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Wayne Oaks of Union City smokes outside of Lost Lanes in Cambridge Springs. Oaks said of the county’s ban on smoking that he’s seen how it has hurt businesses, but he wants to bowl so he’ll just have his smoke outside between games.

Jeff Mead has bowled perfect games. He’s picked up seemingly impossible spares and spent countless hours honing his game.

One thing he can’t do, though, is separate bowling and smoking.

An author of five career 300 games and five 800 series, Mead bowled one game on opening night recently and decided to call it a night ... and possibly an outstanding career.

“Bowlers were going outside to smoke ... holding up the game,” he said. “The no-smoking law is ridiculous. We’re outnumbered. What can you do? Nothing.

“Maybe it was time for me to quit. Any second thoughts about quitting? Not right now. But, I’m sure I will (have second thoughts). I may stop back in a bowling alley some day.”

And he’s not alone.

Lost Lanes proprietor Natalie Hanks said her establishment has lost 74 regular bowlers from last season due to the recent state law that forbids smoking in public spaces. Her husband, Harry, estimated they had 250 bowlers in leagues last year.

“I would say 65 percent of the dropoff is related to the no smoking law and the other 35 percent for economy reasons,” said Hanks, who owns the 14-lane bowling alley and Found Lounge restaurant (connected to the bowling alley) with her husband Harry.

“We knew there would be a dropoff, but not this severe.”

Being in this uneasy situation from a business standpoint, Hanks can only think of New York a few years ago.

When the “no smoking” law was enforced, several New York bowling alleys similar to Lost Lanes’ size were forced to close, she said.

“I know of four to six houses in Buffalo that closed due to the no smoking law,” Hanks said. “We’re nervous.”

And angry, too.

“Not only are they (the state) telling us what to do, but they’re telling us how to run our business,” said Natalie Hanks. “Why are we paying taxes then?”

The Bowling Proprietors Association of America has heard similar protests about government interference. While the organization’s Web site says it does not have a position on the smoking ban, it does say that bowling centers dislike the government interference. It said most proprietors feel they are in the best position to judge what their customers and employees want.

The organization’s Web site also says it is common for bans to cut league participation by 10 to 20 percent in the first year. Those numbers generally return to normal in years two through four.

But in the meantime, to make up for the league losses, the Hanks are turning to open bowling.

“We are going to run more open bowling specials,” Natalie Hanks said. “Things are a little slow right now, but, hopefully, they will pick up.”

Smokers are sympathetic to Lost Lanes’ situation.

“I think (the smoking ban) stinks. It hurts (Lost Lanes) the most. They lost a lot of teams,” said Saegertown’s Rick Rice while taking a smoke break recently at Lost Lanes. “I just go outside between games.”

Wayne Oaks of Union City agreed.

“If people want to bowl, they’re going to bowl. A lot quit, but what are they going to do? We just smoke less, that’s all. We go after the 10th frame, but it really hurts businesses,” Oaks said. “We used to come in here and the lounge was full. It definitely had an impact. We just try to go out and grab a quick one or we go without. We want to bowl.”

Lost Lanes isn’t alone as other local bowling establishments have also been affected by the “no smoking” law — but not as severely as the Cambridge Springs house.

“We’ve had a little dropoff, but not much,” said Plaza Lanes manager Michelle Pongratz. “I can’t believe bowlers have quit because they can’t smoke. They can’t go two hours without smoking. I smoke and I have to go eight-to-10 hours without smoking.”

To compensate for the losses, Plaza Lanes has formed two “fun” leagues on Friday evenings. “Both leagues are almost full,” said Pongratz.

Lakeside Lanes in Conneaut Lake has also taken a minor hit in league participation.

“We lost four teams on Friday and two teams on Wednesday,” said Lakeside Lanes co-owner Bruce Beers. “Not being allowed to smoke is the main reason, but I think there are other economy reasons, too.”

One bowler at Lakeside Lanes is trying to do both — bowl and smoke outdoors — and it’s not going over very well with the LL personnel.

“He goes outside and smokes an entire cigarette before coming back in,” said Beers. “Our league got over at 10:15 p.m., an hour past the normal ending time. If he continues to do this, we’re going to punch in gutter, gutter for him.”

Plaza Lanes owner Dean Felmlee has given his bowlers a smoking plan.

“I tell the bowlers to wait until the 10th frame and then go outside,” he said. “The 10th frame will give them some extra time. So far, it’s working out. The bowlers are back in time for their regular turn.”

Unlike the aforementioned bowling houses, Cochranton Lanes hasn’t been affected by the law.

“I think we’ve lost only three or four bowlers due to the no smoking law,” said CL proprietor Keith Seidel.

The Hanks wish they can say the same.



Jim Hunter can be reached by e-mail at sports@meadvilletribune.com.

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