By Alex Christodoulides
When two longstanding Queens bowling alleys closed their doors this spring, many enthusiasts fretted that they would have nowhere to go. But Electchester's JIB Lanes has new owners who are extending an invitation and some hope that the sport still has a future in the borough.
For Queens' bowling community, the closing in May of both Glendale's Woodhaven Lanes and Richmond Hill's Van Wyck Lanes was a huge blow to bowlers and staff. League members were upset that their home away from home would no longer be there, and that they would need to travel farther to bowl.
“I've hired the manager and assistant manager from Woodhaven Lanes,” said JIB's new owner, John LaSpina, who signed the contract to buy the Electchester center housed in the Joint Industry Board building on Parsons Boulevard and Jewel Avenue last week.
And he has been in touch with Jim Santora, who had helped run two leagues at Woodhaven and plans to bring them to JIB, he said.
“I'm hoping this'll be that place. It doesn't have the glitz of some of the other places, but this isn't about global business strategy, it's about giving something to the community,” he said of his hope to nurture the borough's bowling culture.
Besides offering the former patrons of the two shuttered centers a new home, LaSpina plans to update the decor of the 48-lane JIB center, which appears not to have been touched since it first opened in 1964.
“This is utilitarian — I feel like I'm in a hospital commissary. The colors will change, we'll put pictures up,” he said.
But the changes inside JIB Lanes are more than cosmetic, such as new synthetic lanes, furniture, a VIP area for parties, a new state-of-the-art scoring system — and they are moving off the drawing board as soon as LaSpina can make it happen.
He met last Thursday with a representative of bowling lane outfitter Brunswick Corp. to discuss furniture and his accountant and two architects to discuss his plans for the center.
“We need to design it first and we need to line things up with manufacturers,” said LaSpina, who owns four other bowling alleys on Long Island and in Brooklyn. “I don't know their time frame, but they know me and they know I'm impatient.”
Besides the cosmetic changes, the center's bowling machinery needs some tweaking.
“Our Brooklyn center with 48 lanes has eight mechanics. This has three,” said LaSpina's son, Joseph, who will oversee management at JIB Lanes. “It's been very well maintained, given the conditions.”
The LaSpinas plan to keep the center open for business as they replace lanes and equipment and update and repaint during off hours and at night.
“We'll do it right under their noses,” said John LaSpina. “If we do two lanes a day, that's 25 days, or five weeks. But it never goes that way.”
Denver-based architect Kevin Mills is overseeing the overhaul, down to the lighting choices, carpeting, color scheme and design of the VIP area.
“Two four-lane packages in the higher [numbered] lanes will be special, with couches, a little plusher, not so much about league bowling as corporate parties,” he said. “It's about creating a fun, lively place to bowl.”