Saturday, March 14, 2015

Memories of Parkway and Plamor

Update:  March 17, 2015, the luck of the Irish.  Jerry Damson will keep Plamor open until a new center is built in the area.
Until a new center is built in Huntsville?  The dealership owner is betting on loss of supply (bowling centers) and same demand (bowlers) mean profit for Jerry Damson Automotive Group.  Makes good sense.  You own the land.  Once the center starts to lose money on a consistent basis, just close the doors.

Original Post
Like a lot of people in this area, I was not born in Huntsville nor did I grow up in the Rocket City.  But, I have now lived more than half of my life in Madison County.  I have seen many changes to this city and have heard the history of Huntsville and the major events from the time of the growth due to the Apollo era. While growth in the city has changed certain parts of town, and the downtown area is starting its revitalization, certain other areas are diminishing.  Industries are growing and declining, and unfortunately, bowling is one of those industries in decline.  This national phenomenon has hit Huntsville.

On March 7, 2015, a fire destroyed AMF Parkway Lanes.  While this has nothing to do with the national decline in bowling, it accelerates the local problem as Plamor Lanes is scheduled to close at the end of April 2015.  What is the long term impact to the Huntsville and Alabama bowling community?  Is this a natural correction to the economics of bowling?  With less league bowlers, customers, youth bowlers, and potential new bowlers to grow the sport, losing one local center was probably inevitable in less than 10 years anyway.  In less than two months, there will be only 3 bowling centers remaining in Madison County; AMF Pin Palace (in north Huntsville), Madison Bowling Center (in Madison), and Redstone Lanes (on Redstone Arsenal).

AMF Parkway Lanes after the file (courtesy of the Huntsville Times)

My first visit to Huntsville, Alabama was in 1985 as a college senior.  Our division of the Southern Intercollegiate Bowling Conference (SIBC) held a round-robin league competition at a neutral location; Plamor Lanes.  Our division included Memphis State, Murray State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and another school than I cannot remember.  The SIBC existed from 1974 to 1998.  During 1985, Plamor was not known as the popular league and tournament location as it is today.  Most leagues were bowling at Pin Palace and Parkway at the time.  We, Memphis State, took the lead in the division standings after that week-end.  Jimbo Martin, currently one of Memphis' top local bowlers, was the tournament leader averaging in the 180's.  I averaged in the mid 170's.  The conditions were brutal.  That was not by design.  That was just the way Plamor was back then.  I learned decades later that our collegiate tournament was originally scheduled to be hosted at Pin Palace, but was forced to quickly re-schedule to Plamor, which had the lanes available for that week-end.  After I graduated college, I accepted a job in Huntsville.  I did not join a league at Plamor after remembering my college experience.  Plamor did, and still does, have the best video games.  I spent too many lunch hours playing Star Trek: Next Generation pinball and NBA Jam.

Plamor Lanes

Thomas Powers soon made league bowling a priority.  The Peterson Point league on Tuesday nights was a popular and large league in the 1990's.  I remember getting there ready to bowl, but awaiting the full first shift leagues still finishing.  The parking lot was full during this transition and it was hard to find a place to park.  I can't remember the last time I circled a bowling center lot looking for a place to park the car.  Plamor quickly became recognized as a high scoring house.  It grew the bowling base and business at Plamor.  However, I found it most frustrating.  During my height of league bowling when I bowled in multiple leagues during a season, I always bowled in different centers.  Plamor was known for the high probability of leaving half pocket corner pins.  While many bowlers increased their honor score count, I found it frustrating as it was easy to hit the pocket, some nights seemed impossible to strike, double, or throw a turkey.  Leaving corner pins, even when you made ball changes, changes in angles, and positions exacerbated me.  I laughed sometimes when I heard regular Plamor bowlers complain why they 'couldn't carry' when I thought that they should already know.  There were many nights that I could accurately predict a strike or what pins I would leave standing when my delivery crossed my target at the arrows.  It was a major accomplishment when I finally had an 800 series there.  I always enjoyed the Bowlers Advantage tournaments held at Plamor.  I do remember the 299 I had at Plamor on a Kegel Challenge Series pattern. 

No matter what you thought about the lane conditions, parking, clouds of cigarette smoke, loss of smoking, or anything else concerning the facility, Plamor had the best staff, most responsive to its customers.  They knew you, greeted you, and made you feel most welcome.  Thomas would always come up to you and tell you thanks for bowling in the tournament or league.  Looking back, that is a rare talent, as most bowling centers employees' now know less about the sport and business. 

Parkway was where I joined leagues when I first moved to Huntsville.  The Parkway Classic League was the city's oldest league.  I liked bowling leagues that had a history and longevity about them.  They were usually the more popular leagues that most bowlers wanted to join.  Sadly, as bowling league membership declined, this league lost many members.  The regulars stayed in while no new members were being added.  The last time I bowled in a Parkway league regularly was the 2011-12 season.  It was ironic to notice that I was now one of the older members in the league as I was one of the younger members in 1987.  As I would learn over the years, Parkway had the city's bowling history.  This was the house of Jimmy Certain and Tony Churchey.  Owner Pie Bates gave these gentlemen the support they needed for the PBA tour.  Pie was another one of those owners that appreciated his customers and greeted you.  You could see him at the center, bowling with you or against you in tournaments and leagues.  AMF purchased the center after Mr. Bates' death.  Parkway had the last, great scratch league.  Other scratch leagues were tried in Huntsville, but only drew the regular league bowlers from that house.  Parkway had the last scratch league where the best bowlers from around the city would join.  Those were the 'good ole days' when the bowlers would go to any house that had the best competition and sponsor added money.  I had my first 800 series at Parkway.  I still remember the camaraderie of my team, the bowling ball I used, and that final 10th frame.

AMF Parkway Lanes

Probably because of its rich history within its city, most people in town equated Parkway with bowling.  If my daughters said they were going bowling with friends, or going to a birthday party at a bowling center, I knew they meant Parkway.  All the people I knew from work or church identified bowling with Parkway.  If they came up to me and told me that they saw my name on a placard or sign at the 'bowling center,' I knew they had been to Parkway, even if these association signs and posters are at every bowling center.  A typical response to the question of where did you go bowling to the average open bowler was 'the one by the Huntsville Times.'

What does the future hold for Huntsville bowling?  Huntsville was unique to bowling in the south.   When I moved to the city, I found it unusual that if you stood on the roof of either Monarch Lanes, Plamor or Parkway, you could see the other ones.  You could run the loop of these three centers and still wouldn't have completed a 5k distance.  And Pin Palace was just up Memorial Parkway.  With Parkway gone, its leagues are finishing the season at Pin Palace.  I had to wait on the first shift to complete before we started the All Star League.  The wait reminded me of league bowling 20 years earlier.  Maybe the number of facilities remaining is all the bowling economy can handle.  There is a campaign to get AMF to rebuild Parkway.  I'm not sure that AMF feels the economic demand or chance at profit to do that.  In today's economy the land is more valuable than the bowling center sitting on it.  While Huntsville has only 3 bowling centers remaining, will that last?  Will another be built somewhere else.  Have you noticed the growth around Madison Bowling Center?  With Wal-Mart and the satellite businesses and shopping centers that usually build near a Wal-Mart, the land where Madison Bowling Center sits is now much  more valuable than when it was built in 1999.  Could it be the next to close and a new business be on that lot?

If you have any fond memories of Plamor or Parkway, please comment.