In November of 1959, Sky Bowl and Cafe opened for business in the heart of Soldotna with six lanes.
Today, the echo of shiny black bowling balls hitting pins at the end of a lane has been replaced by a bingo parlor run by the Soldotna Little League.
Gold Strike Lanes in Soldotna closed for business May 1. Sally Hoskins, the owner of the Klondike City building, which houses both the bowling alley and Sal's Klondike Diner, said the bowling alley had been losing money and going downhill for the past eight years.
The name changed from Sky Bowl to Gold Strike Lanes when Hoskins took over more than 20 years ago.
"Bowling is no longer profitable in Soldotna," Hoskins said, adding that of the two major companies that build machinery for bowling alleys, one of them is in bankruptcy. A fact that makes running the business even more difficult.
Hoskins, who has owned the building since 1980, said it also has been hard obtaining parts from Outside businesses because shipping is so expensive. It's also hard to find experienced persons to work on the machines.
Hoskins said the closing is sad, but it is in keeping with other areas.
"The trend is all over the United States," she said.
"I am very sad to see it close. It has been in Soldotna for many years," she said. "But when you are in business, you either make money or lose money and if you are losing it, you got to make a decision."
So Hoskins made the decision to take out the machines, remodel the space and lease it to the Soldotna Little League for a bingo parlor.
Hoskins said that for years, Kenai bowlers would travel to Soldotna to practice their hobby before the Kenai facility opened.
"Now the bowlers will just bowl in Kenai," she said.
With Gold Strike Lanes closed, the possibilities are good for an increase in business for Alaskalanes Family Bowling Center in Kenai, the only other bowling facility in the area.
Ken Liedes, co-owner of the center, said while he is not sure how the closure will effect business, he does see it as a positive thing.
Liedes said the business will not know the total effects until the bowling season starts in September. The average bowling season lasts between 32 to 34 weeks.
Liedes said Alaskalanes Family Bowling Center is open for the entire community.
"We want the bowlers to come in and sign up," he said.
But many Soldotna bowlers are not happy with the close.
Soldotna resident Daughn Carpenter has been bowling at the Gold Strike Lanes since 1991. She and her league learned of the close during the middle of last season.
"Our entire league was upset," she said.
Carpenter said many of the women did not like to think of traveling to Kenai because some came from as far as Sterling or Kasilof.
But the biggest concern of relocating to Alaskalanes was that it only had one women's league and it is held on Friday night. Gold Strike Lanes had two women's leagues held during the week, and many did not want to give up their Friday evenings.
Carpenter said of the six women's teams from Soldotna, she only knows of three teams who are willing to go to Kenai.
Soldotna resident Karen Munger is one of those women who does not plan to travel to Kenai and does not seem saddened by the close of a frequent hangout.
"That's OK with me," she said. "It doesn't bother me at all."
Munger said she has bowled at the Soldotna bowling alley for 25 years. She said the lanes were old and that many of the machines often broke.
She said she and others she knows have time and travel conflicts with going to Kenai after getting off work, especially in the winter.
"It would be difficult for me," she said.
But Hoskins said she hopes the closure of Gold Strike Lanes is positive for Alaskalanes, as well as bowlers.
"I wish Kenai all the luck in the world. I hope the bowlers can go on and enjoy their bowling."
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