Open Lane

Harlem entrepreneurs tap local resources to launch bowling alley

As Sharon Joseph and her aunt Gail Richards strolled down Harlem’s famed 125th Street four-and-a-half years ago, they noticed that the business landscape lacked a few things, most notably a place where families could have fun.

“Another niece is a bowler and always complained about having to go all the way downtown to bowl,” says Richards, 42, originally from Mount Vernon, New York. “Despite the revitalization in this area, there were no family-oriented meeting places in Harlem. We researched the feasibility of a bowling alley for about six months.”

When the two women opened the Harlem Lanes Bowling Center last year, it marked the first time in 30 years that Harlemites could patronize a local bowling establishment. It took Joseph and Richards four years and $4 million to complete the two-floor, 25,000-square-foot, 24-lane bowling alley. The equipment cost more than $1 million, including installing the lanes, pinsetters, furnishings, gutter sets, scoring system, ball returns and lifts, in addition to purchasing balls and shoes.

The bowling alley also offers an entertainment center, complete with rooms for corporate functions and birthday parties, a sports bar, arcade, private lounge, restaurant, and an after-school program that teaches children math through bowling. The center has 40 employees and expects to generate between $4 million and $6 million in revenues.

To finance the business, Richards used $150,000 in equity from her home and Joseph sold her house. A third business partner, Stanley Goodridge, used $300,000 in equity from his home. There are 10 additional investors who contributed about $2 million in equity. The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corp. contributed an $800,000 loan, and additional funding was provided through the New York City Investment Fund.

OPEN YOUR OWN BOWLING ALLEY
Are you ready to open and manage your own bowling center? Sandy Hansell, president of Hansell and Associates, specializes in matching buyers with sellers of existing bowling centers. He offers these five tips to get the bowling ball rolling:

  • Location: Consider opening your bowling center in a location with a dense, middle-income population. Ideally, your bowling alley should be visible from a main thoroughfare.
  • Money: As a rule, the amount of startup capital you’ll need depends on the number of lanes in your bowling center. You should figure about $100,000 to $150,000 per lane.
  • Design: Retain an experienced bowling center architect/designer to be sure the project is done right. Contact the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America (www.bpaa.com) to get more information about designers near you.
  • Promotion: Your management team should include someone who is a professional at marketing, promotion, advertising, and sales. A new bowling center requires an effective marketing and promotion program.
  • Entertainment: Incorporate other activities in addition to bowling, such as an arcade, an eatery, and a family entertainment center.
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