By Blaise Enright/Special to the Nelson Star
Nelson’s Savoy Lanes will begin to dismantle and sell off its equipment at the end of April and close at the end of May.
“My lease is up and I can’t afford to renew it,” says Kevin Franz, owner of the downtown bowling alley. “Even when it shuts down, I have to personally carry a substantial debt. I have really tried but I can’t afford to keep it open any longer because of my mounting financial obligations.”
Franz explains that, along with a number of casual bowlers, seniors leagues use the bowling alley twice a week so that they can compete with other leagues around the province. For the past five years, they have won gold and silver medals at the BC Seniors Games and took home most of the prizes last year from the Bowling Jamboree in Osoyoos.
As well, mentally challenged young adult athletes have a league and train every Saturday at the Savoy for the Special Olympics. With the bowling alley gone, the Special Olympics League will be forced to find an alternate venue to train and there is no other bowling alley in Nelson for them to do that.
“The weekly bowling was not only a social event for those who did not meet the Special Olympic acquirements, but also for those athletes looking to compete in the Olympic venue,” says Monique Lalonde, who worked with the athletes. “This sport also allowed some of our athletes to feel confident enough to branch out into the regular bowling leagues thus opening their social circle.”
Franz dispelled speculation by some community members that the trouble started when the new owners of the building – Kootenay Christian Fellowship — raised the monthly lease payment.
“That rumour is not true at all,” Franz said. “The lease was negotiated by me and the former owners of the building. Nothing changed when the building was sold to the Fellowship. The lease simply transferred to the new owners. If someone came in here debt free, and could attract enough bowlers to keep the place open in the summer, they could probably make it work.”
Pastor Jim Reimer of Kootenay Christian Fellowship and Our Daily Bread says the venue can still be used as a bowling alley if somebody steps forward.
“It really bothers me that the bowling alley could close down,” says Reimer. “It’s a tremendous community asset and would be a shame if it were removed from Nelson. We’ll do all that we can to help any new owner that may come forward.”
Regular users of the alley have the most to lose with the closure.
“We’ve bowled here since we were babies,” says Lorna Hamilton, as she and Winnie Jarvis, Audrey Kempin, Barbara Wade and Linc Vital reminisce about the friendships they have enjoyed since they began bowling together over 40 years ago.
“We’re so disappointed and sad and we’re really going to miss it,” says Jarvis. “But I’m still praying about it. I’m still holding my breath and hoping that someone will buy the business and keep the bowling alley open.”
Kempin says Castlegar has offered one lane, once a week, to the Nelson Seniors League and they are scrambling to try to figure out how they could manage with their training time cut in half and the challenge of traveling to Castlegar.
“It’s not practical,” says Kempin. “We cannot afford to rent a bus as the cost of that is $40 a week for each of us and we are all on pensions. Many of us can drive or carpool to the Savoy, but driving back and forth to Castlegar in the winter is out of the question for most of us.”
All eyes are now rolled heavenward hoping for the same kind of miracle that saw the Civic Theatre re-open and all agree that a town the size of Nelson should be able to support the Savoy Lanes — not just a bowling alley — but a place that has, throughout its long history in Nelson, brought about lasting friendships, community spirit, and a place for the young and not-so-young athletes to train and help make their competitive dreams come true.