By Bruce Hope
ORANGE PARK – In an age of increasing digital entertainment, video games, social media and mobile streaming of television and movies, classic pastimes such as bowling are going extinct.
Or are they?
According to John Sudduth, a regional manager for Bowl America, who has been with the company for 41 years, bowling is alive and well. Walking into a Bowl America center in Orange Park last week, surprisingly there about 40 people there. Most are older – children were in school – and many wore matching shirts signifying league play.
“I’ve been with Bowl America for 41 years,” Sudduth said. “I’ve seen different phases of the business. League bowling is pretty flat, not up or down for my centers in Florida. Open play bowling is pretty good; it’s up. That’s why you see a lot of the boutique centers… those are centers that are real fancy, bright lights. They have Laser Tag, Putt-Putt Golf. They have all types of things besides bowling. Those are called Entertainment Centers.”
Sudduth believes those centers are specifically designed to lure the younger generation away from their devices and into the bowling alley.
As for Bowl America, who has 17 locations nationwide across Maryland, Virginia and Florida, “Bowling is our main focus and always will be,” said Sudduth.
Sudduth says that he sees only a slight change in the demographic that frequents his Bowl America locations, such as the one on Blanding Boulevard, and that’s generally affected by the proximity to one of the boutique centers. Boutique centers don’t offer league bowling, so Bowl America is not adversely affected.
“We do parties, and we do a lot of open play also, so that’s a good part of our business,” said Sudduth. Bowl America hosts birthday parties, Bar and Bat Mitzvah’s, Sweet 16s and other events.
The Orange Park lanes numbers are only slightly down as compared to the Mandarin and Southside locations.
He says that he still sees plenty of families with kids and young people on dates who come in to enjoy a good time.
“We give a place for people young and old alike to go and have a good time. Nice clean place; we have good customer service. I think we do a good job overall,” said Sudduth. “I think the bowling industry is going to survive. As long as we keep doing a good job of customer service and make people feel like they came in, had a good time and had fun, we will continue to stay in business.”