Venture Lanes, a Kanawha Valley bowling mecca since 1956 when it was opened by Charleston businessman and Shoney’s Restaurant founder Alex Shoenbaum, is up for sale.
According to an announcement released by the Schoenbaum family, “We have regrettably decided that since we have no family member living in West Virginia, we cannot operate Venture Lanes under our direct supervision and personal involvement to the high standards we demand.”
Family members added that the absence of an owner who is a West Virginia resident prevents Venture Lanes from “operating other revenue producing operations necessary to fund much-needed repairs and upgrading.”
Family spokesman Ken Rubin said state law requires the owner of an establishment to be a West Virginia resident in order to be issued a Class A liquor license and install video lottery machines.
“The Lanes are doing OK financially,” he said. “It’s the busiest bowling venue in the Valley. Both the bowling and food service operations are making a little money, but not enough to pay forward to finance major new improvements,” like upgrading the building to accommodate new kitchen equipment.
While discussions are in progress with a prospective buyer, according to the announcement, if no agreement is reached by May 19, a decision could be made to shut down the facility.
To avoid disrupting league play for the 450 bowling league members based at Venture Lanes, the family will keep the facility open until May 19, when league play ends for the season.
While the family is currently holding discussions with a prospective buyer and hopes to turn Venture Lanes over to a new operator prior to May 19, “if no agreement to purchase has been made prior to the closing date, we will then decide on the selling of the assets,” according to the announcement.
Prior to May 19, probably sometime next month, according to Rubin, Venture Lanes will begin scaling back its hours of operation. The reduction will be posted on Venture Lanes’ Facebook page prior to the time it takes effect.
The 32-lane bowling venue, located along U.S. 60 between South Charleston and St. Albans, includes a full-menu restaurant, arcade games, and features “Cosmic Bowling” with music from the ’80s to present and a laser light show on Friday and Saturday nights.
When plans were announced to create Venture Lanes, the Schoenbaum family said they expected to spend $750,000 to build and equip it, according to a Charleston Gazette article at the time. The Schoenbaums pumped another $1.5 million into the venue in 1996.
The current asking price for Venture Lanes is $1.5 million.
Schoenbaum, who worked at his father, Emil’s, bowling alley in Huntington as a pin-setter starting at age 10, continued working in the family business after graduating from Ohio State, where he was a star tackle for the Buckeyes.
By that time, the family owned two bowling alleys in Huntington, and soon opened a third on Kanawha Boulevard West and Patrick Street, in Charleston.
In 1947, Schoenbaum opened the Parkette Drive-In next to the West Side bowling alley.
That drive-in became the first Shoney’s restaurant in 1953, and Schoenbaum eventually became the head of a conglomerate of 1,800 restaurants in 36 states.
“While our father was mostly consumed with the restaurant business, he opened Venture Lanes in 1956,” according to the Schoenbaum family’s announcement of the plan to sell the bowling establishment.
“The Lanes were always operated with the community in mind and our father’s continuing interest in and love of bowling alleys.”
Rubin said Schoenbaum’s wife, Betty, shared her husband’s love of bowling.
“When she was in her mid-80s, she took my grandkids to the Lanes to show them how to bowl,” he said.
Alex Schoenbaum died in 1996, while Betty Schoenbaum died last August at the age of 100.
Venture Lanes has 15 employees and a general manager.
“We’re hoping someone can take over and keep things going with everyone who works there still in place,” Rubin said.