SCHENECTADY — Scattering the pins may be the object of the game in bowling, but at Sportsman’s Bowl the aim is bringing people together.
“The best day is when you’re filled up with tournaments or league bowling and everybody is having fun,” co-owner Mike Guidarelli said. “It is a good feeling when you walk in and you see the whole house filled.”
The bowling alley, opened in 1964 by Joe Donato on Crane Street with 20 lanes, was quickly expanded to 28 the following year. Guidarelli, Paul Adkins, Bob Tedesco Jr. and Tom Donato bought the alley from Joe Donato 25 years ago. Both Tom and Joe Donato have since passed away.
After taking over, Adkins and Guidarelli said a number of improvements were introduced to make the facility even more inviting for families.
During their tenure the parking lot has been redone, the bar remodeled, the party room upgraded, contemporary lights implemented throughout, modern oiling machines installed, new ball returns introduced, and advanced heating and air conditioning systems installed.
“Just to name a few,” Adkins said.
Seating is plentiful across several tiers around the lanes, a touch introduced by Joe Donato, who during his time competing on the Professional Bowlers Association tour found that alleys didn’t have enough space for spectators.
“He used to get upset because there was no room,” Adkins said.
Sportman’s features all the amenities expected by regular and casual bowlers seeking a variety of activities to complement their games, all in one spot. A snack bar, full-service bar, New York Lottery games and Capital OTB EZ Bet round out the additional offerings.
“People come in, they want to have fun, they want to bowl, they want to eat, they want to drink, they want to have a good time,” Adkins said.
Although bowling alleys were once plentiful in the city, now only three remain. Adkins attributes the longevity of Sportsman’s Bowl to customer service.
“We really are nice to our customers,” Guidarelli said.
Sportsman’s Bowl tries to accommodate everyone by offering open bowling during weekday daytime hours after senior bowling leagues wrap up when staff members are already there preparing for local school teams in the afternoon and evening leagues.
Meeting simple requests such as changing the house music to country for a pair of bowlers around lunchtime one day is part of creating a welcoming atmosphere. Adkins happily turned the dial, even as he admitted it’s not his preferred genre.
“They’re long days,” Guidarelli added.
Sportsman’s Bowl has roughly 15 employees, but on weekdays the owners typically run everything on their own, from the cooking to the cleaning, before the full night crew comes in during peak hours.
“At night we have a full staff, bartender, snack bar person, desk person, a mechanic in the back,” Guidarelli said. “It’s a lot of maintenance during the day getting ready for the leagues that come in at night. … We have to get everything wiped down, cleaned up, ready to go for the night shift.”
While chatting about the many tasks that arise each day, Adkins was even briefly called away by a bowler to address a lane issue.
Although much about bowling has remained consistent over the years, the pandemic completely upended business when Sportsman’s was forced to shut its doors for nearly seven months in 2020 under state mandates to combat the virus.
When bowling alleys were finally given the green light to reopen, businesses were first required to implement safety measures that were a financial strain.
“It was a huge challenge but we had to get reopened however we could,” Adkins said. “Whatever it took, we did.”
Plastic barriers separating each lane were installed. Seating was marked off every 6 feet. Hand-sanitizing stations were introduced. The HVAC system was upgraded and higher quality air filters were installed. In addition to those investments, new policies for mask wearing and sanitization were required.
“There was a lot we had to do,” Guidarelli said.
When Sportsman’s Bowl finally reopened in September 2020, bowlers were initially slow to return. Guidarelli estimated business was down about 50% from usual levels.
The impact was hardest felt among league bowling, which traditionally accounts for roughly 80% of revenue at Sportsman’s. Business is gradually returning to normal and is at about 85% to 90% of prepandemic levels.
“It hurt us for a while,” Guidarelli said. “It’s starting to rebound.”
Team bowling has bounced back at Sportsman’s, which currently runs 36 leagues for juniors, adults and seniors. And interest in open bowling has actually increased from typical years since the onset of the pandemic.
Although there could be more challenges ahead, as Guidarelli acknowledged a general decline in the overall number of bowlers, interest from skilled bowlers at all age levels is still strong in Schenectady, he said.
Youth leagues and school teams help grow interest among new bowlers, along with word of mouth. Unique events such as the Tavern Tournament, which features a huge spread of food for competitors to enjoy, draw crowds to Sportsman’s Bowl.
The owners are currently planning for other investments with the eventual replacement of carpeting and seating.
“We almost did everything,” Guidarelli said.
Despite all the work, Adkins and Guidarelli enjoy what they do.
“I’ll probably be here another 25 years,” Adkins said before dashing off to perform lane maintenance and ready for afternoon bowlers.
Address: 1652 Crane St.
Employees: About 15
Owners: Paul Adkins, Mike Guidarelli, Bob Tedesco Jr.