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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

Is the Asheville bowling scene approaching the gutter or on the verge of striking relevance?

Local perspectives decipher the roll
Sarah Booth
People bowling on lanes 3 and 4.

An uptick in local interest in bowling at Asheville’s AMF Star Lanes prompts questions about the long-term relevance of the sport. 

“The leagues are just old people and the young people just want to go drinking. I don’t feel like people my age go out to bowling alleys often. It’s either a birthday party when you are seven or you are 85 and have nothing else to do, so you join a bowling league,” said Cordell Rathburn, a 25-year-old infrequent bowler from Asheville.

Rathburn said he likes coming out to the alley because bowling allows him to enjoy quality time with the people he loves while having a great time. 

“I feel like it’s not as widespread with my generation. A lot of the 21 to probably 30-year-old community would probably just rather be drinking at a bar and partying it up,” Rathburn said. 

Rathburn said the last time he went bowling was for a friend’s birthday party. He took advantage of AMF’s Night Strike, which includes a $15.49 unlimited bowling special on Monday evenings.

“I get stressed. I’m competitive. I’m there to win,” Rathburn said. “The last time I went bowling I found out I could bowl at 25 miles an hour with a 15 pound bowling ball, steadily for two hours,”

Ian Williams is the general manager of the east Asheville bowling alley. He said he is an engineer but manages the alley to pay the bills.

Professional ball, shoe rack, and front desk at AMF Lanes in Asheville.

According to Zippia Demographics, the average bowler age is 36 years old. 

“One of the things we did was sponsor a little girls’ dance team that came in here. Their school had a field trip here, but it’s typically just repeat customers,” Williams said. 

Williams said paid advertising for the bowling alley is done at a corporate level, but local advertising is mostly word of mouth. 

“For someone who loves the customer service industry this is an awesome job for me,” Williams said. “On Fridays and Saturdays we get a lot of the younger crowd. They just come in and have fun and everything. During the week I get a lot of my regulars that come in. I get a lot of seniors coming in in the morning so It is fairly predictable throughout the week.”

Ed Racicot, a league bowler originally hailing from Vermont, comes to AMF lanes to practice and compete two times a week.

“I love the group competition. It’s a nice group of people. Then you rotate through and you play different people. It’s fun,” Racicot said.

 Racicot said league bowling is all technical. 

“They say you start with your hand at the bottom of the ball. Then when you release It’s like a handshake. Your thumb has to come out of the ball first and then it gets the curve that you want it to get,” Racicot said. “The last game we just played, I was a 183.”

According to Brunswick, a pinsetter machine is in charge of resetting the pins after they are knocked down by the player. 

“We have Brunswick A2 pinsetters,” Williams said. “The good thing about them is they are very mechanical. There are no real electronic parts on them, so everything can kind of be fixed with duct tape and some sweat.”

Williams said the Asheville AMF location has some of the oldest bowling equipment. Some of the machines date back to the ’50s. 

“As far as here goes, we stick with the old stuff. The only thing that has really been an improvement since I’ve been here is pushing maintenance,” Williams said. 

Rathburn said including arcades and concert venues alongside the alleys is helping the sport stay relevant. Recently, Rathburn went to an Ava Max concert in Nashville at Brooklyn Bowl, a hybrid bowling and concert venue. 

“Listening to one of my favorite pop stars singing, in the middle of me going ‘yeah, strike’ was really fun. The concert venue had a bowling alley in it right next to the stage,” Rathburn said.

Rathburn said it would be fun if there were more concert venues with bowling alleys in them, but it would be hard to convert a venue not already specially built to accommodate the stage and alley.

Claw machine and arcade games at AMF Lanes in Asheville. (Sarah Booth)

“You know we got the video wall. We got some projectors that are going up, so we are just kind of constantly trying to keep it somewhat fresh for people who are coming in,” Williams said.

WIlliams said AMF is a large corporation with deep pockets, but the small Asheville alley does not get updated equipment as often as in some higher traffic locations. 

“A lot of these bowling centers just strictly focus on tournaments and leagues, which is just kind of not our style. We cater to everyone, you know,” Williams said. “We are real with people if we have problems. We tell them where we have problems and we make sure that customer service is key.”

Racicot said the AMF runs like any other bowling alley, but his preference for this one comes from the attention to detail. 

“The staff is great. It’s just the people, that’s what makes it special,” Racicot said.

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