Kelly: 'I'm devastated,' Kelley's co-owner says as bowling alley to fall silent after 57 years - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, August 10, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:01 pm
Kelly: 'I'm devastated,' Kelley's co-owner says as bowling alley to fall silent after 57 years

To the co-owner of Kelley's Hilltop Lanes, the hard and high-pitched collision of bowling pins and ball is music.

“I could sleep to pins falling,” said Scott Sedlak. “To me, there's no greater sound than the noise that bowling pins make.”

Soon, the 57-year run of Kelley's Hilltop will end and the music will stop. The doors will close and it will be so quiet that — yes, you can hear a pin drop.

The last pin will drop on Aug. 24, which also will mark the end of a seven-decade, four-generation family business.

During World War II, Scott's great-grandparents, Vince and Hazel Kelley, bought the downtown Ak-Sar-Ben alleys and changed the name to Kelley's Bowlatorium.

In the postwar years, bowling became so popular that they added lanes — for a total of 40 on two floors of the old Kresge building at 16th and Harney Streets. The alley even had a TV show, “I Go Bowling.”

In 1956, Kelley's Hilltop opened at 48th Avenue and Hamilton Street, just up the hill from the two-year-old Rose Bowl. There were plenty of bowlers for both, and Omaha was a bowling capital — at one point with more alleys per capita than any other city.

“There used to be not enough lanes,” Sedlak said. “They had to turn people away.”

The Rose Bowl, for years the site of TV's “Strike It Lucky,” closed in 1991.

Kelley's Hilltop kept going another two-plus decades, but Scott and his mother, Rosalyn, have sold the building and the 180-stall parking lot to Waypoint Church. The price was just under $500,000.

“Mom is getting to be retirement age,” Scott said, “and the church really wanted the building. So we decided it was a good time to sell.”

As word has begun to spread, longtime patrons have expressed sorrow, some even teary-eyed. “It's really tough to see customers coming in crying.”

The Bowling Proprietors Association of America says bowling remains the nation's top participation sport. But like many others businesses, things have changed, and there are fewer bowling centers.

In bowling's heyday, weekly leagues dominated. Once making up 70 percent of revenues, league bowling dropped to 40 percent, according an industry study.

“People's attention spans have lessened,” Scott said. “They used to sign up for leagues for 33 weeks. It's hard to get them to commit to leagues long-term anymore unless they are really diehard bowlers.”

A dozen or so alleys remain in the Omaha area, down from 30 or more in the old days.

The Kelley family entered the business in the era of pin boys, when pins had to be manually picked up and reset. The invention of the automatic pinsetter helped lead to the national boom in bowling in the 1950s and '60s.

Bowling had been so much a part of postwar America that it was used as a metaphor in the title of a 2000 book about the decline of social intercourse and active engagement in civic life.

In “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” author Robert Putnam asserted that the decrease in league bowling was an example of declining personal interaction and fewer civic discussions that otherwise occur when people regularly gather.

Most bowlers don't go to alleys to philosophize. Still, Scott Sedlak couldn't help being philosophical about the end of an era for his family.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

“There's a lot of bowling history here,” he said. “We were the first center in Omaha to have underground ball returns.”

Starting in the 1980s, he said, “the entertainment dollar got thinned out, and there were a lot more options.”

One recent factor that hurt business, he said, was a ban on smoking in public places.

“We definitely took a hit from the smoking ban and never recovered,” he said. “A lot of bowlers smoke.”

An industry report in recent years said, though, that smoking bans have led to more women and youths bowling.

While blue-collar workers may have dominated the sport in the past, an increased percentage of bowlers today are said to hold white-collar jobs.

With more competition for people's time, bowling proprietors have had to be more creative, with such promotions as “glow in the dark nights” and “bumper rails” for children to keep balls out of gutters.

As with golf, equipment has changed over the years to make scoring easier. It's still very difficult to throw 12 straight strikes for a 300 game, but perfection isn't as rare as it was.

Scott said Kelley's Hilltop used to go years between 300 games. As at alleys elsewhere, when word spread that someone was close, other bowlers would stop and watch the last frames.

“The whole place would shut down and get quiet,” he said. “And if it happened, the place would erupt.”

Vince and Hazel Kelley, who founded the family business, had a daughter, also named Hazel, who married Stu Sedlak. They had a son in the business, David, who was Scott's father.

David Sedlak, also a bronze life master bridge player, died of a heart attack while jogging in 1994. He was 47.

Scott, 39, said he thinks of his dad as he and his mom prepare to close the family operation.

“I'm devastated,” he said. “This is the saddest I've been since my father died. The business was kind of a continuation of his life.”

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly

mike.kelly@owh.com    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
19-year-old arrested in connection with March shooting
Explosive device blows hole in windshield, damages another car
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Nebraska senators to study tax issues over break
Portion of Saddle Creek Road closed after water main break
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Police identify 21-year-old shot in ankle near 30th, W Streets
Cult murderer's death row appeal denied, but execution in limbo
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »