May 20, 2013
How a Rebirth in Candlepin Bowling Can Benefit Your Facility
For anyone who has been involved with candlepin bowling over the years, developing the game has been somewhat of a challenge as people tend to associate bowling with the more popular 10-pin action that is featured on television and often in movies. Still, candlepin bowling can be an ideal add-on attraction to maximize profits for family entertainment centers that also offer miniature golf and go-karts.
What differentiates candlepin from 10-pin are the shape of the pins and the size of the balls. The pins stand 15 3/4 inches tall with a taper on both ends, giving them the appearance of candles, hence the name’s origin. The balls are 4 1/2 inches with a maximum weight of 2.7 pounds and there are no finger holes. You also get three throws instead of two.
As president of the International Candlepin Bowling Association, as well as the owner of French King Bowling Center in Erving, Mass., Ralph Semb has seen a surge in the popularity of candlepin in the last year.
“The ICBA is standardizing the game and there’s a new executive director who is looking to foster changes for the better,” he said. “This is an activity that is fun for everyone, no matter what age, and I’m happy to see that people and families are starting to come out more.”
Candlepin has been around for more than a century, starting in Worcester, Mass., and establishing itself on the East Coast. Today, the game of candlepin is confined to a relatively small section of New England and Canada, with a few lanes popping up at family entertainment centers scattered around the country.
According to Bernie Pelletier, owner of Bayberry Bowling Center, Spencer, Mass., candlepin bowling spells enjoyment for all ages. Family participation and social gathering make up a large part of the appeal of bowling and unlike in 10-pin, youngsters and old-timers alike adapt to the “small ball” game with ease.
“How many things can you do with your two-year-old and your great grandmother? This is as family friendly as you can get,” Pelletier said. “Once they come here, we have them hooked and get them bowling. We renovated not too long ago and it’s an attractive place for them to come and enjoy.”
Pelletier has owned the center for four decades and has seen his place busier than ever. In addition to candlepin, the center has eight pool tables, a game room, skee ball and a prize redemption center. He recently received his beer and wine license and added more food options as well.
“Entertainment may get hit because of the economy, but because it’s not too expensive an activity, during recessionary times we do fine,” he said. “If anything, we are seeing a resurgence. We are getting a lot more groups and schools.”
In fact, the lanes open early mornings on weekdays so that the local high school can run candlepin as one of its physical education programs. That raises the interest of those who are more likely to bowl on weekends and brings in future league bowlers.
David Barber, manager of Lucky Strike Recreation, Lynn, Mass., believes that while candlepin bowling has remained stable the past few years, league bowling is decreasing and open play is picking up.
“The beauty of candlepin bowling is everyone can do it. From 2 years old to 100, if you can stand and roll the ball down the lane, you can enjoy candlepin bowling,” he said. “Our focus is the kids, the future of bowling, as we maintain fun and competitive leagues for the adults and senior citizens.”
Barber, a candlepin Hall of Fame member, has seen a decrease of about 120 percent in bowling over the last 15 years, but believes the tide has been turning lately.
“The great attraction of candlepin bowling is how easy it is for everyone to enjoy. What makes it stand out from 10-pin (or most people’s ‘regular’ bowling) is its difficulty,” Barber said. “Where an average bowler will score over 160 on a regular basis, the average candlepin bowler scores between 90-120.”
Unlike 10-pin, where perfect 300 games are reported weekly and superstars average in the high 200s, no one in the history of candlepin bowling has ever rolled a perfect game with the highest score recognized by the ICBA as being 245.
“It’s a much more challenging game,” said Shawn Morrison manager of the 24-lane Bangor Brewer Bowling Lanes in Brewer, Maine, and current candlepin World Champion. “We also believe it’s much more fun.”
The center has concentrated its efforts on birthday parties over the past year, trying to introduce kids to the sport and get them interested in Saturday leagues.
“It’s so much easier for young kids to do this than anything else be it 10-pin or even miniature golf,” Morrison said. “We’re not promoted in the west or the south and we need to do what we can to keep it going up here. People come up here and have no idea about this game, but when they play, they love it.”
After relying on just candlepin at his center for many years, Mike Leo, owner of Leo’s Super Bowl in Amesbury, Mass., has seen the value of increasing the other entertainment offerings.
“The entertainment part of our business seems to be growing every year for us. With a 12,000-square-foot addition that we constructed in 2006, which consists of two function rooms, a 5,000-square-foot arcade room and redemption center, and a reputable pizza/sandwich restaurant, our business seems to be growing,” he said. “We host business meetings, bridal showers, adult parties, school functions, fundraisers and a host of other events here at the center.”
This, in turn, has increased those who are candlepin bowling at the 24-lane center, especially among the younger crowd.
“The demographics for candlepin bowling at our center is very diverse. We have firemen, policemen, nurses, professionals and many blue-collar workers,” Leo said. “The popularity with our younger bowlers seems to increase every year. Candlepin is unique for the younger children because the balls are smaller and easier for them to handle, which lets the whole family bowl together. Bumper bowling among our younger bowlers has also seen an increase.”
To distinguish his center from others in the state, Leo has a working candlepin bowling machine on display under glass in its game room.
“I got this idea when we had a group of middle school kids who came here one year when their school was under renovations and they had their gym class here at the lanes. At the end of the eight weeks, the kids wanted to see the bowling machines out back so we made arrangements to show them,” Leo said. “After the program, 110 kids wrote our center thank you cards and the interesting part was that 99 percent of them wrote more about seeing an actual machine than they did about the bowling.”
Bowlers of all ages stop by to see the machine. The center also has some large pins in the lobby that customers like to take photos in front of.
Don Benson, owner of the eight-lane Allplay Family Entertainment Center, Waldoboro, Maine, recently renovated his center with $500,000 in improvements, updating his pinsetters and adding automated state-of-the-art scoring and color flat screen overhead monitors.
“We may only have eight lanes but we do a tremendous business with just my wife and me owning and operating it. Candlepin runs in cycles and we are in an up cycle right now,” he said. “We’ve just been sanctioned to host state tournaments and I think that will only add to the sport’s appeal around here.” –