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home : local news : local news July 23, 2017

9/30/2013 1:21:00 PM
It's down to the last frame for bowling alley
Developers planning six retail stores on East Main site.
Daily News

If the coming of fall has you thinking about hitting the lanes again, you'd better hurry before the Robinson Bowling Center closes its doors.

"We expect to close the sale by the end of October or in early November," owner Rick Kelsheimer said.

For several years now the fate of the bowling alley has been in question, beginning with the construction of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in 2006. At that time Kelsheimer was approached about selling the business, but he rejected the offer.

Since the construction of the new Pizza Hut next door, real-estate investors have again approached him about selling, and this time he said "yes."

"It is a matter of the property being worth more than the business," he said.

While no dollar amounts are being released, Kelsheimer said the Chicago-based real estate development company buying the property plans to build six retail stores with parking.

Kelsheimer said the plan is to save the steel columns of the west wall, the electrical connection room, and possibly part of the roof. The floor will be leveled and filled with concrete. They will then build two 5,000 square-foot and four 1,500 square-foot stores.

The names of the stores going into the new location are not being disclosed, but Kelsheimer said they will be similar to stores located near other Supercenters.

Closing was not an easy decision for Kelsheimer, who has spent most of his life with the business.

The then-state of the art Robinson Bowling Center was built in 1961 by a consortium of area businessman, including Robinson Mayor Carl Zwermann and Dr. Gus Schmidt. In 1971, Rick's father, Jim Kelsheimer and uncle, Dick Weber, bought the bowling alley. Weber later sold out to Kelsheimer.

Kelsheimer was 10 years old when his father bought the bowling alley. He recently found an old payroll sheet that showed he made 65 cents and hour. At its height, the bowling alley employed as many as 25 people full- and part-time.

He took over the business from his father in 2001. "40 years later I am still doing the same job," he said.

In the 1950s and '60s, millions of Americans went bowling, but like many other pastimes it is quickly fading away. The bowling center had undergone several changes over the years and featured many attractions, including a short-lived concert series featuring revived '70s and '80s bands such as Bad Company and Warrant.

Kelsheimer said they are planning an auction when sale of the property is complete. He has already begun selling off pieces of memorabilia collected over the years.

"We have boxes of stuff in storage," he said.

Kelsheimer said local bowlers or collectors looking for a specific item should contact him before it goes to auction. He also said the bowling equipment and lanes are for sale if anyone is interested.

"If someone has a 30-foot pole barn, you could set up a couple lanes and have your own bowling alley," he said.

One valuable item Kelsheimer cannot sell will be a Class A and B liquor license. How licenses are reassigned is up to the Robinson City Council. In the past, the council reduces the number available, and if someone wants a license they have to go before the council and apply.

Kelsheimer said they have had several people coming in for one last game or two, and at least one bowling league has vowed to play to the bitter end.

"They call themselves the doomsday bowlers," Kelsheimer said. "They're the regular Wednesday night league."

And local musicians are gathering Saturday and Oct. 5, at the bowling center for special concerts in tribute to the place where many got their first start playing in public.

As for future plans, Kelsheimer said he will continue his writing. He has written several historical and pulp-fiction novels based on local events and legends. He has recently completed a historical fiction about the area at the time of the Civil War, and is working on a whodunit based around the University of Illinois' Chief Illiniwek.

The bowling center will remain open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 1 to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 11 p.m.

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