesday, as the upcoming closure of the bowling alley loomed over everyone’s heads.
The news that the building has been sold to make way for a Grocery Outlet has hit hard in this tight-knit group. On June 7, after the Sober Grad night party, the doors will close.Jerry Rust, who has been coaching kids at Sierra Lanes for 11 years, describes it as a tragic course of events.
“Now the kids will have no place to go,” he says, looking around at the dozens of kids and parents who are there for Wednesday league bowling. “This is taking away something from the town that we really need. All we can do now is just sit down and cry.”
In addition to the kids’ leagues, Rust says there are also about 120 seniors who bowl regularly, and those who wish to continue will have to drive an hour to another bowling alley.
“I don’t want to drive in the dark or in the fog to any of the other options,” he says, noting that he’s pretty sure other seniors don’t either.
Rust says they only found out about the closing last Wednesday. “Maybe if they’d warned us six months ago, maybe we could have done something. Now, we’re dead in the water at the end of the month.”
As a businessman, Rust says he understands why the owners have made this decision.
“If I wasn’t a bowler, I may have gone the same way,” he says. “I own a business, so I understand looking at it from a strictly business point of view. They saw an opportunity to sell it, and they took it. But we’re losing something that’s really needed, so while I understand, it’s just so hard that they took one of the few things to do, and took it away. For a grocery store.”
Sierra Lanes has been a gathering place for kids of all ages for many years, with pool tables and video games in addition to the lanes. On Sober Grad night, it has been a safe place for teens to celebrate the end of high school before heading out to summer jobs and college.
But for Coach Jerry Rust, one of the biggest losses is the sense of community created at the bowl.
“I’ve been coaching some of these kids practically since they were babies,” he says. “It’s always been kind of a family around here. They grow up so fast, and some have left and gone on to college.”
He laments the loss of the social life they all have together at Sierra Lanes, and the bonds they have built over the years.
“I was talking to a lady I’ve been bowling with for 11 years, and she said, ‘We probably won’t see each other anymore, unless we run into each other at the grocery store.’
Sierra Lanes, Inc., who has owned the business for the past seven years, is currently in negotiations to purchase adjacent land, and would like to build a new bowling alley on that site, according to local contractor John Reed, who consulted on the transaction.
“They have some preliminary designs and they’re negotiating on the land, but they need to find an operator,” says Reed. “To make the business work correctly, you need a bar and a restaurant, and you need to find an operator who is qualified to take it over and run it.”
Reed says Sierra Lanes, Inc. is shooting for opening a new bowling alley in Oakhurst in the fall of 2014.
Coach Jerry Rust isn’t banking on that timeline, however. “If I had the money, I’d build us a bowl,” he says. “But I’m like eveybody else – I’d need to win the lottery or something.”
(Photo – kids from the Juniors League “The Inn Crowd,” and the High School League “So You Think You Can Bowl?”)
“The Inn Crowd” kids – Rylee Ashworth, Kaylee Staggers, Ashton Sollars, Ross Ellington, Trevor Gann, Rex Ellington, Alyssa Suderman, Britani Messick, Serafina Montanez, Tristan Wynne, Tanner Bonillas, Samuel Montanez II, Joshua Bayt and Gage Ashworth.
“So You Think You Can Bowl” kids – Michaela Brost, Sabrina Graham, Grant Denney, Crystal Piotrowski, Breanna Day, Christopher Piotrowski, Ryan Kramer, Emily Barton, Ty Gann and Tryston Lewis.