March 4, 2010

Pinning their hopes on bowling


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Photo by Derek Davis: Charley Mitchell, left, and Justin Alfond talk about a bowling alley they plan to build at 58 Alder Street in Portland. Photographed on Friday, Oct. 23, 2009.

click image to enlarge

Photo by Derek Davis: Charlie Mitchell, left, and Justin Alfond talk about a bowling alley they plan to build at 58 Alder Street in Portland. Photographed on Friday, Oct. 23, 2009.

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Justin Alfond and Charlie Mitchell are betting that bowling's new popularity among people in their 20s and 30s will help fill a bowling center they plan to open in Portland's Bayside neighborhood.

Ralph Kramden wouldn't recognize the place. The character from the 1950s sitcom ''The Honeymooners,'' an avid bowler, might be surprised by the ten-pin center on Alder Street, where Alfond and Mitchell plan to include a restaurant, a bar, a disc jockey's booth and a stage for live music.

The project is part of a national trend in which bowling alleys are being remade into multifaceted entertainment centers.

Some 69 million people nationally bowl at least once a year, a number that has been growing by a million a year, according to the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America.

Apparently, there may be more to life than having a Twitter account and 1,000 friends on Facebook.

''People want human contact,'' said Mitchell, who plans to manage the center. ''You want to be in a place where you can be with your friends.''

Mitchell is working with his friend Alfond, a state senator from Portland, to develop the project. They want to build the center in a building that's occupied now by Skillful Vending Inc., which is moving a block away.

Their plan will be discussed Tuesday by the Planning Board because it would be a change of use for the building. There is no organized opposition.

The center would bring more people and activity to Bayside and foster more development, such as shops and restaurants, said Ron Spinella, president of the Bayside Community Development Corp.

''We want people to come to the neighborhood,'' he said.

Mitchell and Alfond have a 10-year-lease and plan to spend $900,000 converting the building into a bowling center.

Mitchell said the building's dimensions are perfect because half of the building is lower than the other half, which would give people in the bar and restaurant a viewing platform over the bowlers. There would be 12 lanes.

The center would be the new home for Bowl Portland, a league with 28 teams that competes during the winter and includes Alfond and Mitchell.

The teams have names like the Three Fingered Willies and I Can't Believe It's Not Gutter. Bowlers are frequently known by their bowling names.

Alfond is ''Senator ITZ'' (In the Zone). Mitchell is ''Karl Hungus.''

The two-year-old league has been using Yankee Lanes on Riverside Street.

Mitchell, who started the league with his sister, Emily Mitchell, said he may name the new center Bowl Portland.

Johann Sabbath, 27, known as ''Muskrat'' among bowlers, said he's excited about the prospect of a new bowling center on Portland's peninsula, near Interstate 295.

Everywhere he goes in the city, he said, he meets people who are in the league.

''It's one of the most virally successful social activities in Portland,'' he said.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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