SANBORN—O’Brien County’s only bowling alley has been spared — the business will keep rolling as a center for throwing balls at pins.
Bert and Bev Van Dam of Orange City and their sons Josh and Jeremy took over ownership of Bowl-Mor Lanes in downtown Sanborn on May 1 from Penny Haag of Sanborn.
“We were kind of thinking that maybe this one will be sold for just a regular business,” Bert said. “We’d kind of like to keep the bowling alive.”
The Van Dam family used to bowl in leagues at Premier Lanes and Cafe in Orange City before it became Bibles For Missions Thrift Centers Inc. in 2007.
That development forced Bert and Bev — both 62 — as well as Josh, a 33-year-old Orange City resident, to pin down another bowling alley to go to.
“It was sad to see the Orange City bowling alley go out of business,” Bert said. “All of a sudden, Hull’s gone, Sheldon’s gone.”
Bert, Bev and Josh eventually joined bowling leagues at Sweet 16 Lanes in LeMars. Jeremy, 28, lives in Sunnyside, WA, where he is a league bowler.
The Van Dam family bought Bowl-Mor in March through an online-only auction from Penny, who, along with her husband, Mike, had been busy at the bowling alley since 1982 before retiring from the business.
Bert and Bev’s 24-year-old daughter Jennifer, another Orange City resident, has been helping out her parents and brothers as they get Bowl-Mor ready to reopen sometime after they finish renovating the building’s interior.
The plan is for Jennifer to be in charge of the bowling alley’s kitchen while Bert runs the counter when he is not bowling in a league. Bev and Josh will help out when they can, but they have full-time jobs outside of Bowl-Mor.
Bev is a hygiene coordinator at Joiner & Zwart Dentistry in her hometown of Orange City and Josh is a veterinary technician at Central Veterinary Clinic in Sioux Center. Jeremy is a high school math teacher in Sunnyside.
Before taking over ownership of Bowl-Mor, Bert worked on dairy farms for about 42 years in California, Oregon and Iowa. He is a native of the Southern California community of Fallbrook.
The Van Dam family has been a bit bowled over as its members have been learning what it takes to put their own mark on Bowl-Mor, located at 205 Main St. in Sanborn.
“Challenging” and “stressful” were a couple of the words Bert and Bev used to describe taking over ownership of an eight-lane bowling alley in a city of nearly 1,400.
“It’s a different stress than what I was used to because I don’t know anything about the pinsetters,” Bert said. “I’m not mechanical. I’m learning. Things just haven’t turned out the way we thought they were going to be.”
The Van Dam family purchased used pin-setting machines as an upgrade to replace Bowl-Mor’s older ones.
“They were not in as good of condition as we had hoped,” Bert said, noting that they have had to undergo several repairs. “That’s the big holdup.”
“We thought it would be just kind of a two-week turnover — pulling out the old and putting in the new,” Bev said. “It’s proved to be a lot more than that.”
In addition to the pin-setting equipment, the bowling alley — which dates back to 1956 — has upgraded ball returns, lanes, lane bumpers, pins, and chairs and tables for its seating and cafe areas.
The updated lanes, pin-setting machines, and chairs and tables all came from Kelley’s Hilltop Lanes in Omaha, NE, which permanently closed about five years ago.
Bowl-Mor’s scoring machines, which are still the same, have been moved closer to the lanes. The building’s interior has been repainted.
The bowling alley’s lanes and their approaches were wooden, but they have been replaced with synthetic ones after the Van Dam family struck a deal for them from Kelley’s.
“They just went right over the top of the other ones, so we had to make sure the other ones were level,” Bert said.
Bert and Bev had hoped to have Bowl-Mor up and running in time for Sanborn’s annual Railroad Days celebration this weekend, but that was not to be.
Instead, they have scheduled a public open house 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, July 27, during which people may tour the renovated bowling alley and enjoy refreshments and cookies.
The Van Dam family is planning to have a grand reopening celebration for Bowl-Mor sometime in August. Annual leagues will start as usual in September.
“It’s one of the last, dying things you can do as a family,” Bert said of bowling.
“It’s good exercise,” Bev said. “It’s good family fun.”