AMF Waukesha Lanes closes amid financial struggles, declining numbers

Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Bowler Ronnie Russell tosses a practice frame before the PBA Badger Open at AMF Waukesha Lanes last year. The bowling alley closed on Sunday, June 29. It was one of three AMF bowling alleys that have now closed in the last two months.
Published on: 7/1/2014

Waukesha bowling enthusiasts have lost a once bowling hot spot.

After 37 years of operation, the AMF Waukesha Lanes, 901 Northview Road, closed on Sunday, June 29, a representative with the AMF bowling center in Wauwatosa confirmed this week.

The Rooters night club, an entertainment venue that featured live music from local, regional and national acts — as well as karaoke, dance lessons and poker tournaments inside the bowling alley — has also closed.

"It's a big loss for Waukesha and our association," said Donna Martin, manager of the Waukesha United States Bowling Congress Association.

City officials were not aware of the closing, but the AMF representative said the building had been put up for sale and no buyer was found.

The representative said AMF officials would not be making any further comments on the closure of the Waukesha site, located across from the Waukesha County Expo Center grounds and adjacent to the former Golden Guernsey processing plant (now Lifeway Foods).

AMF's troubles

Martin, however, provided some insight into the closing.

She said AMF merged with Strike Holdings LLC, or "Bowlmor," to form a new company called 'Bowlmor AMF' last year, after AMF filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2012.

Martin said some time after the transaction, Bowlmor AMF put some of its centers up for sale.

"If they didn't sell in a certain timeframe they were going to close the doors," Martin said. "I don't know if they were trying to sell it to another bowling corporation. We would only hope, but it's highly unlikely, that it will now stay a bowling center unless someone wants to come in and buy it."

Martin said there had been rumblings that the facility would close but added that the "doors closed earlier than expected."

"We heard rumors about it for the last several years that Waukesha is closing, and it didn't," Martin said. "So when Bowlmor came in we all said 'This is great.' But obviously it was not."

The AMF Waukesha Lanes wasn't the only casualty. The AMF representative from its Wauwatosa location said that in addition to the Waukesha site, AMF South Park Lanes in South Milwaukee also closed on Sunday.

Two months earlier, the AMF West Allis Lanes on Highway 100 closed.

That leaves only the AMF West Lanes, 7505 West Oklahoma, in Milwaukee and the AMF Bowlero Lanes, 11737 West Burleigh St., in Wauwatosa as the only remaining AMF bowling centers in the metro Milwaukee area.

Martin said the AMF in Wauwatosa appears to be safe.

"That is a very, very strong center and the reason is (because) Roy Brent is the manager," Martin said. "He's a very strong manager."

Past glory

Martin credits Brent, who managed the Waukesha location 20 years ago, for making it a thriving site.

"It was the number-one spot in Waukesha," she said. "And if you were not on a league or in a league there was a waiting list to get into one. The lanes were full every night."

In the center's heydey, Martin said there were leagues every night as well as a "strong junior league" with at least 60 kids.

After Brent left, the Waukesha site went through many managers who weren't there very long or committed, Martin said.

"I just know that after Roy went to Wauwatosa, it was a steady decline for our Waukesha house," Martin said.

Over time, it had a major impact on the center's long-term viability, she said.

People stopped bowling as well. Before it closed, there were only about seven or eight leagues a week and only one junior league.

"They were not doing very well financially," Martin said. "And they tried to bring in new staff to resurrect the houses in decline. I don't know if they didn't give it enough time or just made the decision that they didn't want to keep being in the negative."

Out-of-town dollars

With AMF Waukesha Lanes being the area's largest in terms of lanes (48), the site has hosted state men's and women's tournaments as well as a Professional Bowlers Association event last year.

"It was a huge event and it brought a lot of people to Waukesha," Martin said. "It was a perk for Waukesha to have them come to the city for a week. It was great."

In fact, AMF Waukesha Lanes was scheduled to host the Wisconsin State Youth Tournament next spring. Martin said tournaments are only held at 48-lane facilities.

"It's a big loss for businesses in town," Martin said. "The restaurants and bars, the nightclubs and hotels will all be hurt by this."

Still bowling

There are now just three bowling centers in Waukesha: Sunset Bowl Entertainment Center, 333 W. Sunset Drive, Fox Run Lanes, 2440 W. Sunset Drive, and Fracaro's Lanes, 1430 White Rock Ave.

Martin said she is making contact with the bowlers in the AMF Waukesha Lanes leagues so they are accounted for when the season begins in the fall.

"I'm in touch with every one of the managers at the Waukesha houses and they are all working with me to make sure we accommodate all of the AMF bowlers," Martin said. "I want to make sure I get every one of those bowlers into another league and house, whether it's a sanctioned or unsanctioned league."


Sports Reporter Chuck Delsman details the decline in bowling facilities over the years in Waukesha County.