Morton Grove bowling alley adapts to keep business rolling
Dolores Szymaniak, of Niles, reacts to picking up a spare at Classic Bowl in Morton Grove on Sept. 26. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
NAME: Classic Bowl
SPECIALTY: Bowling, food and drinks
ADDRESS: 8530 Waukegan Road
Updated: November 5, 2012 6:11AM
MORTON GROVE — Toward one end of the row of lanes at Classic Bowl a group of youngsters struggled to push the ball down the alley, assisted by bumpers that automatically rose when they went take their turn.
Maybe 15 lanes away a foursome of gray-haired women also enjoyed the sport, as two of them in a row rolled strikes.
Even at 10:30 on a weekday morning the Morton Grove bowling alley was busy, something co-owner Henry Barber likes to see.
He’s managed to thrive while many bowling alleys have closed their lanes in the past several years.
In part, he said, it is because he has avoided the cliché of a dark, kind of seedy place where guys hang out chain-smoking and bowling.
“It starts with customer service and investing in your business and providing the best customer experience you can,” Barber said.
A big part of it is the people who work there, he said, nodding toward his assistant Mitzi Kass, who has been working in bowling alleys for three decades.
“Half the people out there know Mitzi,” Barber said, pointing to the row of alleys where some regulars are playing.
The atmosphere at Classic Bowl, at 8530 Waukegan Road, is also family-friendly, well-lit and bright, with current equipment, all designed to make it inviting to people of all ages and keep them coming back.
The whole place, Barber said, has been upgraded during the past three years.
“You have to make sure the place is clean, the air conditioning is working in the summer,” Barber said.
Features of Classic Bowl include a new state-of-the-art scoring system with high-definition flat-screen displays on each of the 38 new Brunswick ProLane synthetic lanes.
Barber also installed new comfortable booth-style seating areas at each lane with under-seat storage.
Kass said a key to the success of the place is the personal touch; something she said is missing from chain bowling alleys.
“To them you’re just a number,” she said. “Here you’re a name.”
“We’re like Cheers,” Barber added.
Much of the business comes from league bowlers, but Barber said he also has introduced many special bowling programs to entice customers to come in, particularly at slow times.
The business offers different discount programs at night, after the leagues are done.
Kass said people who work odd hours also like to come in late — the place is open until 2 or 3 a.m. — for some food, maybe a couple of drinks and, of course, bowling.
Classic Bowl also has camp groups from the Morton Grove Park District and hosts charity bowling events frequently.
Classic also holds Rage Bowling events on weekends that combine bowling in the dark on glowing lanes, fog machines and music videos.
“We try to keep the place as busy as we can,” Barber said. “We’ll try something and if it doesn’t work we’ll try something else.”
Barber noted: “Bowling used to be the No. 1 participatory sport in the country.”
That said, bowling still has a lot of fans who enjoy the combination of a social activity, sport and entertainment.
“It’s still the cheapest form of entertainment,” Kass said.
“There are still a lot of people who bowl regularly. It’s year-around,” Barber said. “We try to cater to everybody.”
Classic Bowl’s website with information on programs is located at: http://classic.bowlbowlbowl.com/index.html.