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Patrons, owner recall happy memories at West Duluth’s Stadium Lanes

Stadium Lanes owner Randy Hill said he hopes that the Stadium Lanes neon sign stays with the building long after the structure is stripped of its bowling equipment. (Clint Austin / / 3
Stadium Lanes owner Randy Hill of Hermantown inspects gutters that have been removed from the 32 bowling lanes at the facility Tuesday afternoon. The bowling alley is closing, and all of the equipment — the lanes, bowling machines and pins are for sale. The sale runs through today. (Clint Austin / 2 / 3
Mitch Levy of Duluth uses pliers to remove the gates from the bowling machines at Stadium Lanes in Duluth on Tuesday afternoon. Levy has bowled at the facility since 1969. (Clint Austin / / 3

Jack DeRosier joined the first league at Stadium Lanes when its doors opened in 1960.

The retired Duluth police officer lost his gear when the West Duluth bowling alley was destroyed in a 1984 fire, only to reopen the next year.

DeRosier kept bowling, too, often in the same league with his son, Gary; and his grandson; John. John’s son, Max, 7, has bowled there as well. Jack DeRosier remembers bowling an 830 series — a great day for any bowler — on Gary’s birthday in 1991.

All those memories were made at Stadium Lanes.

“I think that’s the best location for a bowling alley in town,” DeRosier, 86, said on Thursday. “It’s got good parking; there’s no hill to walk up. … I hate to see it close.”

Randy Hill thought it was a good location, too, when he purchased Stadium Lanes in 2004. Located in a working-class neighborhood just west of the ore bridges, it was across the street from a planned sports facility to adjoin Wheeler Field.

That never took place; nor did the business growth that Hill envisioned.

On Thursday, during an interview at his office, Hill relived some of his own memories as the bowling alley was being dismantled outside his door. The gutters alongside the 32 lanes had vanished; 2,500 moving parts per lane were exposed. Some sections of the heavy, polished lane wood had been pulled up. For $100, someone could buy an 8-foot section and convert it into a dining table or workbench or keepsake — but it takes four men to lift one section.

A sort of bowling alley rummage sale officially had closed on Wednesday, but a door remained open, and a handful of people wandered in on the hunt for tables, freezers, lockers and other goods. Employees and volunteers were busy helping close down Stadium Lanes and the half-century of memories that went with it.

“I’m disturbed by what’s taking place here right now,” Hill said.

Hill, 53, has gone through every possible emotion since announcing the decision to close the business in March, he said. But he has finally reached acceptance. Sale of the property is pending, and he’ll figure out what to do next. He’s more concerned, though, about the league bowlers for whom Stadium Lanes was their “house,” in bowlerspeak.

“It’s not about me,” Hill said. “It’s about the 400-plus bowlers who came through those doors every single week for 32 weeks (the length of the season), went in the bar, bought a pizza, a pop, a beer — it’s just as sad for them, if not more so.”

Mitch Levy is one of those bowlers.

The 55-year-old Duluth man started in a youth league at Stadium Lanes in 1969. This week, he and his son, Brian Levy, have been among the volunteers helping with its liquidation.

“For us, there’s a lot of history,” Mitch said. “I enjoyed having my son bowl. I coached for 15 years helping other youth out. … Our wintertime life is based around a bowling alley.”

Five bowling alleys remain in the Twin Ports. Hill said about a third of his league members will join leagues in other alleys, about a third will retire from the sport, and about a third will keep bowling, but cut back.

Jack DeRosier quit bowling this year, he said, not for health reasons, but because, “I got tired of being committed all the time.”

His son Gary DeRosier is switching to Skyline Lanes on Miller Trunk Highway. “It’s a weird feeling,” he acknowledged, saying that Stadium Lanes feels like home.

Gary’s son, John DeRosier, explained why: “You walk in the door, and everyone knows you.”