SACO — When Bert and Claire Dube close their Vacationland Bowling and Recreation Center next month, they will be shutting the door on 34 years of memories and a vanishing way of life.

The business on Route 1 has been a second home for several generations of Saco-area candlepin bowlers. Vacationland is where friendships began and future spouses met, said Claire Dube.

“It was a very hard decision,” she said.

Dube said their business grew out of her husband’s love of the game. In the early 1960s, Bert Dube emigrated from Quebec at age 16 to work in the textile mills in Biddeford. Candlepin bowling was popular among the textile workers and he quickly took to the sport, winning several national championships.

Dube used to have an average score of 125, which is nothing to sneeze at. Today he averages about 103 points, he said.

Bowlers enjoy a Sunday afternoon outing at Vacationland Bowling Center which has been open for candlepin bowling for 34 years. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

Candlepin bowling, which is largely confined to the New England states and the Canadian Maritimes, uses smaller balls and pins than the predominant tenpin game. The toppled pins are not cleared away between balls during a player’s turn, unlike tenpin bowling.

When the young married Dubes heard that the owner of a 16-lane bowling alley in downtown Biddeford, called Pastime Bowling, was eager to sell, they scraped together a down payment.

The business did well for them and soon Bert Dube was able to quit his day job to run the bowling alley full time. In 1983 they built Vacationland in Saco, starting out with 20 lanes and expanding to 32 lanes in 1991. The Dubes say they are especially proud of the new lanes designed for bowlers with disabilities that are heavily used by area groups.

But running a bowling center is not easy, said the Dubes. She is 69 and he is 71. Days are long and the business is at its busiest on nights and weekends.

“My husband worked a lot of nights and weekends. For our kids, their fun was when there was a snowstorm and he could stay home,” said Claire Dube.

In 1991 Vacationland developed an early computerized scoring system with a Canadian company.

“It was quite the thing,” recalled Claire Dube.

Nate Martin of Dayon bowls a frame, as Thea Webber, 7 of Gorham, grabs another ball.

The Dubes said that in recent years the business held its own, but without major changes in its business model it faced mounting challenges and competition from a number of new candlepin lanes that have opened in southern Maine in the past few years. The new lanes emphasize food and alcohol. Claire Dube said she and her husband felt they were too old to change their more family-oriented facility.

The information age has also changed the business.

“The internet and cellphones have made a gigantic difference in people’s lives. People don’t join organizations like they used to. The groups who came to bowl here were part of other organizations, and churches,” said Dube.

She said bowling no longer tops the list as a go-to Saturday morning activity for kids.

So when the Dubes received an offer from Southern Maine Motors, which is buying the building and land to expand service and storage, the couple decided they were ready to retire.

The bowling center has sparked many romances and a long list of marriages.

Debbie Rousselle, Claire Dube’s niece, met her future husband at Vacationland. She was 18 and her now husband, Bob, was 23. It was back when youth bowling leagues were still in vogue.

“We were both working there part time,” said Rousselle.

A young bowler tosses a ball down the lane Sunday at Vacationland. More competition from new lanes that have opened in recent years is one factor in the decision of the Dubes to close their bowling center. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

Married 20 years next month, Rousselle said today she and her husband rarely go bowling.

“It is hard to have the time to go out and do that,” she said.

The Vacationland staff has been working to find its many leagues new places to play – at the Big 20 Bowling Center in Scarborough, Bowl-A-Rama in Sanford and Westport Bowling Lanes in Westbrook. Dube said she expects some of their regular customers will just stop playing candlepin when Vacationland closes.

But a group of Saco-area friends who gather every Sunday at Vacationland vowed to find a new venue.

Members of the group – which includes Dawn Lazorchak of Saco and her sister, Holly Colluton of Biddeford, their friend Josephine Power of Biddeford, and various spouses, friends and others – say they have bowled together at Vacationland for years.

“We usually come in Sunday morning for gutter bowling. It is just great time. We all get together, have a great time and then we all leave ” said Lazorchak.

The Dubes are keeping the bowling center open through at least Oct. 8, to give people time to use up their coupons and gift certificates and honor event bookings. Then they plan to stay in Biddeford, relax and spend time with their three children and five grandchildren.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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