The AMF Maple Lanes bowling center in Fridley will close its doors for the last time Sunday, Aug. 12.
Employees told Sun Newspapers they hadn’t heard of any special events planned at the business for its closing, but they said they hoped past bowlers would pay a visit one more time to Maple Lanes, at 6310 Hwy. 65 N.E.
“We want to get everybody that used to bowl here back in here for one more time,” Maple Lanes employee Ben Knowles said.
“I’ve had couples walk through and say, ‘Oh, we met here 40 years ago,’” another employee said.
According to its website, AMF Bowling Centers Inc. is the world’s largest owner and operator of bowling centers.
The business has a long history in Fridley. According to city records, a building permit was dated August 1958 and an addition’s building permit was for April 1960. The business currently has about 12 employees, some of whom might continue employment with AMF at other locations.
“For me, as a younger person, it’s not a huge deal,” Knowles said, but for other employees who have families and mortgages, or other employees who were planning for retirement, this is hard. “I can’t imagine what it’s like, because, for them, it is their living.”
Recently, the bowling center has had numerous improvements. Some employees estimated the bowling center had completed about $100,000 of improvements in the past two months, including putting in new ceiling tiles, installing new monitors above the bowling stations, working to keep the roof from leaking, caulking the seams in the lanes, repainting the parking spot stripes in the parking lot, and more.
“They did a lot of things,” said Knowles. “They brought in our (general manager) in January 2012 – he’s one of the top bowlers in Minnesota – they brought him in here because they thought he would do a lot better (and attract bowlers by name recognition and association), and, yeah, he was (drawing people to the center). … He had bowlers in here.”
The summer season is always slower for bowling in Minnesota because more people are outdoors. Knowles said the general manager didn’t have ample time during peak season to bring in more league players.
Considering the work to renew Maple Lanes, Knowles and other employees are shocked, he said, to hear the bowling center is closing. He said they can’t figure out why such investments would be made to a bowling center that, soon after, is closed before they could see if revenues would increase.
And whereas other AMF bowling centers have arcades, pool tables, dart boards, full restaurants and full bars, Maple Lanes has a small kitchen, small bar and no other games. It’s more like an old-fashioned bowling alley, employees said. So when compared with other AMF bowling centers, Maple Lanes brings in less revenue overall, but it’s not an equal comparison, Knowles said.
Sun Newspapers visited and called the bowling alley, but management wasn’t available for comment before this edition went to press.
Reactions and changes
“Where is the Fridley High School (gym class) going to go now?” Knowles said. Fridley, Columbia Heights and Totino-Grace high schools – as well as some high school adapted bowling teams, community groups and city recreation departments – had their bowling programs at Maple Lanes. “Their (Fridley’s) bowling program is going to get taken out of gym. That’s done with. … I don’t know where they’ll go,” he said.
“There’s a guy that bowls here religiously – he comes here with his dad. And I mean, he was just shocked; he didn’t believe it. He said he’s been coming here for six, seven years,” Knowles said.
Knowles broke the news of the center’s closing to one woman who bowls in a senior league. She told him she’s been bowling there for 40-plus years. “… I mean, the look on her face when I told her yesterday – it was a part of history for her, and a part of her life.”
Besides disappointed long-time bowlers, staff has heard from some league bowlers who are “very upset” with AMF, Knowles said. Some have even said they won’t bowl again at another AMF center because of the late notice they received of Maple Lane’s closing, he said. Leagues were getting ready to begin playing again in a few weeks.
“We’re still all in awe. We don’t understand it, one bit,” Knowles said.
“I’ve been coming in here since I was 10,” Maple Lanes employee Chris Martinson told Sun Newspapers. “My family lived close by. I’ve bowled at Maple for the last 20 years and have run the Juniors program for the last five years and coached the Fridley varsity bowling team for the past three years. So the center meant a lot to me,” he said.
Employees told Sun Newspapers they feel like this is all a bad dream and like they’re going to hear from management that everything is just business as usual. The day after being notified, one employee sent a text message to the general manager asking if it was a dream, to which the manager responded that, no, the closing is truly happening.
“It’s really unreal,” Knowles said.