ELKHART — The sprawling structure off Middlebury Street in eastern Elkhart sat idly, awaiting attention.
Awaiting a buyer.
Awaiting someone who could see the potential within its distinctive pink walls.
An October 2011 auction yielded an apparent buyer, someone willing to take over the iconic Rainbo Lanes bowling alley. Then the deal fell through. The building sat. Weeds poked out of the parking lot cracks.
Another auction May of last year was even less noteworthy. None of the would-be buyers even met the minimum bid.
Now, though, Angola bowling alley operators Bill Burke and John Goodman say they’re up to the task. They finalized purchase of the 32-lane center last month and say a new era is upon Rainbo Lanes.
“We want to bring it back to life, back to what it used to be,” said Goodman, seated with Burke at a table overlooking the 12 lanes closest to Rainbo’s main entrance.
It’s actually been operating since last November, when Tom Grose — son of late Rainbo founder Ronald Grose — re-opened the doors to the public after a hiatus of a few years. Tom Grose’s aim, in part, was to show would-be buyers that the business was still a viable entity, wasn’t crumbling into oblivion. “I wanted to show people that there was still potential there,” Grose said.
There was little promotion, though Grose, a 63-year-old retiree, said he worked on the interior aesthetics. Attendance languished.
As Burke and Goodman describe it, that will change.
They took over the bowling alley on March 6 and have plenty of plans in the pipeline, both to revamp the building’s infrastructure and to drum up interest. For one thing, it’s now called Rainbo Lanes Fun Center to emphasize the other offerings at the facility — pool, video games, a bar, a grill — and the aim to appeal to a broad base of customers, the young, the old and everyone in between.
They plan to get new equipment like automatic scoring machines and install new lanes, replacing some of the outdated wooden alleys with more modern, synthetic ones. They have a Facebook page and a website is coming. They plan to introduce lunch specials and other promotions to bring people in.
“We want to be one of the best burgers in town,” said Goodman. “We want to be (among) the best wings in town.”
In all, the two new operators plan to invest $75,000 to $100,000 above and beyond the purchase price. Part of that will be put toward repainting the facility’s exterior, getting rid of that distinctive pink.
“Hopefully our name will stand out,” said Goodman. “We don’t need a color to stand out.”
‘THE PERFECT FIT’
Rainbo Lanes opened under Ronald Grose’s tutelage in 1963. It thrived, at one time operating 24 hours a day, catering to factory workers and league players.
“A lot of generations of people have gone to Rainbo,” said Tom Grose.
Grose’s seven children sold the operation in the mid-2000s, according to Tom Grose, and the luster faded. The new owner missed payments, and ownership after a few years went back to the Groses, leading to the failed auctions.
Burke, meanwhile, had been content operating Angola Bowl, which he bought five years ago. Burke is a Professional Bowlers Association member who’s mustered perfect scores of 300 around 20 times; while Goodman, who’s scored 279 more times than he can count, helps manage the Angola operation.
“Never, ever in a million years did it cross my mind to own another center,” Burke said.
Circumstances conspired, and Goodman and Burke decided to give operation of Rainbo Lanes a whirl. “This just came about and it seemed the perfect fit,” he said.
Neither Grose nor the new Rainbo Lanes owners will delve into particulars of the sale. Suffice it to say all three are satisfied.
Grose is happy Rainbo Lanes will remain a bowling alley, won’t be leveled to make way for something else. Goodman and Burke, who suspect the Rainbo Lanes turnaround could take five years, say the purchase price will allow them to offer bowlers the most competitive prices in town, better than the three other bowling alleys here.
Beyond that, the sale prevents the demise of an institution.
“We’re passionate bowlers,” said Goodman. “It’s tough to see a center get closed.”
New hours of the facility, located at 2401 Middlebury St., will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday, noon to midnight on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. The Rainbo Lanes phone number is 293-1846.