A Pittsfield bowling alley that dates back more than a century is closing this week.
On the second floor of the Wright Building, in the heart of downtown Pittsfield, Mike Haring, 46, is putting on a clinic on lane five of the city’s oldest candlepin bowling alley. It’s a Northeastern variant on bowling with smaller balls and pins than the more commonly known “tenpin” style.
“Best thing is, the quicker the ball gets down, the more it rolls, the better action you get off the ball and off the pins, so," said Haring. "It takes time to get good good.”
He’s hurling grapefruit sized balls down the polished lanes of the alley, which opened in 1914. Owner George Aslan, 76, watches from a nearby seat, nodding.
“This game is all accuracy," said Aslan. "It has nothing to do with spinning the ball. It’s timing — all timing and accuracy.”
Timing is what lead him to take over Candle Lanes in 1976.
“I worked at GE, and GE was going to move," Aslan told WAMC. "And if I stayed, I’d have to go to Shreveport, Louisiana, Rome, Georgia, or South Carolina, and my wife said, I don’t want to go to any, so I bought the bowling alley.”
Aslan made the alley a home away from home.
“So when I bought it, I threw the pool tables out, threw out all the bums, and I says, this is a family type business," he said. "And ever since then, the business has tripled.”
But now that business is ending. Plans are afoot to turn the alley and its neighbors in the building into condos. In July, a group of tenants were given notice to vacate their spaces in the 120-year-old Wright Building at 255 North Street by the end of August by current owner Cavalier Management, which declined to comment on this story.
“They just left signs on everyone’s door, and some of the people out there don’t even know yet, so I don’t know what they’re gonna do. From what I understand, they all gotta leave Friday and they’re going to change the locks, so I don’t have a clue what they’re going to do," Aslan laughed sadly. "It’s not even funny, really. I made up my mind: I’m done.”
Aslan had already decided that the business would have to close before the notice. He’s 15 months into chemo for leukemia, which has done a number on his body. He says his arms have no muscle left.
“And my teeth are breaking off, my fingernails break off,” he sighed.
Aslan says the abrupt eviction notice will leave him with almost nothing.
“I could have taken the top floor and sold everything off during the bowling season, and then worked on down here," he said. "But as it turns out, I got a month, so I’m sorta like in a rush.”
Aslan’s family style approach to the business has left many fans of Candle Lanes distraught, as many prepare to lose the hub of their social life.
“It’s real friendly, real friendly. I met a lot of people up here through the years," said John Boid.
Boid says he started coming to Candle Lanes when he was a kid, and it became a familiar ritual in his life — from bowling in leagues to hanging out with Aslan and his other regulars. He told WAMC exactly what it was like to hear the alley was closing.
“Sucked," Boid said bluntly. "Sorry! It was — I’m bummed out about it. Still am.”
Boid, a Pittsfielder, doesn’t know what he’ll do to fill the void.
“Probably — I don’t know, find other things to do," he said. "I don’t golf or nothing. I don’t know. Like, I say, you know? Might try somewhere else for a while to bowl. If I don’t like it, I’ll just — find other things to do, you know?”
Those who came to love the Lanes — whether they bowled, played cards in the back room or watched sports on the television behind the little seating area above the lanes themselves — sent Aslan off with their own tribute.
“They threw a party for me and they raised money for me," said Aslan. "They gave me gift certificates. So sad. End of an era, they loved it here. But life goes on, right?”