years, Towne and Country Lanes owner Merrill Draper has learned a
lesson - perhaps the most important lesson of all in small-town America.
Draper, who has
owned the bowling alley since 1971, purchased Surfside Lanes in Kenosha
six years later. He hired a manager for Towne and Country so he could
spend time getting his new purchase ready.
Burlington residents weren't ready to see their owner spend time
"I learned an
important lesson," explains Draper, who then hired a manager for
Surfside and eventually sold it. "Due to the time I had to spend there,
we started getting reaction from the customers. They felt like we
didn't care if we weren't here."
changed his tune, and came back to Burlington. His bowlers haven't
"The people that
run it are very good at communicating with the people who come in there
to bowl," explains Bob Friend Sr., the eldest member of a
three-generation bowling family at T&C Lanes. "They're
and they've got a big heart."
Towne and Country
Lanes celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and still resides in
the same building in which it began in 1958.
The business has
changed owners over the years, most notably when Draper and his wife
purchased it in 1971. Since then, Draper and his wife, Lorraine, along
with daughter Theresa Riemer, have had a hand in almost everything that
has happened at Towne and Country Lanes. And not only do they have a
hands-on approach, but they know all of the 1,000-plus bowlers who call
Towne and Country home.
"It's a very good
experience," says Riemer. "It's very rewarding, because of the fact you
get to know so many people.
"You make friends
With the business
remaining in family hands, Draper and Riemer have had a chance to watch
the trends over the years. Growing up with her parents owning
Lanes, Riemer found herself immediately involved with helping out.
She's done everything from waitressing to working the counter to
working in the office, saying that, essentially, she grew up at the
"It's a great
learning experience," explains Riemer, who is now the general manager.
"Being that we're in such a smaller town . . . getting the hands-on
knowledge, you can't beat that."
Riemer spent time
working in radio broadcasting after high school and college. She went
back to school and became a dental assistant for several years, but
never really left behind the family business.
"No matter what I
did on the side . . . I was always working here," she explains.
A few years ago,
she met her husband, Jerry, and the two found it the right time to
become more involved in the business. She became general manager, while
her husband is the food and beverage manager.
There are a total
of 30 employees at the alley, many of whom are part-time. Most of the
work is handled by the Drapers and the Riemers.
here that I've personally never been able to do," Draper says. "As an
owner, if you just go out to hire people to do those things, they don't
get done, they don't get done the way they should get done."
Trends have changed
over the years. Bowling experienced peak interest in the late 70s, but
since has struggled to maintain its base. Riemer says that economics
play a huge role in running the alley, from the outside costs of oil
and electricity running down to affect prices at the alley.
always be better," Riemer says. "We're trying to do a lot of things to
bring people in."
Among the various
different programs that Towne and Country Lanes offers are junior and
high school leagues, Cosmic Bowling - a weekend, "come have fun"
experience - and catering to anyone and everyone who wants to bowl.
Towne and Country
also has hosted several competition-atmosphere events, including a
Friday TV league and the Lions State Bowling tournament in 2005.
But while interest
has declined over the years - Riemer estimates the number of leagues at
their peak at 40-plus with numerous teams, vs. numbers in the 30s now
with fewer teams in each - T&C Lanes has developed several
three-generation bowling families. This perhaps, above all else,
symbolizes the success the Drapers have sown in the community.
three-generation families are the Drapers themselves, whose daughters
have bowled and now have grandchildren involved. Friend also has
watched his son and grandson become bowlers as well.
The appeal of the
sport, along with the homegrown family atmosphere at T&C Lanes,
keeps people like Betty Wilson - a 50-year bowler - coming back.
"We don't like to
go too far," explains Wilson, who bowls along with her husband Bob.
"We've gone through all the owners and managers. Lorraine and Merrill
are terrific. And (Lorraine's) daughter, Theresa is very nice.
"If anything goes
wrong, they're there," she adds. "And they know what can go wrong."