The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 11, 2013

Garden Bowl adapts to Detroit changes for century

By LAUREN ABDEL
Associated Press

— DETROIT (AP) — Bowling is in Dave Zainea's blood. His family has owned the Garden Bowl on Woodward Avenue in Midtown since 1946. He basically grew up in the alley.

"It's a lifestyle," said Zainea, who has taken over the business with his brother. "It's really been my only job since I was 12."

As Zainea grew up, so did the bowling alley, which has seen the rise and fall and rise again of downtown Detroit.

Now 100 years old, the Garden Bowl is both a bastion of history and a symbol of change. In order to keep the business alive, the Zainea family has had to adapt to the lifestyle, economic and demographic changes in the city.

Opened in 1913, Garden Bowl launched with just 10 lanes and a billiards room before the Zainea family bought it. Now it has 16 lanes, with the second floor converted into a bar, The Magic Stick, where live rock bands perform. They've also added the Majestic Cafe and the Majestic Theatre over the years. It's been a success, helping them branch out and attract more customers.

"You've got to make it fun," said Zainea. "You've got to make it an experience."

After 67 years at the helm, the Zaineas have had a lot of practice creating that experience for their customer base. Dave Zainea and his brother Joe Jr., who is the café's chef, took over after their father Joe, 79, stepped away from day-to-day operations. Joe Zainea still works at the Garden Bowl every week.

Joe Zainea's father Al first bought the Garden Bowl in 1946 when he heard it was available during a poker game. Always one to jump on an opportunity, he went right down to the bowling alley and immediately offered to buy it.

"It was a different age," said Joe Zainea, 79. "Literally there were a million people between here and New Center and they needed somewhere to go for fun."

Their first clientele in the 1940s and 1950s were mostly of Polish, Belgian and Ukranian descent, and Al Zainea urged his son and nephews to learn some words in Polish "to be nice to the customers." He remembers auto workers living in single resident occupant hotels during the week coming into the alley for meals and entertainment. His father would keep a tally of who bought what during the week and would have them pay up on Friday, payday.

Later on, after the 1967 riots when so many of the city's residents fled, the family had to attract a new customer base among the African-American residents. They offered bowling lessons to attract a new crowd and began rock 'n' roll bowling, which up to that point, hadn't been adopted by any other bowling centers in the area.

When those clients started moving out to the suburbs in the 1980s and 1990s, the Zanineas have been working to attract students from nearby Wayne State University and people coming downtown to attend sports games and other events. They bought out the surrounding buildings on the block, which had been abandoned, to boost their image and expand.

"Many bowling alleys in the burbs are closing because they aren't changing to meet the needs of the new bowler," said Joe Zainea. "The new bowler is young, sophisticated, educated and doesn't want to be tied down to a league for a long season."

Terry Bigham, a spokesman for the United States Bowling Congress, says the Garden Bowl is among a small group of bowling centers that have remained open for a century.

"Obviously it's rare for any business to stay open for 100 years," said Bigham. "When they first started it, they would have been setting pins by hand, the technology has grown up through the years and they would have had to do updates to stay in business."

Navin Field, home of the Detroit Tigers, was only a year old in 1913 when the Garden Bowl was built on Woodward Ave. In those days, bowling, like baseball, was one of the country's most popular diversions. Many Detroiters spent their afternoons taking in a ballgame at Navin Field, then hopping the Woodward trolley to the shiny, new bowling alley for a few frames. Now there are many other sports leagues, there's competition from TV and movies and the web, which means bowling has some competition.

"It's like any other sport, it comes and goes in popularity," said Bigham. "It's been continuing to grow for the last few years after it dropped off a little bit.

According to the USBC, last year 71 million people bowled at least once, making it the number one participation sport in the country. There are more than 70 bowling centers in the tri-county area, according to Scott Barker with the Michigan State USBC. None are as old or as storied as the Garden Bowl.