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T’Bird Lanes shutting down after 70 years

August 9, 2018

La PORTE – Almost 70 years of bowling just a few yards from the shore of Pine Lake will be ending in about three weeks.

Thunderbird Lanes announced on its website and Facebook page last week that it will be closing at the end of August. After an email to the Bowling Proprietors Association of America (BPAA) turned into another email, word spread quickly, forcing the social media disclosure.

“That derailed our plans for letting our leagues and customers know,” T-Bird owner Matt Collins said in the Facebook post about the email situation. “It was our intention to meet with league secretaries, team captains and league members to tell them personally.”

Like other bowling centers in Northwest Indiana that have closed in recent years, rising expenses and declining revenue from a gradual decline in bowling participation led to Thunderbird’s demise.

The center opened in the 1950s and had multiple owners over the years. One has been loyal to the center since childhood.

“We grew up in Thunderbird — my kids bowled there, I met my husband (Larry) there,” said Marge Burchiel, who owned the center with her husband (who died in 2013) from 2000-05. “Hearing it was going to close hurts.”

She’s not the only one who feels that way. Even though Keith Gakle has bowled for and coached La Porte High School for years while the Slicers practiced at Casey’s Lanes (previously Quick’s Lanes), he was a product of Thunderbird’s youth program.

“I started bowling at Thunderbird when I was 5,” he said. “I bowled my first 300 game and my first 800 series there. That place was my first job. I met my girlfriend there. It was a second home to me for the first 22 years of my life.

“I met people who I will consider friends for the rest of my life. It’s not just a bowling center.”

After this month it will be something else, though no one has confirmed what will replace it. In his Facebook post, Collins said he is “seeking an alternative business for the property that will serve the La Porte area well.”

Another aspect of the closing is how it will affect high school bowling. The Lakeshore Conference has held multiple meets at Thunderbird in recent seasons and Westville practices there.

Conference coordinator Larry Zaideman is used to juggling the schedule – he’s dealt with the closing of Seven Peaks (formerly Westchester Lanes) in Chesterton in 2014, Camelot Bowl in Portage in December 2015, and Lakeshore Lanes (formerly Suburban Lanes) in Michigan City in 2016.

There will only be two bowling centers left in La Porte County — Casey’s in La Porte and City Lanes in Michigan City — and Collins encourages his customers to keep bowling alive there.

“To our league bowlers, the bowling business is tough and getting tougher,” he said. “Don’t quit. There are two terrific bowling alleys in our county. Join a league there, support them, they need you!”

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