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After 40 years in the family, Boutwell’s Bowling Center to change hands

Last modified: 12/22/2014 4:06:42 PM
After 46 years at Boutwell’s Bowling Center in Concord, owner Steve Birch is preparing to sell the lanes and spend a little more time with his family. But he won’t be checking in his bowling shoes for the final time.

“I wouldn’t just sell the place and walk away for good,” he said. “It’s been too big a part of my life.”

Birch said he started working at the bowling alley when he was 13. At the time, it was less than half its current size and score was kept strictly by pencil and paper. Since then, his father purchased the bowling alley from its previous owners in 1971 – 12 years after it was first built – and then Birch bought the alley from his father in 1986.

Birch said a local business owner approached him with an unsolicited offer to buy the bowling alley, and he expects the deal will be finalized before the end of the month. Birch said he has known the buyer, who didn’t want to be named until the sale goes through, for 22 years – and he expects the alley to continue operating as it always has.

“The only thing that’s going to change is the owner,” he said.

While Birch said he plans to oversee the transition and isn’t in any rush to leave, his retirement will mean the departure of a friendly face for many of the business’s loyal patrons. Indeed, Birch said his favorite part of owning the business has been the friendships he’s made there.

“People are in a good mood. They come in here to have fun. It’s nice to be around people like that all the time,” he said. “It’s nice being your own boss, too.”

Birch said when another bowling alley went out of business in the early 1970s, Boutwell’s added on a dozen more lanes, bringing the total to 24, as well as a lounge and a game room. Boutwell’s was one of the first bowling alleys in the state to go to electronic scoring in 1991, he said, replacing the old model that used projectors to display scores for league matches. He said he updated all of the counters and spruced up some of the walls this summer, but opted to keep the vintage-looking rugs that surround the lanes for their history.

“Things have changed a lot,” he said. He bought the place from his father in 1986 along with his business partner, Dan Murphy. In 2004, he bought Murphy out of the business and has enjoyed running it since, he said.

Birch said he’s always worked a full schedule and has had the chance to meet a lot of interesting people over the years. “The biggest thing I’ll miss is the people and the friendships,” he said.

He said after years of working nights and weekends, his retirement will be a chance to reconnect with his family and friends. And, he said, he expects the new owner to reinvigorate the business, for instance by utilizing social media in a way that he hasn’t.

“People are afraid of changes, but sometimes change is good,” he said. “When you’re old-school like I am, sometimes it’s tough to make changes.”

“It gets to a point where it’s time to move on and let the next person take the bull by the horns and see what they can do with it,” he said.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickBReid.)


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