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Princeton bowling alley launches crowdfunding effort in last attempt to stay open

Northfield Family Bowling Center
People play at the bowling alley in Princeton, Kentucky in August.

A western Kentucky town that lost its movie theater in recent years due to financial impacts from the pandemic is now facing the prospect of its local bowling alley closing down next month.

Northfield Family Bowling Center has operated in Princeton since the early 1990s, and the most recent owners have run the business over the past decade. Julie Brown, 22, is the granddaughter of the owner and day-to-day manager of the bowling alley. She’s in charge of running the front counter and snack bar, oiling bowling lanes and getting bowling leagues started alongside six other employees.

She said the financial losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the expected lull in business over the summer due to people being outside more, have forced their family business into a tough decision: announcing their last day of operations would be Oct. 1.

“We're one of the only businesses for kids and families to come do stuff,” Brown said. “There was a movie theater here in Princeton, and COVID killed that…and we've just been chomping at the bit just trying to struggle and keep this place open for as long as we can.”

The community of about 6,000 people lost Capitol Cinemas, its only movie theater, more than two years ago because of financial losses in the beginning months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brown said, besides a small card and board game shop in town, she isn’t sure where else young people and families in the community could go for nighttime entertainment.

The bowling alley recently launched a GoFundMe in a last attempt to fundraise to keep the business afloat. The listed goal for the online campaign is $50,000, she said, but the bowling alley could benefit if even half of that amount is raised. Brown said bills for the business range from electricity, food for the snack bar and kitchen, maintenance and parts for the bowling lanes, employee salaries and more.

The bowling alley also provides a space for the county’s Special Olympics bowling team to practice every Wednesday during the fall and winter.

Vickie Purcell, the Special Olympics coordinator for Caldwell County, said bowling has become the most popular sport in the county’s program with 22 athletes on the team. She said some of them have Down syndrome, like her daughter Katie Beth, and another athlete is blind. She said the owner of Northfield Family Bowling Center has let the team play for free over the past several years and only recently started charging them a discounted rate of $1 per game for financial reasons.

“Everybody can't do basketball. They just can't. Not everybody can run. But everybody can bowl,” Purcell said. “They don't understand that next Wednesday is their last practice. I haven't even told them.”

Purcell said without the bowling alley, her bowling team will be at a disadvantage at future competitions without having a nearby place to practice. Other bowling alleys in western Kentucky cities like Madisonville, Hopkinsville and Paducah are at least an hour round trip to get to.

Other western Kentucky residents from nearby counties also travel to the Princeton bowling alley with it being the nearest place for some to bowl. Jared Byford, the mayor of Marion in nearby Crittenden County, goes to the bowling alley about every week to play.

“It's going to take people getting out, getting involved in supporting it,” Byford said. “I know it's gonna be a struggle in this day and age, because I mean, the bowling alley is gonna have to have updates and repairs and, you know, that's not cheap.”

Byford donated $100 to the GoFundMe campaign, which has less than $1,000 total as of Thursday afternoon.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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