When Drema White walks into Venture Lanes bowling alley in St. Albans, she sees more than just shiny, waxed bowling lanes extending underneath a series of television sets with scores and animated ball-and-pin graphics flashing on the screens.
At each of the 32 lanes in the alley, White holds a memory, most concerning her 89-year-old-father, who has spent nearly every day at the bowling alley for the past 10 years.
“I look across here, at each one, and I remember friends of his, some of which aren’t with us anymore,” White said. “This place has meant a lot to him over the last decade. Bowling has given him a new lease on life.”
White’s father, James Jacobson, will turn 90 in June. He began bowling 10 years ago at Venture Lanes, and on Saturday afternoon he bowled there for what may be the last time as the bowling alley will close its doors for good at midnight.
The bowling alley was opened by the Schoenbaum family in 1956, and has been under their operation ever since. Now, though, without a family member living in West Virginia, state code prohibits the establishment from running other operations — like video lottery machines — that would pay for necessary repairs and updates to the building currently going uncovered by its general revenue.
Ken Rubin, representative for the Schoenbaum family, said the family originally hoped to sell the building to someone that could take over its operations and keep on the 16 employees. When no buyers came forward, they looked at donating the building, but the costs for necessary infrastructure repairs were too high for any nonprofits or municipal agencies to take on.
“There are strong emotional ties here between the family and [Venture Lanes]. The whole family grew up bowling here, and when they visit West Virginia, the grandkids bowl here,” Rubin said.
Rubin said the bowling alley’s main office will remain open as the family sells assets from the establishment, like kitchen equipment. Anyone interested in buying something should call the office for pricing and follow the alley’s Facebook page for updates, he said.
As news has spread through the community in the last few months, Rubin said people have been coming up to him expressing their disappointment in the closing, but they’ve been mostly understanding.
“Customers are upset because it really is a good bowling alley. There are new, updated lanes and scoring systems, everything’s always working and it’s big,” Rubin said.
Now, bowlers like Jacobson will either travel to Kanawha City or Nitro for bowling leagues or games with family and friends. Rubin said a lot of people told him they’ll be giving up the sport entirely.
For Jacobson, though, that’s not really an option.
White said she used to watch her father regularly bowl 15 games in a row in one day at Venture Lanes.
“I would make it to about five and I’d have to tell him, ‘That’s it, I’m done,’ ” she said, laughing.
The near-90-year-old gave up driving last year, and since they all live in Charleston, his family is going to coordinate getting him to Kanawha City so he can continue bowling.
White said it’s more than a game or sport for her father — it’s a passion.
“He’s always been good at finding things to fill his time, especially since he retired, but this, bowling, it’s been unlike any of those other things,” White said. “It lets him socialize and spend time with his friends, and stay a bit active.”
A few years ago, White said Jacobson injured his left arm from bowling so often, and had to train himself to use his right. Still, though, he never stopped, and he doesn’t see himself doing so anytime soon.
Bowling at Venture Lanes introduced him to friends that he’d probably never have met otherwise.
“There’s a lot of memories here, a lot of good people. I don’t know what I’d be doing for the last 10 years if not for this place,” Jacobson said.
While he’s been a staple at the establishment in the last decade, some of the workers have been there even longer, for the past 20 or 30 years.
General manager Philip Nicholas started working at the alley last February, but he’s a St. Albans native and remembers joining his family at the lanes growing up to watch his uncle’s bowling league play.
“There are a lot of us around here that have memories just like that. You can’t have an establishment like this, that’s been in the community for 60 years, and not have that kind of effect,” Nicholas said. “Couples met here that still come here today, some with their children. Families raised their kids here. Everyone is heartbroken about this. There were a lot of tears shed and it’s a loss for the entire community.”