Bowl over? Owners want Suburban Lanes to stay
By Dena Mellick, contributor
The owners of Suburban Lanes want the community to help keep the bowling alley in Suburban Plaza.
Thomas Walker Jr. and his wife, Trisha, spoke with Decaturish about their petition to keep Suburban Lanes in Suburban Plaza. Walker’s father bought the bowling alley 15 years ago, and he purchased it from his father in 2010.
The Walkers say they have lost their lease, and they are looking to find a buyer for the bowling alley. The lease ends April 30.
They said they were surprised when they heard Bill Stogner, a senior vice president with Selig Enterprises, had told residents at a Decatur Heights Neighborhood Association meeting in January that the bowling alley would be leaving the shopping center.
Thomas Walker said, “When we finally got to a place where we were ready to work a deal, we never heard from them, ‘Here are our conditions, this is what we need from you in order for us to move forward.’ We were just basically told ‘It’s not going to work.’ We didn’t ask to terminate the lease. We didn’t ask to be kicked out of the shopping center. We’ve always been working towards making it work.”
Scott Selig, Vice President of Acquisitions and Development at Selig Enterprises, said, “Negotiations with them were open and upfront, honestly done the entire time.”
“We looked at all parts of the deal to keep them around, what it would take financially for both sides to move it forward and to make it a first-class operation with the rest of the center after the renovation, and after a long, long time together, we were unable to come up with a financial deal that worked,” he added.
Walker said he and his wife can’t remain owners of the business. They would like to find a buyer, but Walker said he’s not sure if Selig Enterprises will allow the bowling alley to stay.
Possibility of New Ownership
When Decaturish asked Scott Selig if a new buyer could come in, he said, “Anything’s an option.” However, he clarified it’s not just about finding an interested buyer for the business. He said it’s about finding someone who knows how to run a bowling alley. The buyer also has to have the financial means to improve the space.
The Walkers said there had been a buyer who wanted to expand the business, but a potential deal fell through because of another tenant’s concerns about parking availability.
Selig wouldn’t comment on other Suburban Plaza tenants and leases.
“If there was a strong buyer that checked out and everything was good, anything could be made to work,” he said. “A lot of [tenants] share different time periods of when their parking is. I don’t personally have knowledge to comment on that part.”
Bill Stogner, Senior Vice President with Selig Enterprises, clarified his previous statements and said there are no current plans for the Suburban Lanes space right now.
“We’ll listen to all offers, but it’s got to be legitimate,” Stogner said.
No Bowling Home
If no legitimate offers come through, a lot of Suburban Lanes bowling leagues will be without a place to call home. There will also be several employees who will be out of a job.
Suburban Lanes General Manager Cheyenne Ergle has worked at Suburban Lanes on and off for years, along with his wife, Melissa.
“I bowl here with my mother,” he said. “My children were raised here. I now bowl on Monday night with my middle grandson. It’s always been here.”
Billy Rohde, the front desk manager at Suburban Lanes, said the news that the bowling alley might close caught him off guard.
“Two months ago, we were told we were staying, told we’d be doing the remodel in June,” he said. “So when I found that out, I was kind of devastated. I felt sorry for the seniors and myself and the employees here.”
On a recent Friday morning, Rohde was managing the lanes for the 55 & Over league.
He paused for a moment to hug Marie Chaney, president of the Friday senior league, saying, “I call her the caretaker, because she takes care of everybody.”
Chaney said she’s been going to Suburban Lanes for 15 years. She is there at least three times a week to bowl in the leagues or to practice.
She said if the bowling alley closes, it will put a considerable time and transportation strain on her and other seniors. The next closest bowling alley is in Stone Mountain.
Johnny Worthem, 69, said he’s been coming to Suburban Lanes for 25 years. Worthem said he thinks keeping the bowling alley would be a good business decision.
“It doesn’t matter what the economy is, because people are going to bowl,” he said. “And it’s been that way. I’ve been bowling for over 40 years, and it’s always been that way. People come to bowl no matter what the weather is, whereas if they’ve got to depend on people coming to shop, they may come, and they may not.”
The Walkers said they had nearly 500 signatures on their online petition, in addition to 1,000 more signatures on a petition at the alley.
When asked about the petition, Scott Selig said it lacks information.
“Who wouldn’t sign a petition that says, ‘Hey, this business has been here forever, we want it to stay?’ It doesn’t give you any of the details about what’s gone on at all,” he said.
Thomas Walker said in an email that his family is not bitter, but grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the lives of Decatur residents and the surrounding area over the years.
He wrote, “We thank Selig for their support and for bringing this redevelopment to the community. We hope they are able to celebrate the last 15 years of community impact with us. But, most importantly, we sincerely hope they have heard the voice of the community and trust they will work earnestly with one of the many prospective buyers that have come forward.”