Cosmic bowling

Channel Bowl's overhaul includes slicker lanes, new sound and lights that make balls glow in the dark

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

Channel Bowl has new lights, new paint, new approaches and a new sound system. But aside from the cosmic-themed exterior, there's another difference that longtime bowlers are noticing.

"The oil holds up a lot better on the synthetic lanes than it used to," said Tim Powers, 19, an employee at the lanes with a high game of 238, a high series of 590 and an average of 170.

"Before, when you'd start throwing on one side, your ball would be so dry, it would start hooking a lot more," Powers said. "You had to move one way or another to compensate if you threw a hook. Now the oil holds up a little better. You don't have to compensate as much for the lanes drying out."

Minor touchups are still in progress after Brunswick, a multi-national bowling conglomerate, helped renovate the 10-lane center earlier this year.

"Bowling went through a cycle where it was real popular, then it was down a little bit, and now I think it's coming back around," said Dutch Knight, manager of the lanes and one of five co-owners.

"People come in here once a week and they progress and progress," said David Marshall, 15, a sophomore at Juneau-Douglas High School and an employee at the lanes. Marshall began bowling seriously five months ago and rolled a high game of 258 six weeks ago. "It's an easy sport to learn or to get better at once you find a technique that works for you."

Channel Bowl opened at 608 W. Willoughby in 1959. Mike Fenster, Don Abel Sr., and Olaf Lillegraven were the original partners.

The lanes used to look like a traditional bowling alley: wood paneling, shades of brown.

Knight and the team of new owners took more than about 212 years ago and decided to renovate. They visited lanes in Anchorage, Seattle, Bellingham, Wash., Portland, Ore., Tacoma, Wash., and Bellevue, Wash., for ideas.

"We grabbed a little bit from each center," Knight said. "We're probably on the cutting edge. We didn't get technology that was 10 years old. We got the technology that was new last year. We just tried to bring to Juneau sort of the latest and greatest."

Most obvious is that everything now glows in the dark: lanes, pins, tables, carpet, balls and shoes. "Glo-bowling," also called "cosmic bowling" or "Rock-A-Bowl," is on Friday and Saturday nights. An "intelligent" lighting system hangs over the lanes, and the staff can program a two-hour light show on each lane or manually make the lights dance. There's also a new stereo system that DJs or bands can use.

"All the kids come in the nighttime, and even when it's not glo-bowling they ask for it," Powers said. "You cannot think seriously with that glow stuff on. It messes with your head. You see all these shining lights, and it's too hard to see the lines on the lanes with the flash of the oil. But it's fun to throw it down there and just hope to hit something."

"It's been pretty fun," said Pauline Zheng, 11, a sixth-grader at Floyd Dryden Middle School who was glo-blowing with her brother, Colin, 9, during a kids camp Monday. "I like the glow-in-the-dark stuff because I like disco."

Scoring is now automatic, and each lane has a programmable bumper system. If a family of two adults and two children is bowling, for instance, the bumpers can be set to appear for the kids and disappear for the adults.

The machinery that controls each lane is the original equipment from 1959. And the lane mechanic, Arnie Puustinen, has been there for 36 years.

"It's more family-oriented now," Powers said. "It's got the bright colors. We're hoping on Sunday afternoons for families to come in. It's really geared toward kids now instead of just the league bowler."

Channel Bowl is accepting registrations for its fall league, two divisions of which begin in late August.

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