A part of Tacoma bowling history will be just a memory in a few months.
Customers of Pacific Lanes Bowling, 7015 S. D St., Tacoma, learned in a recent letter that the site plans to close for good at midnight, May 5, “to make way for a new development.”
Planning documents filed with the City of Tacoma show that new apartments could be coming to the site, replacing the 36-lane bowling business that’s been in operation near South 72nd Street and Pacific Avenue for 60 years.
The project, Grand Pacific Apartments, calls for 134 apartments on about 3.4 acres. The plan includes six separate buildings with a manager/clubhouse building, 153 parking stalls and other site improvements, according to information from the city’s Planning and Development Services Department.
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The redevelopment plans, under review, are in the very early stages and could change. Terms between the developer and the family were not disclosed.
In Pacific Lane’s letter to patrons, posted to social media, the business noted the site’s legacy in the community:
“The Hamilton family has owned and operated the bowling center for about half its life and is painfully aware of the loss that will be felt by the staff, the neighbors, and especially the true and faithful leagues of bowlers, dart players, and other patrons.”
The family is also pleased for what’s to come for the neighborhood with new, multifamily housing.
“It’s time,” Bill Hamilton told The News Tribune.
HOW IT STARTED
Bill Hamilton bought the property in 1992 from the estate of Chuck Hoffman, according to News Tribune archives. It had also been a popular spot for legendary bowler Earl Anthony, who had originally joined a league there in 1960 and later became one of the most successful members of the Professional Bowling Association Hall of Fame.
When Hamilton first purchased the site, he had already retired from the banking industry and wasn’t really looking to become a bowling magnate. His goal was a family business for his sons to run.
In a 1993 interview about the purchase with The News Tribune, Hamilton said, “I couldn’t tell you much about the operation. I only know the numbers.”
All these years later, Hamilton, now in his 70s, reflected on the early days and the steep learning curve of running the operations.
“There was a mother and daughter who ran the place,” Hamilton recalled. The mother died about six weeks after the Hamiltons bought it.
“We didn’t even have the combination for the safe,” said Hamilton, shaking his head in disbelief. “Welcome to reality.”
Hamilton brought son Bill Hamilton Jr. into the business early.
“I’d just graduated high school, and he needed someone to work in the back ... and 26 years later, here I am,” said Bill Hamilton Jr., who manages the operation today.
About 30 people are on staff now, split between two shifts.
EXPENSES VS. REVENUE
The expense of upkeep is what had changed most through the years, the elder Hamilton said.
“You buy it, then you need to put synthetic lanes down over the wood, so there’s a million dollars. Then you put in scoring, time for new scoring, time for new pin setters ... and it just goes on and on.”
What’s more, the entire building was due for yet another makeover.
“The pin-setting equipment in the back is the original pin-setting equipment. So finding parts for that stuff is hard to do,” Hamilton said. “You have to find a place that’s going out of business because the manufacturers don’t support it anymore.”
Hamilton recalled going to Ellensburg and buying out a 12-lane facility “to get enough parts to get through a year.”
“As much as this has been a neighborhood place for 60 years, it just got to the point where ... offers were coming in to do different things,” Hamilton said.
At the same time, the leagues were coming to an end, and people wanted to sign up for next fall. The family didn’t want to string along their patrons.
“Some of these league bowlers have probably been here for 20-30 years. And, what can you get them to pay more for? That wouldn’t have made a down payment on the new debt,” Hamilton said.
“So, I had to make a decision,” he said. “It was an economic decision.”
It was a decision not taken lightly.
“It’s a neighborhood hangout,” the elder Hamilton acknowledged. “People eat three meals a day here, other people have met and been married in here.”
He noted some people came to Pacific Lanes seven days a week.
Reaction to the letter on Facebook offered a outpouring of memories from people who’ve bowled there over the decades.
“This place kept me out of trouble. It was a place to have fun hang out and bowl. This place had a big impact on my life. Because if i wasn’t bowling what kind of trouble would i have got into,” read one.
“Unlike any other bowling establishment I’ve bowled at during my 26 years or so of bowling leagues, Pacific Lanes has made me feel like a friend and family member,” read another.
Hamilton’s grandson is now a mechanic at the lanes. Indeed, family members who work at the site say they know many customers by their first name and have seen generations of players and their families come through.
“Compare this to going to a movie with a family of four,” the elder Hamilton said. “You’ve gotten rid of the better part of a 100-dollar bill. You can come in here and bowl for a lot less than that.”
Bill Hamilton Jr. said the business can see a “couple hundred customers a day,” particularly when leagues are in full swing.
On the flip side, the business for him as manager has meant little to no time off for years.
“Overall I’m happy I was here. Sad to see it go ... times change.” he said.
He doesn’t see himself working at another bowling operation.
“I like the bowlers. I just don’t see how how I could do the same thing in a different spot,” Hamilton Jr. said. “It’s all bowling, but it’s not the same.”
There will be a junior tournament on May 4 and 5, its last weekend.
Bill Hamilton Jr. said they’ve already had requests for signage or items with the Pacific Lanes logo.
His dad smiled and nodded at that.
“We’ll probably say, ‘When you leave, take a ball if you want one, take some shoes if you want them.”