BRITT | Pins crashed as bowling balls scooted across the freshly oiled lanes drowning out classic rock tunes playing from the modern-day jukebox Wednesday evening, while more than 30 bowlers, and their support systems, traded fist bumps and cheers during league play at Sidetrack Lanes in Britt.
Behind the custom-made bar, Ron Bauer, his girlfriend, Tina, and his son, Doug, busily grabbed beverage and food orders from their regulars — many of whom are known by name.
For more than 20 years, Bauer, a South Dakota native, has offered a place for families and friends to gather and enjoy a pastime dating back to ancient Egypt in a rural small town.
“I like seeing them have a good time,” he said.
Bauer, 52, purchased the eight-lane bowling alley at 411 Main Ave. N. in August 1996.
He attributes his desire to own a bowling alley to his childhood. Bauer, one of five children born to the late Lambert and Joy Bauer, grew up at L&L Lanes in Webster, South Dakota, a bowling alley his parents owned and operated for more than 40 years.
“It was real good as a kid to grow up in,” he said.
His parents’ bowling alley, now renamed L&L Bowling Center, is owned by one of Bauer’s brothers. Three of the five Bauer children own eight-lane centers — two in South Dakota and one in Iowa.
Bauer started looking to purchase a bowling alley in South Dakota in the 1990s, but the ones he found were requesting “a crazy amount,” so he waited. Then, he was told about the bowling alley in Britt. He visited it, and almost a year later, purchased it.
“I liked that the machines were the same as what my dad had, so I was real familiar with them, but I learned a lot more after I bought this place,” he said.
Since then, Bauer has invested “quite a bit” into Sidetrack Lanes by replacing the roof and siding, renovating the entrance to accommodate a kitchen and updating the equipment, décor and offerings to accommodate and retain customers in the area at a time when schedules seem more demanding than ever.
Adding electronic scoring, cosmic bowling nights and pizza has helped, he said, but he wouldn’t mind seeing more people partake in “good, clean fun.”
“A lot of it is bowling has kind of went down (in popularity), but I’m hoping it’ll come back sometime,” Bauer said.
Sidetrack Lanes is open from September to May, and closed during the warm-weather months, which is something Bauer said his parents did, as well, because bowling isn’t really a summertime sport and walk-ins dip significantly.
The summer is also the busy time for his other business Bauer Seamless Gutter, which he started in 1991.
Bauer said the bowling alley is busiest from late November to early March, when there’s “nothing to do outside,” drawing league bowlers, families and children inside for a few games.
This year, the alley offers one men’s league bowling night a week.
There wasn’t enough interest for a women’s league, so a couple women play on the men’s teams Wednesdays, and has two traveling teams comprising at least 10 men who compete weekends in Buffalo Center, Iowa Falls, Forest City and Britt.
Bauer expressed willingness to offer high school and junior high leagues if there was enough interest from students.
There are also specialty events in the months of January, February and March to attract new and regular bowlers.
“They have fun when they get here, but sometimes it’s the getting them here that’s tough,” Bauer said.
But Bauer doesn’t own and operate the alley alone. His children, Sonya, Doug and Emma, as well as his girlfriend, Tina, and her children “spend a lot of time” at Sidetrack Lanes, mostly working, but he’s enjoyed sharing one of his favorite pastimes with his family.
“It’s been pretty good,” he said. “They all seem to like it.”