|Tenpin Alley Coming to Former Imperial Bowl|
|By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff|
06:00AM / Saturday, January 21, 2023
|Images of Imperial Bowl from its website. The Matheses have gutted the building to put in new lanes and contemporary equipment for tenpin bowling. |
Robert Ireland, in this image from Imperial Bowl, retired and closed the candlepin alley in November after running the lanes for 45 years.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — When one door closes another one opens as the saying goes, and this is the case for Pittsfield's last candlepin bowling alley, Imperial Bowl.
Robert Ireland took over what was Imperial Lanes on Lyman Street around 1970 after returning home from Vietnam.
Ireland and his business partner, Zigmund Wojtkowski, were always serious about candlepin bowling — a New England version using smaller balls and narrow pins — and wanted to further the sport by getting involved in associations. Ireland would become president of the Western New England Candlepin Association and pro tour director.
In 1987, he continued on the venture alone and moved Imperial Bowl to 555 Dalton Ave., where it stayed for 35 years until closing its doors last year when he announced his retirement. It would end the Imperial name after 62 years.
During the 45 years that Ireland ran it, the business laid a foundation of community and family.
Ireland's wife, Rosemary, and her father helped run the operation whenever Ireland was unavailable. In addition to covering for her husband, Rosemary on occasion ran the lounge and cooked.
Its end was a bittersweet decision but they are looking forward to being able to spend more time together and be with their family.
"The thing I take from the whole thing is I met a lot of nice people in the bowling industry and made a lot of friends," Ireland said. "And I appreciate all the people that were with us all those years that patronized our beloved center. They were all good friends."
Although the doors have closed to candlepin bowling, the alley was sold in November to K&M Bowling, which will bring tenpin bowling to 555 Dalton Ave.
K&M Bowling was founded by Pittsfielders Kari and Mark Mathes, and they've since partnered with Mark's brother, Joey Mathes, and father, George Mathes.
"We threw out a hope and a thought, and it just snowballed from there. It came out that there was no way we could do it, just the two of us and me and my brother for years have always talked about going into business together," Mark Mathes said.
"So we talked, and we grabbed my father into it. We just couldn't do it all on our own, there's no way we could and so as a group, we were able to do it."
Although this is their first business, each of them have worked in leadership positions and have a variety of skills ranging from business, maintenance, management, and human services that they say will help them be as successful as possible.
Like Ireland, they have a passion for bowling — just the tenpin version. It's always been part of their families' lives, the Mathes said, and each of them have fond memories of participating in leagues.
"I mean you take one family business, and we're incorporating a new family business. So it's just continuing, family and small-business owning and things of that nature, just making it our family and what bowling means for our family. And to give back to our community, too," Kari Mathes said.
The group grew up visiting Ken's Bowl just down the street on a weekly basis and during that time they saw how a space like that brought people together, Joey said.
"And that's the emphasis of community, they come here, they enjoy time. It's a great stress relief and people need to get out and do things," he said.
The family is quite literally building their passion as they have been working for the past three months renovating the space and sharing their journey on social media.
As renovations were underway, they found lost objects such as roller skates, wheels, roller skate brakes from the building's time as a roller rink, and pins and candlepin balls demonstrating the journey the building has gone through since being built in 1952.
Many residents have expressed their enthusiasm on the business's Facebook page, proclaiming how they are excited to see the renovations.
People need things to do around here so creating a space like this provides them a space to be entertained, socialize, and meet new people, Mark and Kari said.
The alley will be equipped with state-of-the-art bowling technology including cosmic bowling (special illumination and music), automatic scoring systems, and more.
"We have state-of-the-art technology between the lanes, the pin centers, everything that we're bringing in is current, it's new and it's really the way forward when it comes to tenpin bowling," Kari said.
Not only are they sharing their passion with the community, they are filling a need, she said.
There are more than 550 adult bowlers sanctioned — members of leagues — through Ken's Bowl, which never reopened from the pandemic and was demolished in 2021, not including the children who were sanctioned.
After Ken's closure, local bowlers had drive a half-hour to an hour to participate in the sport that they love, the couple said.
The only other tenpin bowling alleys left in the Berkshires are Greylock Bowl & Golf in North Adams and Cove Bowling & Entertainment in Great Barrington. With the closure of Imperial and the 104-year-old Candle Lanes on North Street in 2018, only Valley Park Lanes in North Adams still offers candlepin.
The Mathes team has also been working to hold on to the historical components of the building while modernizing it.
"I know a lot of people that have come here even when it wasn't Imperial. I want them to walk in and go, 'Wow.' That's the impression that I would like when somebody walks in because that's what we hope to bring," Joey said.
"Like Kari said, we're bringing in all new equipment, all new state of the art. So it's getting a facelift. The building itself is still here; we're just giving it new character."
Residents are not the only ones expressing their excitement for the opening of this new family business — other local businesses have reached out with advice.
"There's been a lot of local small businesses that have definitely reached out and definitely helped and given a lot of advice," Mark said. "There have been multiple, including today. We run into a snag, they help us so it's the little things that help us progress faster."