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Lewis Lanes owners say sale backlash is hurting business

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LOWVILLE — Lewis Lanes’ owners stand by their decision to sell the bowling alley at 7828 Route 26 for $1 million.

“The only thing we did was we made a phone call. ... (Lewis County legislators) took over from there,” said Richard E. Crouse, who co-owns the facility with his son, Derek. “There was nothing to be said until the building was sold to them. They guaranteed us on that verbally. Once that was done there should have been no more repercussions on our end.”

But the family has seen its share of repercussions following the financial decision. Already a team has left one of its weekday bowling leagues, and the Crouses have heard a rumor that others may depart as well.

The Crouses put up the offer to sell the bowling alley to the Lewis County Board of Legislators in October, after the board had voted not to build a county building on outer Stowe Street.

The offer was discussed and accepted, 6-4, by legislators Oct. 28.

“It was supposed to be a cut-and-dried deal. Now it’s hard to look our bowlers in the face, and we have no problem with our bowlers,” Mr. Crouse said.

The building would remain functioning as a bowling alley until the end of April, at which point it would be taken over by the county.

Following the announcement, bowlers have discussed their disappointment over the sale and over not being given fair warning that it was a possibility.

“Every business owner has a right to make a decision of what’s right for their future and family. And I believe that the bowlers and the community are just disappointed with how this was approached and handled by the owners and by our local county officials — not all of them,” said Beth Schaab, a three-league bowler at the alley.

“The Crouses should have tried to sell the bowling alley as a bowling alley first and work with the legislators properly as a second plan,” said avid bowler Spring Austin.

But the Crouses said they were not trying to give their loyal customers the slip. They simply were taking advantage of a financial decision that would assist their family in the long run.

“We’ve tried to make a business decision. It’s not to hurt anybody; it’s to look out for us. We have families,” Mr. Crouse said.

The business helps to support the 57-year-old and his wife, as well as their son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

“That’s the problem. We can make it easily from year to year. But there’s nothing left to put away,” he said.

The owner for the past 11 years said the sale will allow the Crouses to pay off their mortgage — which carried over following a 2009 fire that burned the original building — as well as put some money away for retirement. The original building opened in 1959. Mr. Crouse and his son purchased the facility in 2002.

Mr. Crouse said he was unsure selling the building as a bowling alley would have done much more than cover the cost of the mortgage, which he estimated is about $200,000. Year to year, he said, the family took in a decent amount of money, but most of it goes to the mortgage and general operating costs, and even then business has been on a steady decline following the recession.

After the fire, the facility lost 42 league bowlers, and coming into this season it has been able to bring back only 27.

“It’s a steady decline. It’s the economy,” Mr. Crouse said. “We see a steady decrease, and how long can we keep seeing losses in people?”

Still, he admits he can see why bowlers are taking the decision with difficulty, and he wants bowlers to understand the decision was nothing against them.

“Anybody who’s been in business — I’ve got people coming here and shaking my hand that have never been in the place. They say, ‘it’s a hard thing to do, I’ve done it, too, but you’re doing the right thing.’ We did not have to sell financially, but if we wanted to have a retirement, we had to start doing something.”

Mr. Crouse works an estimated 95 hours a week, seven days a week. He said some days he has trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and he figured it was time to start cutting back.

“We’re not mad at our bowlers. We did our darnedest. We had a decent shot — that’s how we dressed the lanes — and we made sure most people were happy. We cared for our bowlers and not one of them could tell you differently until this week,” he said.

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