Highland Bowl, the subterranean duckpin bowling alley on Farmington Avenue in Hartford's West End, is set to close on June 24, unless a buyer can be found by Tuesday.
Owner Todd Turcotte says the alley's lease expires at the end of the month and a combination of health and personal issues have contributed to his decision not to renew the commitment.
"At this point, there are two potential buyers and several others have expressed interest, but we're running out of time," said Turcotte, who owns and operates another bowling alley in Cheshire — which is not closing.
"If we are closing, we'll need 10 to 14 days to pull out and liquidate all the equipment to cover our outstanding bills. That means an agreement would have to be in place by June 19. "
Turcotte said interested parties are in contact with the building's owner, M.J. Neiditz, to see if arrangements can be made to extend the time frame and allow the negotiations to continue.
The lanes made news in 2000, when a group of West End neighbors pooled resources and bought the bowling alley, which had been a fixture in the area for decades and was slated to close. They renamed it "The Alley," did some renovations and turned it into a community meeting place, popular for birthday parties and other events.
"It was a unique situation," says attorney John Q. Gale, a member of the group. "We attracted national attention."
Robert Putnam, author of the book "Bowling Alone" which explored the decline in civic and group activities, visited, then used The Alley as an example of community involvement. Connecticut filmmaker David Teodosio featured The Alley in his documentary "Duckpin."
But keeping the business going proved to be harder than hitting a spare on a 7-10 split. The group sold the lanes to Turcotte in 2006.
"It was tough going. It's a very hands-on business and we were not making enough to keep it going," says Gale. "I think in our best year we grossed $125,000 and it went down from there."
Turcotte, who managed the lanes from 1988 to 1998, was willing to put in the time and effort needed. He added more upgrades, installed arcade games and expanded the café's offerings. However, recent family obligations and health issues, plus the strain of operating businesses in Hartford and Cheshire, convinced him to sell or shut down the West End lanes.
"I have a long-time connection to these lanes, so this was a hard decision to make," says Turcotte. "But it's just not feasible for me anymore. I'd like to see someone else come in and take it over, but at this point, time is against that happening."
Gale is more optimistic. A week ago, he would have put the chances of the lanes staying open as about the same as the chances of bowling a perfect duckpin game. Zero. (The highest duckpin score on record is 279 out of a possible 300 according to the website Duckpins.com.)
The former owners of the lanes held a neighborhood meeting Sunday to discuss how they could help the bowling alley once again. Since then, they've been spreading the word to try to find potential buyers. By Thursday, he had a change of heart.
"I think someone is going to come in and save it," Gale said. "It happened before, it could happen again."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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