Economics defeats bowling alleys

Economics defeats bowling alleys

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To the Editor:

I have followed from a distance the debate over the proposed bowling center/bar in Oak Bluffs, and I am a potential next door neighbor. But this isn’t about me; this is about what’s good for Oak Bluffs and the Vineyard.

When I bought my condo on Hiawatha Avenue 10 years ago, the realtor told me the story of the vacant laundromat: the vision the developer had for a green facility, the investment in technology, and the abandoned building when reality didn’t live up to the promise. He also told me of the vision the then new owner had: in addition to the condos, he was going to build a number of single-family homes where the laundromat stood. But along came the 2005 financial crisis that culminated with the 2008 Wall Street collapse. The vision went down with the stock and the real estate markets.

Now, all hope is being pinned on a bowling alley and the promise of good, clean family-centric entertainment. My concerns aside, I wanted to know the experience other resort communities had with bowling centers. Nantucket opened one in 1918 to help turn around a struggling casino. It failed. Two years ago, someone proposed another one. This is how it was reported out in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror: “(Jan. 26, 2012 ) What was the first question posed to a panel of town officials, business owners and civic leaders assembled Monday to discuss issues facing downtown Nantucket? ‘One man wanted to know if there was any interest in putting in a bowling alley.’

“After the laughter subsided, Nantucket Bookworks owner Wendy Hudson offered a healthy dose of reality about the cost of doing business downtown.

“‘It’s the rent,’ she said. ‘The cost of square-footage downtown that is practically insurmountable. The only reason the bookstores work is because ReMain and my family are helping that happen. You can’t make the math work. You wouldn’t believe how tight it is… A bowling alley would be great here. To see it downtown would shock me.’”

We can’t ignore the reality of how difficult it is to operate a profitable business in a high-rent area. We also can’t ignore that bowling’s peak season is the fall and winter — the off-season for tourists on whom the proposed bowling center’s success will likely depend. A strategy given on one web site for bowling alley operators for making bowling alleys profitable in the summer is to open lanes late and offer discounts. Late hours don’t mix with a residential community, and prices are understandably higher on-Island in the summer to make up for the slow off-season. Frankly, I don’t know too many families who come to M.V. in the summer to spend time bowling. If it’s not a beach day, it’s porch day, or a day to explore the Island’s small businesses.

I also wanted to know how bowling alleys are doing in the current economy. Buzzfeed ( had on its site a list of 40 abandoned bowling alleys. Bowling centers are growing in urban areas, but smaller centers are on the decline. The culprit, according to one bowling web site, is the loss of discretionary income. There’s not a whole lot of discretionary income to spend by many of the Island’s year-round residents. Affordable housing would likely be their preference. I have not come across anything that convinces me a bowling alley is good for Martha’s Vineyard, let alone Oak Bluffs.

I understand hope and vision. I had both a decade ago when I purchased my condo in anticipation of spending a quiet retirement on-Island beginning in 2014.

Peggy Barmore

Oak Bluffs


  1. It would be unfair to everyone on the Island if a few neighbors were allowed to stop a run-down, abandoned eye-sore of a building from being developed into a nice entertainment facility. Especially, when they had full knowledge beforehand that they were buying on the edge of a commercial district.

    As for your assertion that a bowling alley isn’t financially viable, isn’t that really up to the person/company that is going to be spending a very large amount of money to open the busines? Obviously, they studied the market and have a basis for making this investment.
    You may also want to look at the recent trend towards High-end “boutique” bowling alleys with attached restaurants and that are being built in many vacation spots. For instance, the new CineBowl in Delray Beach is so popular that they’re about to expand after only being open a year.

    I’m also a bit surprised that anyone would use the failure of a bowling alley from almost 100 years ago on an Island that a total population of under 3,000 as the basis for an argument.

    1. I enjoyed the bowling alley in Vineyard Haven, but it wasn’t 100 years ago even if it was in the last century.

      1. I was writing about the bowling alley the author cited from Nantucket. It was built around 1918 as a way to help a casino that had burned down there…or something like that.

  2. I just did a quick Google search and everything I saw talks about the growing popularity of bowling. Look at Kings. It started in Boston and has successfully been expanding across the area. I disagree that it will not be used during the off season. There’s not a lot to do here and I would definitely be a regular customer.

  3. Not in my 10 year old back yard on the Vineyard Ha Peggy?
    Thanks for the Fact Check Claude Shirl.

  4. This is an astoundingly incoherent and illogical letter. It does nothing to support your claim and it lays bare that you have a personal interest in seeing this property developed in another manner.

  5. You said, Islanders prefer to spend money on affordable housing rather than go bowling…

    Your slap in the face to the economic standings of myself is not appreciated. Don’t tell me where and how to spend my money. Its time for you to get a clue and realize its not your island. You don’t have a right to speak for me or my family! Who do you think I am, some poor desolate person who will lose my housing if I go bowling. Grow up.

  6. I disagree with Ms. Barmore’s assertion that the bowling alley’s success depends on summer tourists. I think it would be a great year round activity (pool tables too please!). I am however confused by her assertion that “late hours don’t mix with a residential community” – the building in question is in the commercial district. She knew that when she purchased her property. Granted it’s not smack dab in the middle of Circuit Ave. but it will be in a building that’s been abandoned for years. I too understand hope and vision – mine is for the property to be as wonderful an addition to the year round residents of the island as developer Sam Dunn proposes. Hopefully as wonderful as one of his prior projects, the MV Film Center…

  7. Sad letter. Lesson learned: when buying a condo, don’t listen to the realtor’s stories about the the neighboring abandoned commercial property. The realtor’s concern is the sale, not some vision.

    1. The reality is that the bowling alley probably won’t cause any problems for the neighboring residential spaces and may increase the values of their property over that of being next to an abandoned fire-trap.

  8. What a silly letter! This women has no idea what it is like to grow up on the Island, and just how lonely and depressing it can be in the winter. This would not only be a great outlet for kids/families, but has been thrilling news for my age group of the mid-20s. Doesn’t make sense to compare a vineyard bowling alley to failing off Island alleys which are surrounded by competition and new Dave & Buster’s down the road. It would be risky if it was just a bowling alley, but attaching the bar I think guarantees a steady flow in the off season. It will be such a gold mine in the summer, have you seen how packed the game room gets! As a kid, the Vineyard Haven bowling Alley was a blast.
    When family member’s come down from New York City they bask in the glorious billboard free landscapes for a day, then it is just ” how can you stand it here? I mean there isn’t even a bowling alley!” Remember when there was a roof top mini golf course, and even a mini butterfly sanctuary in downtown Oak Bluffs. Oak bluffs is desperate for fun venues! What I wouldn’t do to kick back with a basket of wings, and watch some bowling, and pool tables. Please for the love of god pool tables!

    1. I think the pool tables are going to be part of the “Gentleman’s Club” that is going to be proposed for one of the theaters in OB. :)

  9. I am posting comment # 16 here — I agree with the great majority of others before me.
    Sorry, Peggy, you bought in speculating on the word of the person that was selling you something.. There are no guarantees in life.. There are plenty of realtors on this island that would be happy to sell your property and sell you a “quieter” location.

  10. The new bowling alley at mashpee commons in a gem! Great food, great lanes and the place is busy all the time. I know our family would be one of the first to join teams for league bowling, way better money spent than joining a gym. It will be a sad day if the MVC doesn’t “allow” the bowling alley. I’ve been a resident of the island for fourteen years and if it is a resounding no, than that is an incredible loss for those of us who find this place a snore.

  11. Gee, I wonder if the writer has any idea how snobby and out-of-touch she sounds? Here’s a little fact: for us year-rounders, working and raising families, our “discretionary income” (who says that?) is spent enjoying time together with family and friends, supporting the island community throughout the off-season by attending benefit events, sports events, theater, movies, concerts…. hmm, much as you off-islanders do?? For us, a plan for rehabbing a town eye-sore into a venue for social activity and family fun is right up our ALLEY!

    1. Well put JC. What’s astounding to me is that she’d rather live next to that eyesore and neighborhood disgrace than a well kept thriving business (I’m basing my assumptions on Mr. Dunn’s prior “clean up” of Woodland Center – who remembers the crumbling greenhouse?). Is it time for islanders to “take back MV?” How about all major town votes happen in February and we’ll see how things pan out then? I am pro-property rights for individuals and don’t want to be misconstrued but really, the property rights of a commercial owner in a commercially zoned location can’t be ignored either. I wouldn’t be so gung ho if it was just another summer T-Shirt shop but the idea of a year round bowling alley has merit. I’m sorry this homeowner was sold a story by a realtor but I believe the complaints would be the same if a grocery store or yummmm, full blow Humphrey’s Bakery (like the original in WT) were to replace the rat infested “broken windows” fire hazard eye sore of Oak Bluffs that is the former Laundromat. It is the potential increase in traffic that they fear… but don’t we all? Can any of us move or breathe when the hoards of “summer people” invade? Why do the rights of wealthy 2nd home owners override the rights of year-round voting islanders? Whose island is this? They want us to cow tow the way we do when we clean their houses, mow their lawns, and fix their toilets. But it’s OUR lives, why can’t we have a bowing alley again on the island?