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Bowl-O-Rama was more than a bowling alley. It was a petri dish of teen culture in the 1960s

Apr 19, 2017 • by Mike Zielinski, Host of The Mike Zielinski Show
Mike Zielinski

It looks as if Bowl-O-Rama in Exeter Township will be toppling like a ten pin unless a civil suit filed by three of its 12 shareholders that has been appealed to Pennsylvania Superior Court staves off the wrecking ball.

The nearly four-acre property has been sold for $2.5 million to Altoona-based BT Management LLC, which plans to lease the property to Sheetz Inc. to build a gas station and convenience store.

Come on, man. 

Nothing against Sheetz — my car likes gas and my belly likes convenience stores — but it ain’t Bowl-O-Rama. Put that Sheetz somewhere else.

If Bowl-O-Rama bites the dust, and that seems quite likely, so does part of me.

The bowling alley was opened in the late 1950s and for my buddies and I, it was a rite of passage in the 1960s.

We were not alone. If you were a kid or teen back then in Exeter, Reiffton, Mount Penn, Pennside, Lower Alsace or Stony Creek, Bowl-O-Rama was the place to be.

We thought it was the cosmos, a supernova of sound and light lavishly electric with energy – the perfect incubator for raging hormones and commerce.

Collectively, we probably dropped about $2.5 million over the years on bowling, pool and pinball. But please don’t tell our parents.

If a kid from the Exeter area didn’t hang out at Bowl-O-Rama, he or she was immediately branded an outcast, ostracized like a leper.

I learned much more than how to bowl, shoot pool and play pinball at Bowl-O-Rama. It was my second home roughly between the ages of 10 and 16 and it was where I learned social skills.

Years before the selfie was invented, Bowl-O-Rama was where we evolved into our selves.

And where I also learned that the world is made up of saints and scoundrels and that not all men are created equally. There was a sharp division in the teen world, circa 1960-1966, between those with zits and braces and those without zits and braces.

Bowl-O-Rama was where I first found out that girls found me as about attractive as a groundhog with bad breath.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. My zits and braces are long gone. Girls began to like me and one of my early dates with my future wife was a bowling date at Bowl-0-Rama.

While I grew up bowling at Bowl-0-Rama, my bride-to-be beat me in bowling that night.

Little did I know that bowling was practically a religion where she grew up in Northeast Philly. We had a few laughs about that over a few beers at the Bowl-Grille after our match.

We had several rematches over the years at Bowl-O-Rama and she never beat me again.

Now, she likely will never get that chance again.

Barring a legal Hail Mary, Bowl-O-Rama seems destined to become rubble.

The palace with crashing pins as the soundtrack of its life will itself come crashing down.

Undoubtedly some of the dust and debris will settle in my heart and clot there forever.

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