By Cecil Smith/Staff writer
The bowling alley in the basement of the Powell Building used to be crowded with over 200 students every night according to long time university employee Allan Richardson, a 49-year-old Berea resident. The students gathered there every night to bowl, shoot pool and just hang out.
“Used to, at night, this place was packed,” Richardson said. “People just came in, drank coffee, smoked…it used to be a huge gathering place.”
Richardson has worked in and around the bowling alley since 1975, but is retiring after this year. When the last manager of the alley resigned five years ago, Richardson took over simply because nobody else would. Even then, the bowling alley was pretty run down, Richardson said.
The machines needed parts, bowling pins needed replaced and the whole alley just needed general maintenance. Richardson brought the place up to date as best he could, with only two full-time employees helping him.
But Richardson said the alley’s attendance was already the lowest he had seen in years. He attributes the drastic decline to a no-smoking policy Eastern implemented in ‘93.
When people couldn’t smoke in the alley anymore, they starting going where they could smoke. Pretty soon, the alley wasn’t allowed to sell cigarettes either, and without that huge chunk of revenue the alley began its rapid deterioration.
But Richardson saw improvement when First Weekend began two years ago.
“I was tickled to death with First Weekend. I was happy to see this place used again,” Richardson said.
However, overall attendance is still much lower than in the past, and with Eastern’s money crunch still in full effect, Richardson says he simply can’t afford to drive from Berea to work everyday.
“Money has been tight, and I was told if I could make run without parts, go for it,” Richardson said.
But it’s not as if the alley has been totally abandoned.
“The Model High School students are loyal customers, but I’m not making a profit off of them. They come in and buy a pop and candy bar and play video games, but I’m not making a profit off of them. That’s become the emphasis now—profit,” Richardson said.
Bowling used to be free back in the day. Richardson said the alley was set up because it could pay for itself. But since university revenue is low, the alley has a $1.50 charge. But people still won’t come, even though the cost is half the price of local alleys.
“We make money on weekends, but I had to close one Sunday because I couldn’t generate enough revenue to pay the student employees,” Richardson said.
Richardson makes most of the alley’s money via church groups, families and birthday parties.
Several people have tried to solve the alley’s problems. Dee Cockrille, former vice president of student affairs, set up a student committee to see what they wanted done with the alley if it wasn’t going to be used for bowling. But when Cockrille resigned, the concern over the alley seemed to leave with her, Richardson said.
Aside from just being a joint to hang out at, the alley also serves as a classroom for the bowling classes. Where will these students have class if the alley is closed? Richardson is in the dark as much as everyone else when it comes to the alley’s bleak future.
The once crowded bowling alley is a sign of the times for Eastern these days. It’s no secret that students pack up and leave every weekend. First Weekend was intended to keep students on campus and enjoy their time here. The bowling alley was first constructed to help students do just that. Now, the future of alley is at stake.
The times, they are a changing. And Eastern is changing with them.