New life for Bowling Alley

by Tom Coombe
Dust off the shoes and pull out the bowling balls - bowling is returning to Ely.
Closed for several years, the Ely Bowling Alley is poised to get new life in a remodeled facility and as a repackaged business.
Local business owners Chad Davis and Cindy Smyka have teamed up to purchase the facility, which last was open in 2018, and they’re in the initial phases of an ambitious remodeling project with plans for the business to reopen sometime in 2024.
The real estate transaction closed roughly three weeks ago, and Ely’s Fourth of July parade included a float announcing the reopening of the business. Word has quickly spread via social media as well.
While league bowling figures to be part of the new venture, the new owners are also planning several changes - including the addition of a restaurant as well as duck pin bowling - to make the “BA” a more family-friendly, community-friendly venue.
“One of the early decisions we made in discussing whether to do this, was that if we were going to do this, This would be centered around community and family,” said Davis, who operates Deer Creek Resort. “The perception of the bowling alley, whether right, wrong or indifferent it doesn’t matter, was that the bowling alley was a bar. We’re going to center this around something that the whole community can use.”
Smyka, who heads Ely’s tourism bureau and owns and operates Northern Grounds, agreed.
“We don’t want to just reopen the doors, but reimagine and revive a concept that will last for decades more. It can be a destination in and of itself.”
Smyka envisioned a business that “will offer a unique experience” and “be great for locals and visitors.”
But first, the facility itself is in for a major facelift.
The entrepreneurs have worked with a Duluth firm on design proposals for remodeling the building, located at the corner of Camp Street and First Avenue East.
When it was open, the bowling portion of the facility and the lounge/bar area were separated by walls, but Davis said he envisioned a “more open architecture” with perhaps a horseshoe bar area with couches, chairs and televisions.
The bowling area itself will also be revamped.
“We haven’t come close to any sort of final design or anything like that, but one of the things we’re looking it is dialing the lanes back down from eight to four or five,” said Davis.
Davis said the reduction could still incorporate league bowling, once very popular in the Ely area, as well as a new concept of “duck pin bowling.”
“With duck pin bowling, lanes are about half as long, you don’t have to wear regular bowling shoes and the ball is about the size of a softball and you literally grab it and chuck it down the lane,” said Davis. “It’s a lot more user friendly. You don’t have to find a ball to fit your finger. You don’t have to worry about shoes. From a two-year-old to a 120-year-old you can play duck pin bowling.”
Duck pin bowling is just part of the vision. Davis said that the plans may also include creating more usable outdoor space incorporating bean bag games and perhaps even a pickleball court.
Depending on the architectural renderings, the direction of the bowling lanes might also be flipped.
Part of the new Ely Bowling Alley experience will also include food, with a commercial kitchen in the works and space set aside in the lower level to possibly provide food service to resorts and lodging establishments.
The aim is to create a bowling alley that appeals to a broad range of clientele.
“I’ve always really been drawn and enjoyed the idea of creating experiences for people to come to the area,” said Smyka. “All I want is for people to come up and have an experience that they’ll enjoy.”
The entrepreneurs have had discussions with representatives of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board about demolition work needed to start the project.
Plans call for that to be completed next spring or early-summer with renovation to follow, and eyes toward a 2024 opening.
Future patrons and interested observers can track the progress of the project on social media, with the Ely Bowling Alley already establishing Facebook and Instagram pages.
The project also figures to come with an economic boost, not only from construction but employment, with the Bowling Alley likely to create as many as 15-to-20 jobs, with a mix of full and part-time employment.