Right up their alley: West Seattle Bowl rolls ahead

westseattlebowl.jpgWhen we stopped by West Seattle Bowl a month ago to ask about a reader-e-mailed rumor that it might close, not only did co-owner Andrew Carl say it wasn’t true, he implored us to write about it — which we usually don’t do when rumors don’t pan out (here’s what we ended up writing). At the time, we also told him we’d love to talk with him more about his business sometime, with high-profile closures elsewhere in the city leaving WS Bowl as one of the last pins standing. Last week – as Carl also got a spotlight in the latest Seattle Weekly – he finally had time for that chat:

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

If you haven’t bowled lately, your mental image of a bowling alley may resemble something from decades ago – dark, dusty, chipped balls, scuffed pins.


West Seattle Bowl isn’t anything of the sort. Co-owner Andrew Carl (above) estimates WS Bowl has spent a million dollars on renovations. One of its most dramatic moves was to go smoke-free before state law required smoke-free environments; they made the move concurrent with other work that brought WS Bowl into a brighter, friendlier future (see before and after photos here): “You have an atmosphere in which anyone can participate in a socially interactive environment, no preconception, just have fun. Unlike, say, going to a movie, where you’re not sure what you’re going to get – is it a good movie – with bowling, you know what you’re going to get – everybody will have fun.”

Even now, without further deployment of hammers, nails, or boards, WS Bowl bosses — who have run the center since the mid-’90s — are continuing to make changes, most notably by partnering with technology pioneers to innovate new ways of getting more of their business done online.

Bowling and online may not sound synergistic to you — there’s that dingy old low-tech, low-light stereotype again — but they are, in myriad ways.

Some of those ways involve back-end tech that we couldn’t explain even if we tried. So here’s something that may well be directly relevant to your next bowling outing: WS Bowl recently soft-launched what Carl says is the nation’s first online reservation system for bowling lanes. (You can check it out at the WS Bowl website.) Hoping to nosh while you bowl? When you reserve space, you can also put in an online order for pizza to be delivered (WS Bowl now partners with Garlic Jim’s, a WSB sponsor) shortly after your scheduled arrival.

And soon, Carl says, yet another tech breakthrough will allow you to check in live on what’s happening at the bowling lanes – watching online scoring while games are in progress. He says there’s value in that particularly for league players who can’t make it to a scheduled night but want to see how things are going.

Leagues are a big deal in the bowling-business world – not as big as they were, with Carl estimating they now comprise 40% of his business, down from years gone by – and that’s led to some WS Bowl ripple effects from the closures of other bowling centers. Most notably, when Sunset Bowl in Ballard closes in April, Carl says, two league groups will move to West Seattle Bowl: “We’re in the middle of sorting out the league situation now,” he says, explaining it will have other effects on his operation, with a likelihood WS Bowl will have to stay open later at night, though he insists “we are NOT expecting to go ’24 hours’.” More than two groups expressed interest, he adds, but he is careful not to overbook the center and squeeze out the non-league bowlers.

One notable thorn in the rosy outlook of this growing business is a problem that plagues other businesses in other neighborhoods — parking. West Seattle Bowl, however, had an abundant supply until the Fauntleroy Place development coming to the Schuck’s/Hancock site next door started edging closer to reality.

Carl says the arrival late last summer of pay parking managed by Diamond Parking in that site’s huge lot (WSB coverage here) came out of the blue, even as they continued to talk to Fauntleroy Place developers BlueStar about cooperation and coexistence. He is still puzzled about why, in this long stretch before construction begins (groundbreaking is expected by April), his business can’t have some access to part of that huge, often-empty lot. (You can read more about the parking dispute in that Weekly article we mentioned earlier.)

The development isn’t the only factor affecting parking around WS Bowl; the area often can become a de-facto park-n-ride lot, with drivers from other parts of West Seattle leaving their cars and catching buses heading downtown. City leaders are talking about the next steps in Junction-area parking management (expect to hear more about that later this week), but Carl is skeptical that will turn out well; he says he’s not so sure the city is looking out for the best interests of the “little guy,” and misses former city leaders who espoused those interests, such as the late West Seattle-dwelling former city councilmember Charlie Chong.

But change will march on to the areas around WS Bowl, one way or another, with Fauntleroy Place about to break ground, Capco Plaza under construction to the west, and the fate of all that Huling-dealership land to the south and east likely soon to be fully revealed. And change rolls on in the citywide bowling business, with closures sending not only more league bowlers to West Seattle, but doubtless more individual and family bowlers too.

So what else is next? Carl says they’ve got a lease through 2016 and “would like to stay longer,” so they are negotiating with their landlord. Thriving as an in-city bowling center runs a little counter to the current industry trend toward growth in suburban areas (Tukwila, for example, has a new bowling center), but as we all know, West Seattle is perhaps the most suburban of the neighborhoods within the Seattle city limits — for now, anyway — and young families continue to move in, which means new potential customers for the activity that Carl aptly describes as an “American cultural icon.” WS Bowl keeps looking for ways to attract and retain customers — one example you’ll find on its website right now is a series of daily/nightly specials launching in early March, from “2-Fer Tuesdays” to “Family Fun Packs.”

And WS Bowl’s technological innovations will continue to boom, with a plan to get the word out about online reservations, though the “soft launch” already is a success, notching 100 online reservations just last month. Carl is the kind of guy who can tell you all about that futuristic breakthrough in the same breath as a lesson in bowling history; if passion and energy can help ensure success, it’s no wonder West Seattle Bowl rolls on despite the challenges and pressures it faces, like a ball headed for a strike no matter what obstacles get in its way.

(P.S. If you’ve got Comcast On Demand TV, you can check out a clip about West Seattle Bowl in the “family best of” section.)

11 Replies to "Right up their alley: West Seattle Bowl rolls ahead"

  • Forest February 18, 2008 (11:03 am)

    The Terrace West Chinese restaurant on the northeast corner of the WS Bowl building rates mention for its WS restaurant-that-time-forgot atmosphere and its heaping $3.95 lunch specials.

    I don’t claim expertise on fine dining, but the food at Terrace West tastes fine to me. Plus, the cook and wait staff actually speak an Asian language (probably Cantonese, but I’m not sure.)

  • Mtpockets February 18, 2008 (11:14 am)

    I know Andy & Mike personally I hope they make it
    in a tough business. Hopefully, like the article says they can continue to grow based on some Bowling centers closing there doors.

  • Johnny Davies February 18, 2008 (11:26 am)

    WS Bowl is a fantastic place in our community. Rain or shine we are all welcomed by their top-of-the-line staff and amenities. Their support of local churches, schools and groups show their dedication to our community.

    Most importantly, we need to stand behind and support the business that best serve our communities. Raising our commmual voices loud enough against big-money-mega-developers is the only way to spare these businesses and save the backdrop of our beloved neighborhood as it slowly turns into downtown as Ballard has.


    Thank you WS Bowl. Myself and my family truly appreciate what you do.


  • Jen V. February 18, 2008 (11:26 am)

    WS Bowl totally rocks! Can I get a “woop woop!” to my main man Hank? ;)

  • DB February 18, 2008 (12:00 pm)

    The Terrance West actually delivers directly to the lanes. There’s a phone on the backside of the front desk which connects directly to the restaurant.

    Bowling & American Chinese Food= fun for the whole family!

  • OK February 18, 2008 (1:05 pm)

    Yes, I love WSB! And to Jen. V, yea, Hank is the best! If I don’t make it back there every week I miss that place and the $1 beers from Hank.

  • JT February 18, 2008 (1:45 pm)

    $1 beers?

  • Mel February 18, 2008 (3:29 pm)

    WSB is a neighborhood and city treasure! Where else can you have hours of fun and a couple of drinks (alcoholic on non) for around $10.00/head? And the decent Chinese food joint right next door will deliver to your lane! A treasure I tell ya. Thanks to the good folks, staff and ownership, at WSB for fightin’ the good fight in the face of greed and “development”.

  • Todd in Westwood February 18, 2008 (3:53 pm)

    Just bowled there yesterday morning (sun) with my 4 y.o. daughter. We love it there. They are always super nice, its clean, and there is none of the “bowling alley characters” that seem to hang out at others.
    It is a great place to take kids.
    We will be one of the first to chain ourselves to the front door it they ever decide to close. we lost Leilani, we will not lose W.S. Bowl.

    Todd, Mary and Eloise

  • Jen V. February 19, 2008 (10:49 am)

    hey bro- you know your sister is one of those “bowling alley characters”…. ;) …and we would join you chained to the door!

  • merih February 19, 2008 (11:53 am)

    We haven’t been there for quite some time but looked at getting a lane around New Year’s and it sure didn’t seem cheap to me–$20 an hour for a lane! Was I doing something wrong in my search?

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