Bonita Springs Florida Weekly

BOWLING CHANGES LANES

An iconic Florida alley will close, but the sport isn’t in the gutter. What’s behind a shift in the American pastime?



An iconic Florida alley will close, but the sport isn’t in the gutter. What’s behind a shift in the American pastime?

An iconic Florida alley will close, but the sport isn’t in the gutter. What’s behind a shift in the American pastime?

Bowland Beacon in Collier County is about to strike out. The last balls will roll down the alley on Aug. 17. The facility — which opened in 1958 — has been sold to Waterside Hotel Dev LLC for $8 million. For bowling enthusiasts, the demise of traditional bowling alleys, and the rise of bowling entertainment centers, is part of a nationwide trend.

Some history

Bowling had its greatest popularity in the 1960s when there were more than 12,000 bowling establishments nationwide. Now there are approximately 3,300.

Traditionally, bowling was a blue collar sport. Leagues were popular with workers unions, mobile home parks and senior citizens. Bowling alleys made most of their money with leagues that guaranteed them about 35 weeks of customers along with income from the bar and restaurant. But over the past decade things have changed. The business now makes more money from birthday parties, families and groups of friends.

In Southwest Florida, it is also the result of a change in population. In May 1996, Pat Ciniello (who is currently selling Bowland Beacon in Naples) closed University Lanes in Bonita Springs. At the time, Ciniello said there was a loss of interest in the sport. Most of the people moving to Bonita were heading to gated communities instead of the mobile home parks and small neighborhoods that used to be prevalent in the area. Ciniello said his customers at University Lanes tended to be the residents of the trailer parks and manufactured home communities, such as Imperial Bonita Estates, Citrus Park, Southern Pines and Pinewoods. Those types of places had bowling leagues, while places like Bonita Bay and Pelican Landing didn’t. So Ciniello needed to find a new way to attract people to the business.

A father helps his daughter send the ball down the lane at Bowland Beacon in Naples. Its VIP lanes offer features like laneside seating and private screens, perfect for special occasions or groups.

A father helps his daughter send the ball down the lane at Bowland Beacon in Naples. Its VIP lanes offer features like laneside seating and private screens, perfect for special occasions or groups.

The new look

In 2014, Ciniello tried an experiment. He built the first HeadPinz in Cape Coral.

“That is where we transformed traditional bowling,” he declared.

He made the facility non-smoking to attract more families. He added more arcade games, miniature golf and other attractions.

Nancy Laich enjoys the Tuesday bowling league at Bowland Beacon. ANDREA STETSON / FLORIDA WEEKLY

Nancy Laich enjoys the Tuesday bowling league at Bowland Beacon. ANDREA STETSON / FLORIDA WEEKLY

“The model really catered to families and young people, and it really changed the whole industry,” Ciniello stressed. “Today when you are building a bowling center, you are not building a traditional bowling center.”

Ciniello went on to build HeadPinz in Fort Myers where he added laser tag, more than 50 arcade games, pool tables, ax throwing, Nemos Sports Bar, and is now adding an indoor go cart track.

“That really seemed to pique the interest for corporate parties and all sorts of events, and it drove a lot of traffic into it,” he explained.

A year ago, in March 2023, Ciniello announced that after owning bowling centers in Southwest Florida for more than 43 years, the Ciniello family was downsizing its operations, and that Bowland Cape Coral and HeadPinz Cape Coral were being sold to the Bowlero Corp.

“After the last three years of COVID, Hurricane Ian and personal family loses, it’s time to take a breath and refocus on family and the overall direction for our other companies,” Ciniello was quoted as saying at the time.

Gary Ciniello and Pat Ciniello are longtime bowlers. Pat has owned bowling establishments all over Southwest Florida including Bowland Beacon in North Naples. MIKE CANNINGTON / COURTESY PHOTO

Gary Ciniello and Pat Ciniello are longtime bowlers. Pat has owned bowling establishments all over Southwest Florida including Bowland Beacon in North Naples. MIKE CANNINGTON / COURTESY PHOTO

He built Woodside in Naples in 1989 and later transformed it into another HeadPinz by adding laser tag, arcade games, pool and a sports bar. He could not do that with Bowland Beacon because there just isn’t enough land. Bowland sits on less than two acres. HeadPinz in Fort Myers sits on 4.2 acres.

“Beacon has always been a traditional bowling center,” said Ciniello, who bought the establishment in January 1980. “It has food and beverage. It was not large enough like HeadPinz in Naples and Fort Myers. Definitely this business model is more profitable. People still like to roll the ball and knock down pins, but when you have the other elements, it brings the whole family together. You have multiple businesses under one roof.”

While laser tag and arcade games are the most popular additions, bowling alleys around the state are adding a variety of things, such as mini golf, virtual reality and rock climbing, darts, karaoke, ax throwing, volleyball, soccer and basketball.

Bowland Beacon in North Naples first opened in 1958. It will close August 18. MIKE CANNINGTON / COURTESY PHOTO

Bowland Beacon in North Naples first opened in 1958. It will close August 18. MIKE CANNINGTON / COURTESY PHOTO

It’s all part of the transition in this $6 billion a year industry that is trading marketing league play for enticing customers for more of a happy hour, after work, party atmosphere.

Ciniello is continuing to add to his bowling entertainment mecca. He is currently building the indoor go cart facility by HeadPinz Fort Myers. He just added Neoverse, a new multiverse gaming system in Fort Myers, and is adding it now at HeadPinz Naples. That entertainment system has a giant 10-foot tall, 45-footwide video screen where customers can watch everything from the Super Bowl, to videos, to gaming.

He added string bowling to the VIP lanes in Fort Myers and is currently adding string bowling at HeadPinz Naples. That system uses strings instead of the big, mechanical arms to set up the pins, saving time and money.

The new Neoverse, a time warping multiverse gaming system, has a giant 10 foot tall, 45-foot-wide screen. The system is now in place at HeadPinz in Fort Myers and is being added to the HeadPinz in Naples. MIKE CANNINGTON / COURTESY PHOTO

The new Neoverse, a time warping multiverse gaming system, has a giant 10 foot tall, 45-foot-wide screen. The system is now in place at HeadPinz in Fort Myers and is being added to the HeadPinz in Naples. MIKE CANNINGTON / COURTESY PHOTO

It’s now everywhere

This business model isn’t just in Lee and Collier counties but all over the state and nation. Robin Shopa, owner of Treasure Lanes in Port Charlotte, is currently adding a 10,000-square-foot game room and laser tag rooms to her bowling establishment.

“We have a lot of changes,” Shopa began.

While Treasure Lanes currently has 43 leagues, she said that is not enough. The business needs to move ahead with the times and give people what they want in entertainment.

“You want to be more diverse,” Shopa stressed. “You want to offer more to your community. There is nothing here in Charlotte County for kids, so my husband and I want to offer something more for kids. If we have the laser tag and the game room, that offers a lot for the kids. We have night out for the parents, too. They can be bowling while the kids are in the game room. We do pride ourselves as a family center. You have to offer what there is a need for, and there is definitely a need in this community.”

Bowland Beacon has come a long way from the old lanes in 1950. There have been many modernizations over the years. This photo was taken in the 2000s of children enjoying hot summer afternoons at Bowland Beacon. Bowland and HeadPinz have a kids bowl free every day in the summer program. ANDREA STETSON / FLORIDA WEEKLY

Bowland Beacon has come a long way from the old lanes in 1950. There have been many modernizations over the years. This photo was taken in the 2000s of children enjoying hot summer afternoons at Bowland Beacon. Bowland and HeadPinz have a kids bowl free every day in the summer program. ANDREA STETSON / FLORIDA WEEKLY

In Palm Beach County, three of the four bowling centers are owned by Bowlero which has an entertainment style business model. And while that is a fast growing trend, not everyone is happy about it.

Bill Haser is the USBC (United States Bowling Congress) president, and a bowler of 53 years.

“Bowling has declined over the last 40 years on a regular basis,” Haser began. “In 1979, Palm Beach County had 13 bowling centers. Now there are four. In the 1980s, the bottom line for a bowling center was usually 80% on league play. Now it is under 20%.”

Sheryl Lewis, USBC association manager in Palm Beach County, said that even though leagues bring in steady reliable income, bowling centers can still make more money by catering to families, friends and parties.

“When you have a league, they have to make sure everything is up to specs,” Lewis explained. “The parties, you don’t have to oil the lanes. You don’t have to have any specs. They can make more money on open play and parties. They can charge whatever they want.”

Bowland Beacon in North Naples first opened in 1958. It will close Aug. 18. MIKE CANNINGTON / COURTESY PHOTO

Bowland Beacon in North Naples first opened in 1958. It will close Aug. 18. MIKE CANNINGTON / COURTESY PHOTO

Haser bowls at the one independent alley in Palm Beach County. On Friday nights his league takes up 18 of the 60 lanes. The others are packed with nonleague play.

“They are at a waiting list by seven o’clock,” Haser described. “I know if I pulled my league, and I have been there since 1992, I know they would make more money with parties.”

Final frames

It’s not just the decline of league play and the rise of mega entertainment centers that have changed the industry. One by one many traditional lanes found themselves in their final frames for an array of reasons. The number of bowling centers in the U.S. has declined 1% per year on average over the five years between 2018 and 2023. COVID played a big role in 2020 and 2021 when facilities were forced to shut down. The steady reduction in the number of bowling centers is also driven by the decline of league bowling and the sale of many bowling centers so the land could be used for more profitable ventures. There are also more choices for entertainment today.

In Palm Beach County, Verdes Tropicana Bowl closed its doors for good in 2021. It had been in business for 62 years. The owner says it closed because someone bought the building and the bowling business was evicted.

Rosemary Square Bowling closed in 2019 to make room for an entertainment facility and restaurants. Strike Zone closed in 2023 with the owners stating that it suffered financially from the Covid pandemic.

In Orlando, Colonial Lanes, which opened in 1959, closed in 2018 so the building could be razed to build a self-storage facility. Venice Lanes, the only bowling alley in Venice, closed in 2020. In Daytona Beach, Bellair Lanes, which had been in business almost 60 years, shut its doors in 2017, leaving that town without bowling. That owner blamed it on damage from a hurricane.

Beach Bowl, a family-run business in Jacksonville for more than 50 years, closed in 2019. In April, a Bowlero Lanes in Pompano Beach closed. It had been a bowling center since the 1950s. The owner got a good offer to sell and decided to retire. The Fish Bowl in Islamorada, upper Florida Keys, closed in 2015.

In North Fort Myers, All Star Lanes burned down in 2016. Gold Crown Lanes and Miracle Lanes in Fort Myers closed and University Lanes in Bonita is gone. In Collier County, Brookside Lanes closed in 1989 and Goodlette Strikes and Spares shut down in 2003.

Here in Southwest Florida, there are two bowling alleys in Charlotte County. In Lee County, Bowlero Corp. purchased Bowland Cape Coral and HeadPinz Cape Coral in 2023 from Ciniello. There is HeadPinz in Fort Myers and there are six lanes at Sports Challenge America in Bonita Springs. In Collier County, once Beacon is gone in August, only HeadPinz will remain.

Mike Cannington, the former director of sales and marketing for HeadPinz Entertainment Center and the soon to be vice president of the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America Inc., says bowling must change to keep afloat.

“It is natural that there is an evolution in almost everything,” Cannington began. “Bowling is evolving. There will always be a place for the traditional sport of bowling, but I think the consumer today demands more than bowling so I think the HeadPinz of the world is the model we will see more in the future. The modern consumer does not want to be tied down to leagues for 30 to 40 weeks the same time and day of the week. This is happening not with just bowling, but with golf. There is Top Golf that is the evolution of the driving range. This is happening all over the world. Things change, and it is the smart proprietor that recognizes those trends and acts accordingly.”

Kevin Krauss, president of the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America Inc., has been involved in bowling for 67 years. He said the alleys that add other entertainment have been thriving.

“The ones that are around are doing very well because of the variety,” Strauss said. “Bowling is still the catalyst of most of these buildings, but young people today need to be entertained by many different things. It is kind of sad, but that is how it goes.”

Bye to Beacon

Ciniello, owner of Bowling Management Associates Inc., wasn’t looking to sell Bowland Beacon. He had many offers over the years to sell that land, but kept turning it down. But when Waterside Hotel Development offered him $8 million for the 23,419-square-foot building on the 114,127-squarefoot lot, he agreed to the confidential off-market sale, which actually took place on Oct. 3, but was not revealed until early February when Ciniello made this statement:

“This was not an easy decision, trust me. There are so many memories created at Beacon Bowl over the years. But with my original partners both now in their 90s, the offer to sell was simply too compelling to pass up.”

Ciniello hopes customers will enjoy their last hurrah at the longtime lanes.

“The reason we are closing in August is if we went to December it would be hard to start and stop leagues,” Ciniello explained. “It gave us time to have a last summer hurrah and then give options to the bowlers to move to HeadPinz Naples or HeadPinz Fort Myers.”

Longtime bowlers at Beacon are cherishing these last months of bowling there.

“It’s a shame,” said Andy Schmitt. “I have been bowling here for 10 years. I love bowling. This parcel here is worth a lot of money. It is a good location, but the last thing we need in Naples in another hotel. It is sad. It really is.”

Schmitt is on four bowling leagues at Beacon.

“If it wasn’t for this bowling alley, I would have 70 less friends,” he said. “This place closing — it is my family being torn apart.”

Nancy Laich hopes her league will move to HeadPinz Naples, but she is still upset about leaving Beacon.

“I was surprised, and I was sad,” Laich began. “I like this league. There is the uncertainty now. I don’t want this league to end. This is a happy place for me. It’s nostalgic. This is like the traditional bowling alley. Now they are going to those entertainment centers. It’s sad. I was just so sad.”

“I am really disappointed,” added Dawn Matson. “It’s more of a family atmosphere here. I bowl on two leagues. The entertainment centers; the older people don’t like it, but the younger people do. This bowling alley is for the people in Naples and Bonita and Estero.”

Rod Husted is one of the top bowlers in the leagues at Beacon.

“It’s a dying breed. The younger kids — they are into a lot of other things,” he said as he pointed to his cellphone. “Up north when I was a kid all you had in the winter is bowling unless you went skiing. Now there are so many other things. This is happening all over and it is sad.”

Future frames

This is not the end of bowling in the northern part of Collier County. Ciniello is currently looking for about 4.5 acres of land to build his newest bowling entertainment center.

“We want to be in charge of our own destiny,” Ciniello said. “We still own the equipment (from Beacon). We have been out there looking for a piece of property or an existing building. We would like to be on the northern side of the county, but it has been difficult to find land. We want to own the land. We have been looking for the right piece of property for over a year.” ¦

In the KNOW

Fun Facts

• Thunderbowl Lanes just outside of Detroit is the largest bowling center in the United States. It opened in 1962 and has 90 lanes along with a three-room complete with 20 lanes for leagues and Professional Bowling Tour events.

• Holler House is the nation’s oldest certified bowling lanes and has been owned by the same family since it opened in 1908.

• The first indoor alleys were built in New York City in 1840, where the game was popular among German immigrants.

• The invention of the automatic pinsetter led to a rapid growth in the number of bowling alleys and lanes in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

• The peak of bowling was the mid-1960s, when there were approximately 12,000 bowling centers in the United States

• Bowling was first seen on TV in 1950.

• Bowling was once banned in the U.S. to stop soldiers from gambling on the game.

• Bowling items were discovered by British archaeologists in Egyptian tombs dating back to about 3,200 BCE.

• Bowling balls have a variety of weights. There are six pound ball for tiny tots up to 23 pound balls.

• Early bowling balls were made of wood or heavy rubber. Now they are made of polyester resin.

• Japan has the largest bowling alley in the world with 116 lanes.

• A perfect game of 300 involves rolling 12 consecutive strikes.

• More than 67 million people bowl each year in the U.S.

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