I wouldn’t call myself a closet candlepin bowler, but I never did mention to colleagues at my old job in Framingham when I’d head over to Fairway Bowling in Natick to get in a few strings during my lunch break. That made sure I was ready for our annual company bowling outing, where I was only too happy to trot out my own shoes and balls as an intimidation tactic in advance of inevitable victory.
But all that ended in 2011 when Fairway Bowling closed, and the building wound up as part of Dover Rug’s carpet and squash empire on Rte. 9 west.
Fairway’s demise after around 60 years in business has been one of many among candlepin bowling alleys, with just 18 centers now listed on the Massachusetts Bowling Association website. Perhaps venues like the Level99 one coming to Natick Mall will be the future of entertainment, but I keep hoping against economic reality that somehow candlepin can make a comeback more than 100 years after first appearing on the scene.
The Bowling Browns
I come from something of a hometown bowling dynasty: My parents were perennial champs in their respective leagues, and my brothers and I largely dominated Saturday morning leagues at Milford Candlepin. I don’t ever recall us returning from one of the endless bowling banquets we attended without hardware.
The TV in our house was tuned into locally-produced bowling shows on the weekends, and my Dad did the “rolloff” rounds at regional bowling alleys to try getting on those shows (came sooooo close a number of times). Gifts for my Dad ranged from bowling towels to new bowling bags to bowling gift certificates.
Working at the now-defunct Milford Candlepin as a teen, first as a custodian and later as a pin machine mechanic, gave me no edge against my competitors. My bosses never let me bowl a free string, figuring my minimum wage afforded me the free cash to pay my own way. I’ll chalk that up to a life lesson or something.
I largely abandoned candlepin bowling after high school, though toyed with joining an adult league now and then, coming out of nowhere to once again rule the lanes. Bowling didn’t really return into my life until we had kids, when the alleys became part of the birthday circuit.
We’ll always be thankful to Fairway Bowling for that time we had a birthday party for one of our boys scheduled for the Village Green miniature golf course that got thundered and lightninged out, and Fairway hesitantly worked our crew of 8- and 9-year-olds in at the last second.
We’d visit the lanes from time to time with the kids outside of birthdays, and always for their spectacular animatronic Christmas decoration display.
While I’ve stopped lugging my candlepin bowling balls in my car’s trunk—just in case I came across an alley in my travels—I will to this day defend the small balls as being more fun than tenpin bowling (nothing against tenpin, just prefer candlepin).
And once the pandemic truly subsides, we will be paying a visit to Norwood, Needham, or one of the other communities that is still home to candlepin lanes, bowling bag in tow.
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